Lee Pulliam (5) gets a bump from Peyton Sellers (26) during the closing laps of the Hampton Heat 200 at Langley Speedway on Saturday evening. (Photo: Andy Newsome)

Both Peyton Sellers and Lee Pulliam entered Saturday’s Hampton Heat 200 at Langley Speedway ready to continue their battle for the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown after the former barely squeezed out a victory over the other in the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200.

By the time the checkered flag flew on the blistering hot evening, both drivers were left fuming over how circumstances played out, as neither one was in victory lane following an incident between the pair.

While battling for the lead with less than five laps to go, Sellers got into the back of Pulliam and turned him around in front of the field, which resulted in him being black flagged for aggressive driving and eliminating any chance of either driver bringing home a Hampton Heat 200 victory.

“I chalked it up to racing hard,” Sellers said. “[Race control] had a tough decision to make and it was 50/50 on whether they made the right call or not. These races are very hard to win, and it’s difficult to put yourself in the right position, but by the grace of God, we came back and finished fourth.”

While Sellers entered the weekend with momentum on his side, he found himself in a hole before the green flag dropped, as a disappointing time of 16.094 in qualifying place him 15th on the grid, which was ten spots behind Pulliam.

Sellers would fail to make much headway during the first half of the race, and even struggled to stay inside the Top 10 after the halfway break, but a much needed caution on Lap 132 gave both him and Pulliam an opportunity to get fresh tires and carve their way through the field.

The two Late Model veterans made good use of their tires, as Pulliam passed Connor Hall for the lead on Lap 161, while Sellers worked his way up to second a few laps later as he patiently waited to see if a caution would give him another chance at Pulliam.

Sellers remembered how he was able to outsmart Pulliam on a late-race restart to win the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200, and believed that he could realistically pull off the maneuver again, but he stated that he had no intention of wrecking Pulliam on the restart and disliked the fact that an accident between the two transpired.

“Lee was better than we were,” Sellers said. “On the first restart he drove me up to the dirt and cleared me off of two, and I wasn’t going to put myself up there. I knew he was going to do it again so I went to the inside trying to clear Nick Smith and Lee just backed up right to me. I popped him, turned him around and it was my fault.”

Langley Speedway competition director Shayne Laws admitted that he was disappointed that the battle between Sellers and Pulliam played out the way he did, but he affirmed that the decision to send both of them to the rear of the field was in line with the status quo prevalent through all of the track’s events.

“When two cars are involved, two cars go to the rear,” Laws said. “It’s not my place to judge whether somebody does something on purpose, or not. Two cars were racing, one car hit another car and caused that one to spin out, so both went to the rear.”

Pulliam vented his frustrations towards Sellers by brake-checking him prior to a restart and spinning him out in a separate incident a few laps later, but both of them managed to pick off several more cars during the last restart to come home sixth and fourth, respectively.

Sellers stated that he does not plan to talk to Pulliam about what happened at the Hampton Heat 200 and is instead focused on his remaining Late Model races and his quest for a second NASCAR Whelen All-American Series title.

“Lee’s a professional and he’s been doing this a long time,” Sellers said. “He’ll watch the film and see what really happened. I apologize for what happened, but let’s go race.”

Sellers and Pulliam’s decent runs, combined with the misfortunes of drivers such as Trey Crews and Mike Looney in the Hampton Heat 200, are expected to make them the two favorites for the 2019 Virginia Late Model Triple Crown heading into the final race, which will be the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 5.