For Philip Morris, it’s just like riding a bike. Morris collected his sixth O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model win of the 2017 season Saturday night following a convincing sweep of the CMC Supply TWIN 75s.
The rout was reminiscent of Morris’ decade of dominance in the 2000s. It’s Morris’ first six-win season at Motor Mile Speedway since 2010. He’s doubled his 2016win total— a three-win season that produced a second-place result in the track standings. A burgeoning points lead is further evidence that the seven-time Late Model track titlist is pedaling at peak performance once again.
“Last year it was so hard to win. This year it’s just…natural,” Morris explained. “What a lucky driver I am to be able to drive this car.”
Lee Pulliam topped the 15-car Late Model field in Price’s Body Shop pole qualifying, but the defending track champion never led a lap in the opener. Morris rocketed into the lead on the first circuit from his second-place starting position and proceeded to dominate the caution-free race. Morris’ blistering pace left three cars on the lead lap at the finish.
Pulliam trailed Morris at the checkers by 5.383 seconds. C.E. Falk placed third, a colossal 12.427 seconds behind the leader. Mike Looney and Bryan Reedy rounded out the top five.
Per NASCAR rules, an eight-car invert left Morris handicapped to eighth on the grid in the nightcap. Morris swiftly ascended the scoreboard, eclipsing Reedy for the point on lap eight.
The battle for first climaxed in the aftermath of the third caution of the race on lap 29. After shadowing Morris through the pack, Pulliam capitalized on the restart to lead lap 31. But Pulliam’s tenure at the front of the field was fleeting; Morris regained first on lap 32. The last caution of the race on lap 43 afforded Pulliam one final opportunity at the top spot, but Morris thwarted Pulliam’s challenge.
“How about that Darrell Poe racing engine on the outside on that last restart?” Morris exclaimed. “The thing just got a launch…it got a good bite, it didn’t spin the tires, and we never looked back after that. The car just ran effortlessly awesome.”
Morris constructed a sizable advantage in the waning circuits, capturing the checkers by a 1.070-second margin of victory over Pulliam.
“Philip is on top of his game; he’s tough to beat,” acknowledged Pulliam. “My guys have given me all the effort in the world. We just have to keep digging deep, and keep making the car better.”
Stuart Crews, in his Motor Mile Speedway debut, placed third. Reedy and Ricky Gillespie placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
Morris enjoys a 62-point lead over Pulliam in the Late Model track standings with five races remaining. Morris is eyeing an unprecedented eighth Motor Mile Speedway Late Model crown.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Brandon Jones survived to capture his first-ever Limited Sportsman win in his first-career start at Motor Mile Speedway. The action-packed Collision Plus Limited Sportsman contest featured six lead changes and five caution periods.
Jones wrestled the lead away from Richard Caldwell following the final restart of the race on lap 47,
Jimmy Rice and Sparky Staton collected wins in the 25-lap Southern Ground Pounders race. Rice’s Sportsman entry dominated the caution-free event to take the overall win; Staton captured top honors in the Modified class.
Ricky Howell, Jr. remains undefeated in UCAR competition this season. Howell notched his second consecutive victory Saturday night over Tony Housman and point.
–J.W. Martin, Motor Mile Speedway