HAMPTON, Va. — Lee Pulliam and Matt Waltz picked up a win apiece as they split the NAPA Auto Parts Twin 65s for the ComServe/Verizon Wireless Late Model Stock Cars, the featured events of Saturday evening’s action-packed NASCAR Whelen All-American Series program at Langley Speedway.
The starting lineup for the first 65-lapper was determined in late afternoon time trials. Pulliam was the last driver to take to the track and he bagged the pole with a lap at 88.964 mph. Waltz was second-fastest, just 19-thousandths of a second off Pulliam’s pace. Brenden “Butterbean” Queen, Greg Edwards and Tyler Hughes rounded out the top five on the 19-car grid.
As the opener got under way, Pulliam and Waltz dueled door-to-door until they reached the backstretch. Heading toward Turn 3, Pulliam gained the upper hand, while Waltz settled into second. Queen emerged in third, followed by Edwards and Hughes.
On lap 2, Hughes nosed ahead of Edwards at the flagstand to take over fourth place. On the next circuit, Edwards dropped from the top five as Tommy Lemons Jr. slipped past. By lap 8, the top five runners had distanced themselves from Edwards, who was clearly struggling.
On lap 9, Lemons scooted past Hughes to grab the fourth spot. Meanwhile, at the head of the field, Pulliam had fashioned a two-and-a-half-length advantage over Waltz, who had a mirror-full of Queen. Four car-lengths separated Queen and Lemons.
The leaders had their first encounter with slower traffic on lap 16, allowing Waltz to trim a bit from Pulliam’s margin. Pulliam, though, quickly broke into the clear and began to ease away from the pack. Behind him, Queen was still hounding Waltz for the runner-up spot.
Passing the halfway mark, Waltz was able to get away from Queen and start to close in on the leader. On lap 37, Pulliam was momentarily stymied by traffic and Waltz erased the gap completely, moving into nose-to-tail formation.
By lap 39, Queen had slipped into the clutches of Lemons, who took over the third spot. He faced a steep climb, however, as Pulliam and Waltz had driven off by nearly half a straightaway.
With the laps beginning to wind down, Queen lost another position on lap 47 when Hughes made the pass for fourth. Next in line was Edwards, who ducked under Queen on lap 49, launching a protracted battle for fifth. The two were side-by-side until lap 59, swapping fifth place three times in the interim before Edwards finally took the spot.
Back at the front, Pulliam had extended his lead over Waltz to five car-lengths and he maintained that margin all the way to the finish, winning by 0.940-second. Lemons was third, while Hughes came home in fourth.
As part of the track’s annual celebration of Armed Forces Day, the top five drivers in the standings coming into Saturday’s race — Edwards, Connor Hall, Mark Wertz, Queen and Danny Edwards Jr. — each represented a branch of the military for the race-within-a-race for the Commander’s Cup. With his fifth-place outing, Edwards claimed the prize for the U.S. Air Force.
Queen headed up the second five, in sixth, while Edwards Jr., Terry Carroll, Casey Wyatt and Wertz completed the top 10. Michael Hardin and Hall were 11th and 12th, in that order, also on the lead lap.
After the race, Pulliam, a two-time national champion, enjoyed his first visit to Langley’s Victory Lane: “I can’t say enough about everybody’s hard work and determination. We weren’t where we needed to be, speed-wise, yesterday. We were decent. I felt like we could run second or third and we dug in and stayed real late last night, working on the car. Worked on it all day, man, we had issues all day and got it better and better and sorted out and, man, I can’t say enough about everybody. I gotta give God all the glory. He’s done some amazing things for me. Being able to wheel one of these race cars on the weekends and to get a win here at Langley Speedway is mighty special. One of the few places we hadn’t got a trophy at and it feels really good.”
While he was certainly pleased to deliver the Commander’s Cup to the Air Force, Edwards expressed concern about his performance: “I don’t know what was wrong with the car tonight. We definitely either have something broke or have an issue going on that we’re gonna have to take a look at between these races. I don’t know. That’s the worst the car has been in quite a while. But, we just hung in there tough. Had a good race with Butterbean. Side-by-side. I don’t think we ever touched. So, thank you to the Air Force and we need to get back to work on this thing.”
By virtue of his victory in the first race, Pulliam was back on the pole for the nightcap, again sharing the front row with Waltz. The rest of the starting lineup also mirrored the results from Race #1. The notable exception was Queen, who had to change a blistered right-rear tire between races, bumping him to the rear of the Race #2 grid.
As the second event got going, Pulliam won the drag race into Turn 1. Starting third, Lemons charged to the inside of Waltz in a bid for second. Waltz fought him off down the backstretch, though, then surged to the outside of Pulliam in Turns 3 and 4. Pulliam led at the stripe, but Waltz seized control on lap 2, bringing Hughes along with him, to second.
By lap 10, Waltz had already opened a half-straightaway lead over Hughes, who had his hands full with Pulliam. Three laps later, Hughes slid wide in Turn 1, giving way to Pulliam and Lemons, as well.
While Waltz enjoyed a healthy advantage at the head of the field, a battle for second began to shape as Lemons tracked down Pulliam. Lemons ducked underneath Pulliam in Turn 1 at the start of lap 29 and inched ahead on the back straightaway, gaining the clear-cut edge off Turn 4.
Over the next 20 circuits, Lemons was able to make little headway against Waltz, shaving only a couple car-lengths from the gap.
Waltz’s big lead vanished on lap 52, however, when Mike Weddell spun to the infield off Turn 3 and got trapped in a drainage ditch, prompting the only caution flag.
As the field bunched for a restart, Waltz surprised many onlookers when he opted for the outside lane, ceding the inside to Lemons. Waltz was joined up top by Hughes, Queen, Wyatt and Hardin.
Back under green, Waltz eased ahead of Lemons, but couldn’t quite clear him on the first green-flag. He accomplished that feat on lap 53, but he still was unable to shake Lemons, who was right on his bumper. Meanwhile, Hughes and Pulliam were locked in a side-by-side joust for third, just ahead of fifth-place Queen.
Over the closing circuits, two distinct schools of thought emerged among the top four competitors. Waltz and Hughes found the top groove to their liking, while Lemons and Pulliam remained planted on the bottom.
Ultimately, the high side worked out for Waltz as he held off Lemons to win by a scant 98-thousandths of a second — little more than a car-length. Pulliam eventually worked his way past Hughes and came home in third. Hughes was fourth and Queen rounded out the top five.
Greg Edwards was sixth to the checkers, followed by Danny Edwards Jr., Wertz, Wyatt and Hardin. Carroll was 11th, the last driver to complete the entire distance.
A 12-time winner at Langley in 2014, Waltz capped his first visit to his home track in 2015 with a trip to Victory Lane. Following the event, he noted the race-ending tussle with Lemons: “Great race there. I knew, once he got around Lee, they were telling me how far he was behind me. I knew he was a little bit better than us, but I figured, if I could stay up on the outside and do my thing, I was gonna be able to have a darn good shot at winning the race. Just real happy. Glad to be back and back down here in Victory Lane.”
-Langley Speedway Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com