Philip Morris, pictured at Martinsville Speedway. (Kimberly Austin/ photo)

A fast car in last Thursday’s practice and success throughout the 2016 season has Philip Morris confident about his chances of taking home a fourth grandfather clock in Sunday’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway.

Morris, a three-time winner of the race, has not been a factor in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 since his 2012 triumph.  This season, he has his swagger back.  The veteran racer, one of Late Model Stock Car racing’s greats, feels he will be back to form and contending for the win.

“I think what we’ve been doing, racing every weekend at Motor Mile and just trying to keep up with the tires, the motors, the rules and just be in it,” Morris said.  “That’s what we’ve been doing this year.  I think you’ll find we’ll be a lot closer this race.”

Morris scored three wins at Motor Mile Speedway during the 2016 season, along with 15 top-five finishes and 19 top-10 finishes.  That success fuels Morris’ optimism heading into Sunday’s event at Martinsville Speedway.

“A lot more momentum than I had last time we were here last year,” Morris remarked.  “Just being in it every week keeps you acclimated and keeps you geared up for it.  I think our shot is really good.  I’ve got a lot of laps invested in this place and got a feel for this track.  I haven’t got where I wanted to be but I doubt anybody has.”

In the past, Morris had said that he did not feel having seat time all season was critical to success at Martinsville Speedway.  Now, Morris says he learned the hard way that seat time was necessary.

“Yeah, I learned the hard way on that,” Morris commented.  “I felt like, as long as the driver knew what line to take and what to tell the crew chief, but there’s more to it than that.  It’s obviously a lot more to do with tire conservation now.  Tires are so much different than they were when I was racing full-time.

“This year, I was able to figure that out and really change my style of driving for that particular aspect of racing.  The motors are different, the cars feel different.  I think the chassis have gotten much better.  I think the tires are not able to hold up to what we’re doing to them.  I’ve learned a lot.”

During last Thursday’s test session, Morris had a fast car, often running lap times comparable to Mike Looney, Tommy Lemons, Jr. and a handful of other cars that displayed speed.  In spite of some complaints about the car, Morris expects it to be as good as ever come race time.

“The car ran really fast,” Morris stated.  “It always seems like it does.  Had a lot of complaints about the car in the test but they did a lot to fix it so I think we have as good a shot as we always do.”

Morris also has experience on his side against a field that consists of a lot of rookies making their first ever Martinsville start.  However, the four-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion isn’t nervous about racing with first time drivers.

“You might get behind a rookie and he might do something that you like.  It might work for you.  Those guys are fearless and it is kind of fun to watch them really.”

Morris has three wins in the ValleyStar Credit Union, winning Late Model Stock Car racing’s crowned jewel event in 2000, 2010 and 2012.  However, Morris has failed to finish inside the top-10 since his 2012 victory.  In 2013, he was swept up in an accident, finishing 16.  He finished 29th in 2014 and failed to make the field for the 200 lap feature one year ago.