Bobby McCarty and his Nelson Motorsports team used a strategy call to take the lead at the halfway break of the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 at South Boston Speedway on Saturday, then held off a furious late-race charge from Peyton Sellers to reach Victory Lane in the first leg of the Virginia Triple Crown.
McCarty qualified in the 14th position of the 37-car field and methodically worked his way into the top five as the halfway break and invert loomed. His team ultimately decided to slot into the fourth position on a restart just a few laps before the caution flew to denote the race’s halfway point. When the draw determined the top four would be inverted, McCarty was the race leader.
He controlled the second half of the race, but Sellers, the winner the last two times the race was contested and the leader at the 100-lap mark, quickly moved back into the runner-up spot. McCarty chose the preferred outside line on multiple restarts inside the race’s final 35 laps, with Sellers battling on the low side. McCarty, however, cleared each time on his way to the win in front of a capacity crowd.
“With the grip here, when you dive off into one on the restart you can really be aggressive, I mean you drive in really deep,” McCarty said. “You don’t have to use hardly any brake and you just kind of burp it, let the car set and then you can go straight to wide-open throttle. When you’re on the bottom you can’t really roll that momentum, so just being on top really gives you that advantage on corner exit. We always want to take the top.”
As intensity picked up with the $10,000 top prize in sight, Sellers and McCarty made contact in Turn Four on a restart with 20 to go. That briefly opened the door for a hard-charging Justin Johnson to take the second spot, but Sellers got back around him by the time the yellow flew with nine circuits remaining. McCarty again cleared on the final restart with just three laps left, and when the caution came out on the white-flag lap, McCarty took the checkered and yellow flags together at the completion of 200 laps.
“I knew I just had to prepare for the contact because I knew it was coming, [Sellers] was doing everything he could to win the race,” McCarty said. “I needed to be ready to attack after the contact, because when you hit here, the speeds are so fast you lose a little momentum.”
Sellers acknowledged the role of the outside groove in the outcome of the race as he scored valuable points toward both the Virginia Triple Crown and the South Boston track championship.
“Honestly it was a good night all in all for us, “ said the five-time track titlist. “We had track position the whole night and that’s what it took to win this thing. Bobby McCarty had it the last 20 laps and he won the race. The outside groove came in so good tonight. If you were in the top groove you were going to win this race. We took the lead a couple times, but if you were in the top groove you were going to win and that’s what Bobby McCarty did. If the roles would’ve been changed, I think we would’ve won it from the top side.”
Meanwhile Justin Johnson, a two-time Late Model track champion at South Boston, came home in the third position after an eventful evening, which saw his running order shuffled on numerous occasions.
“We rode most of the first 100 laps with the goal to be in the top six or eight,” he said. “We hoped we were going to play the invert game a little better, but with the invert being four it kind of left us outside. We just got pushed around a lot on the initial green after halfway and went from sixth or seventh to 12th or something real quick. So, every time that we gained a couple spots we got moved around again. Every time I could get clear, I could make some speed and really go on the high side. I didn’t need the two- and five-lap runs, I needed 20-lap runs.
“But overall we had a really good race car, we just didn’t have quite the initial speed that the 22 [McCarty] and 26 [Sellers] did.
Thomas Scott and Chad McCumbee rounded out the top five. Mike Looney sat on the pole after turning in a 14.837-second lap and led much of the race’s first half. However, he faded with clutch issues before battling back into the top half-dozen in the final running order.
Although Bobby McCarty is no stranger to big wins in his career, with accolades including victories in the Hampton Heat 200 and two CARS Late Model Stock Tour championships, his first triumph in his home track’s crown-jewel event was extra special.
“We’ve struggled here since we stopped running local,” he said. “We just had a hard time finding speed and we hit on some things yesterday. Then we qualified mid-pack and I was like, ‘Man, I swore the car was better than that.’ Just to drive from 14th to take the lead at halfway and win the race playing out the strategy, this is pretty big. It’s hard to rank them all, but this one right now is definitely my favorite.”
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Photo Courtesy: Joe Chandler/South Boston Speedway