After 200 hard-fought laps, Lee Pulliam stood in victory lane at Orange County Speedway (NC) $30,000 richer after winning the inaugural CARS Late Model Stock Tour Old North State Nationals.
The four-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion added yet another marquee win to his collection, triumphing in a late-race battle with Josh Berry, earning the win in the event billed as the richest Late Model Stock race in history.
The caution flag flew with 10 laps to go in the race after Timothy Peters suffered a flat tire and made heavy impact with the outside wall in turns one and two. This set up a late-race duel between Pulliam and Berry for the win.
Pulliam had selected the high lane on the restart, opening the door for Berry’s maneuver. Pulliam was surprised to find himself against the outside wall, but held no ill will towards Berry.
“I took the top because I thought he was going to run me clean,” Pulliam said in victory lane. “He roughed me up a little more than I was expecting. Coming out of two, he got me in the backstretch wall really hard, hit me in the door and got me in the wall hard. It knocked the toe off, and it kinda pissed me off.
“It was just hard racing, I don’t blame the guy,” Pulliam added. “It was $30,000, he was doing what he had to do. He run me up pretty high, but I felt like he left an opportunity for me to treat him the same way he treated me. When I got back to him, I didn’t cut him no slack. I wasn’t going to wreck him, but I was going to race him the way he raced me.”
Berry also knew there was a chance for late-race fireworks. Berry fell to fourth in the final running order after getting into the marbles during his battle with Pulliam, but also knew it was par for the course during a race for $30,000.
“The end turned into exactly what we expected,” said Berry. “We knew It would get really physical. When we put the two tires on with 50 to go, the car just lost a little bit of turn. We just lost a little bit of balance, and it was a little bit snug. I think that’s where Lee was a little bit better. Obviously, when I was underneath him, I ran him up the hill to get the lead. When I was able to get the lead, I was so tight he was able to cross me over and he ran me up.”
Berry also knew that the win would not come easy against one of the discipline’s greats in Pulliam.
“Lee is one of the best to ever do this,” said Berry. “When you go wheel-to-wheel with him, you’re going to have your hands full. He got me up just high enough that I got in the marbles, which stinks because we lost a couple spots because of that. That’s what he had to do. That’s what I was trying to do to him.
“I’m not a baby at this stuff,” added Berry. “We’re both 30-year-old guys who have been doing this a long time. We both knew what we were doing.”
Pulliam called the win a “dream come true,” not just for his performance but for the performance of the two drivers entered under the Lee Pulliam Performance banner. Brandon Pierce finished fifth, while Corey Heim had a strong run until an incident on a lap 150 restart relegated him to 17th.
“This is pretty big,” said Pulliam. “We talked about doing it, but to get it done is a dream come true. We had three really good cars today. I was proud of those cars being that close together on the race track. Basically, right in position all race long. It was pretty special to have three cars that close and that good. It’s been a lot of hours worked in the shop and a lot of sleepless nights.”
Taylor Gray continued his strong start to the CARS Tour season, following up a win at Hickory Motor Speedway with a runner-up finish against the 29-car field at the Old North State Nationals.
“Certainly, I am disappointed for my guys,” said Gray. “I think we could have gotten the win if we had gotten one more caution. I do have a sense of joy being able to finish second with these guys. I think we can get some more wins this year. We’ll just go to Ace and give it a full effort.”
Berry’s JR Motorsports teammate, Adam Lemke, scored his best finish of the CARS Tour season by coming home third. Lemke started 22ndafter transferring into the race from Saturday’s Last Chance Qualifier, and opted for an alternative pit strategy to gain track position.
“We had to pit early for new tires because we didn’t qualify so well. I knew that took us out of contention for the win.,” Lemke said. “I burned them up a little bit when we put them on, but after that I started saving. That helped out a lot, because I think if I hadn’t caught myself it would have been worse.”
Pierce fell to fifth after also being involved in the battle for the lead in the 10-to-go restart. He left frustrated with some of the physical racing, but understood what was on the table.
"We knew it was going to get pretty exciting at the end," said Pierce. "With Josh [Berry], I gave him a shot a Southern National so I knew I'd get one back at some point. I was fine with the first and second one, but after the third or fourth shot it felt like he was taking it out on me because him and Pulliam were racing each other. I tried to pass them when they were trying to wreck each other.
"It's hard racing," added Pierce. "It's for $30,000. I think we put on a hell of a show for the fans. I don't think we had anything for the bossman, but we could have finished second."
Race fans who missed out on Sunday’s Old North State Nationals can relive the action with Speed51’s Race Day Now live updates. Click here to visit the Race Day Now archive.
The CARS Late Model Stock Tour returns to action at Ace Speedway on May 3. That race will be a 125-lap feature around the 0.400-mile oval in Altamahaw, North Carolina.
Unofficial Results - CARS Tour Old North State Nationals
Orange County Speedway - Rougemont, North Carolin
|6||25||Zack St. Onge|
|19||27||Tommy Lemons, Jr.|
|28||23||Terry Brooks, Jr.|
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo