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Tommy Lemons took advantage of a late restart to pass Dillon Bassett and win the nation’s most prestigious Late Model race.
Jason Smith | The (Lynchburg) News & Advance
Tommy Lemons Jr. celebrates after winning the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 Late Model stock race on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Monday, October 7, 2013
MARTINSVILLE — Dillon Bassett slowly rolled up to the finish line, darkness practically engulfing Martinsville Speedway late Sunday night. He climbed out of his car and stood on the roof in celebration.
Not too terribly far behind him, Tommy Lemons Jr. had his car pointed toward the wall as he waited to begin his celebration. He began the slow climb out of his car as Bassett tumbled off the roof of his machine to the concrete, dehydrated from the 208 laps on the 0.526-mile oval.
Still, there was a lingering question among the fans and nearby officials near the start/finish line: Who won the race?
That was shortly answered as Lemons and his crew began a wild celebration on the front straightaway, marking the veteran’s biggest victory in his 10th try at the most prestigious Late Model race in the country.
“That’s all I ask for. That’s all we can ask for is the opportunity,” Lemons said. “The Lord presented it and we took advantage.”
Lemons used the outside lane on the race’s final restart on Lap 207 to power past Bassett, who was the leader after Lee Pulliam was taken out on Lap 202.
Lemons was pushed by Blake Stallings, who restarted fourth and finished in that spot after Bassett and Dennis Setzer were both able to clear him.
“I pedaled it a little bit. I heard the 44 [Bassett] miss a shift; I heard it rev up when I was on Tommy,” Stallings said. “I don’t think Tommy heard it and he started pedaling it. I pedaled it a little bit behind him, but I still had him jacked up. I wish I would have let him go a little bit, but wasn’t sure how tight the guys were behind me.”
The confusion after the checkered flag waved came with the rule NASCAR reminded the drivers of before the race: the leader must get to the line before the second-place car, unless the leader misses a shift, spins the tires or has a mechanical issue.
Even though Lemons almost had a full car-length advantage on Bassett when the two drivers crossed the line, NASCAR ruled it was a good start.
“On the last restart, I actually thought Dillon, he went and he backed off. I don’t know if he was playing games or what he was trying there,” Lemons said. “I heard him spin the tires or miss a shift, whatever happened there. I got a really good shove from maybe Blake Stallings — I’m not sure who was behind me on the restart there — and gave me one heck of a shot in Turn 1. When I was on the outside, I had really good drive off there those last two laps.”
Bassett was unable to comment after the race because he was taken by ambulance to the infield care center.
Bassett inherited the lead on a Lap 202 restart, as Pulliam was hit from behind by Deac McCaskill. The contact sent Pulliam spinning in Turn 1 and collected defending race winner Philip Morris, C.E. Falk III and Davin Scites.
Pulliam’s misfortune prevented him from becoming the first driver to win the Martinsville Late Model race in a national championship season. He finished second last year.
Both Pulliam and McCaskill declined to comment.
The accident ended what was shaping up as a fantastic battle for the lead between Pulliam, Bassett and Matt Waltz.
The three traded the lead several times over a 30-lap stretch as Waltz initially held serve on the outside lane. Pulliam was able to get by on Lap 184 as Bassett made it three-wide going into Turn 3.
Pulliam held him off on the outside until the mandatory caution waved on Lap 191. One lap after the green flag waved on Lap 195, contact with Bassett sent Waltz hard into the Turn 3 wall.
That is when everything changed and Lemons was able to capitalize.
“I was pretty surprised. I was 10th when they threw the caution … with 10 to go. I really thought we were done,” Lemons said. “I didn’t give up, but thought we were going to finish top 10, top eight, maybe. I knew that I had in the back of my mind that if I could keep my nose clean it could be better than that. Never really expected … whenever we went back green, I never expected to have a green-white-checkered opportunity on the outside.”
Peyton Sellers, who finished 14th, claimed the second Virginia Late Model Triple Crown title. The Danville native did not make the feature after his power steering line developed a puncture in the heat race and he was spun out while running eighth in the last-chance race.
Tony Keen, his teammate, allowed Sellers to drive his car in the feature race.
“We looked like we weren’t going to make it in at the end. There was nothing pretty about what happened today,” Sellers said. “We did win Langley and finish fourth at South Boston. If we hadn’t been deserving of it, we wouldn’t have lined ourselves with two good runs to start the year off. It’s just the way it is. Big, big thanks to Tony for giving me the opportunity; a true, true team play.”
Ryan Stiltner, Amherst native Wayne Ramsey, Brenden Queen, Hayden Woods, Dennis Holdren and Bruce Anderson rounded out the top 10.
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