THORNBURG, VA – Philip Morris headed to Dominion Raceway on Saturday to compete in his first race without crew chief Forrest Reynolds, who is barred from working on a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series crew indefinitely, and Morris feels like the suspension is a setback.

Morris is chasing his record-breaking sixth NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.  Last year, with Reynolds, he clinched his record-tying fifth title.  However, following a viral incident with Lee Pulliam last week at South Boston Speedway, Reynolds, who did not have a NASCAR license, was barred from working on Morris’ crew indefinitely.

After qualifying at Dominion Raceway on Saturday, Morris spoke exclusively with Race22.com about what’s next for him and his team and noted that Reynolds’ suspension was already affecting his performance.

“Obviously this is a big blow for us,” Morris told Race22.com.  “Forrest Reynolds has been the key to our success for many years, five years now at least.  So, you know, this is pretty big for us.  We haven’t got a solution.  We’re going day by day.  We’re trying to figure it out.  This obviously is the first step of trying to figure something out.  We’re here without him today and it’s showing.  We’re not qualifying as good.

“He’s got an eye for racecars.  It’s intuitive.  It’s something that, you can’t buy it, you just have it, and he’s got it.  We miss him.  But I think there’s a way maybe we can figure this out.  We talked about a lot of different scenarios but, right now, for the next two races, we’ll be going to the track without a crew chief.”

Jason Adkins is currently serving as the interim crew chief for Morris and is working at the shop closely with Reynolds.

“Interim crew chief is going to be Jason Adkins, we call him ‘Worm,’” Morris said.  “He’s in constant communication with our crew chief.  We’re hoping we can figure something out just to get us not behind in our championship run this year.  We’d like to figure out a way to still make it to victory lane until we can come up with something permanent.  All the guys are down.  I feel like better times are coming.  I feel like there’s an answer to this and I always look at things in a positive, that everything happens for good, for those who love God are called by his purpose.  I think we’ve just got to look for the good here and, you know, do the best we can.”

Morris discussed the penalty from NASCAR, stating that it was harsh, especially given that similar incidents have happened at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks in the past without penalties being levied by the sanctioning body.

I can’t say that I do [agree with the penalties],” Morris stated.  “This seems harsh.  I don’t blame those guys because they just look at the rules and they do what they think is right but this affects a whole championship run.  I don’t know.  We’ve seen stuff like this happen before and you’ve never seen this serious a punishment.  I think everything happens for a reason and our crew chief believes the same thing.  We’re looking for the good, we’re looking for the silver lining.  It’s hard to find here today, qualifying fifth.  We just got to work hard.  We just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last five years and that’s just putting our head down and just going for it.

Morris also discussed the on-track incident that provoked Reynolds to run out on the racing surface and, after throwing his radio at Lee Pulliam’s car, attempt to disconnect Pulliam’s ignition box.  Morris believed he was intentionally wrecked by Pulliam and was disappointed with how he was raced.

“I’ll just tell you, I have wrecked people before, on purpose, okay,” Morris explained.  “So, I’m not calling the kettle black, so I’ve done that.  To answer your question, yeah, he did, he wrecked me.  He wrecked me on purpose and, I’ve got to tell you, I was the most surprised person on the racetrack or in the stands that he did because I didn’t see anything leading up to it that was going to cause that.  But it’s just different.  People handle frustration in different ways and, you never know, it was a shame.  I’m the kind of person that admires great racecars and great parts and, to see them thrown away like that’s just hard for me.  I race guys like they race me.

“I felt like, the first race, Lee passed me, you know, basically bump-and-run.  I’m cool with it if that’s the way we race.  Even leading up to that pass, I thought it was very slight contact.  He opened the inside off of [turn] four and I jumped to the inside and we got to the other end, very light nudging.  Not even what I would call violent.  Just very light contact.  So that’s why I didn’t expect him to dump me when we got to the other end.  Matter of fact, I was just trying to catch a low line to maybe get a beat on Peyton.  Frankly, I was trying to give him respect.  He was racing Peyton.  Those guys were mixing it up pretty good, so I waited four corners before I did anything.

“When I saw Peyton getting away from him, then that’s when I decided to go inside and try to make something happen.  Our car was just able, it was a little crippled, but it seemed like it was still fast enough to win so I was going for it.  Right there, when he dumped me, I was on the inside trying to roll up to Peyton and it all happened kind of at one time.”

Because Reynolds does not have a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series license, NASCAR fined Morris $1,000 and the vocabulary from the penalty by NASCAR seems to suggest Morris will be held responsible if Reynolds shows up to a NASCAR-sanctioned track as a crew member.  Morris confirmed that was exactly the impression he got from his conversation with Kevin Nevalainen, director of weekly racing operations for NASCAR.

“They called me, three-way call with Kevin Nevalainen and Les Westerfield, and that was exactly the wording, that he was attempting on our crew this year, well I’m assuming this whole year because they didn’t tell me when he could come back,” Morris elaborated.  “I asked the question and they didn’t answer it, they just said that he doesn’t have a license until they approve him to have a license.  I don’t really know other than, the fact is, he can’t be on our crew.  He’s here with us in heart.  I know he’s digging.  He’s frustrated about our performance today because he set that racecar up at his shop.  He always runs good here and I know, if he was here, we could be doing a lot better than we are.

“Nevertheless, I mean, that’s where it is.  I’m hoping NASCAR will revisit it and give us the opportunity to prove ourselves.  Up to this point, nothing different other than he can’t be with us.”

Morris went on to finish second in Saturday night’s race at Dominion Raceway.

Philip Morris on track at Dominion Raceway. (Andy Marquis photo)