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EPIC ENCORE! Pulliam, Ryan split Michael Huffman Memorial twinbill thriller

By JW Martin, Motor Mile Speedway

Motor Mile Speedway is turning NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series Late Model drivers into drag racers.

A pair of show-stopping photo finishes punctuated the action in the Michael Huffman Memorial TWIN 75s, as three consecutive Bull & Bones Late Model division contests have now been decided by intervals of 0.03 or less.

Summarizing the epic endings that are fast becoming the hallmark of the New River Valley short track, two-time defending NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion Lee Pulliam was succinct:

“It’s getting a lot tougher to win around here.”

A seven-lap shootout following the fourth and final caution period staged Friday night’s first dead heat. Pulliam and national title counterpart Peyton Sellers authored a stellar side-by-side battle, with the frontrunners exchanging the lead on four occasions prior to the white flag. Pulliam out-muscled Sellers from the bottom groove to gain the advantage entering turn three on the final circuit, but out of turn four, Tommy Lemons, Jr. joined the fray for first.

Lemons’ no. 27 speared the left rear quarter panel of Pulliam’s no. 5 exiting the corner, and for a fleeting moment the frontrunners were three-wide. Sellers, however, couldn’t capitalize on the contact. Pinned to the top groove of the race track, Sellers failed to gain ground as the top duo lunged for the line in a drag race that culminated with a 0.03 margin of victory in favor of Pulliam’s no. 5.

For Sellers, the outcome marked the second straight photo finish involving team no. 99 at MMS.

“I brought this blue car this week thinking it might be a little bit longer, but I still came up short,” quipped Sellers, who leads the division with five runner-up finishes in 2014. “Lee [Pulliam] was a little better than we were, no doubt about it. But I would’ve loved if he would’ve raced me a little bit cleaner. I ran 30 laps with Tommy [Lemons] last race and we came home with no scratches on the cars.”

It was a hard-fought win for Pulliam, who had endured a two-month winless drought entering the twinbill.

“It was wild. Peyton [Sellers] was giving me all he had on the outside there, and Tommy [Lemons] was jacking me up from behind…it was kind of uncontrollable; three-wide to the finish line,” explained Pulliam. “It was a wonder all three of us didn’t wad it up, but we held on and made a heckuva finish for the fans.”

Lemons rounded out the podium, with Quinn Houff and Ryan Wilson scoring fourth and fifth, respectively.

The nightcap produced an even closer result, with outside pole-sitter Payton Ryan at the epicenter of the action. And while the newcomer’s starting position was luck, his finish was anything but.

The 16 year-old Jonesville, LA native started second in the finale by virtue of the inversion following the first feature. In his Motor Mile Speedway debut, Ryan paced the race uncontested through the opening 51 circuits of the contest before surrendering the point to Lemons following the first caution period.

On lap 65, Lemons relinquished the top spot to Pulliam. With ten laps of racing remaining, it appeared as if Pulliam was poised to pull off the sweep, but a pair of late-race yellows changed the complexion of the contest.

The third and final caution of the nightcap unfurled on lap 73, staging a two-lap dash to the checkers. After surpassing Lemons prior to the yellow flag, Ryan found himself alongside Pulliam for the restart.

Resilient on the top side of the race track, the unheralded rookie refused to yield to the two-time track champion. The pair remained inseparable as the white flag fell, with Pulliam desperately attempting to maneuver past Ryan’s no. 23 in turn one.

A slight bobble by Pulliam sent the no. 5 skating up the banking in turn two, and as the frontrunners rocketed down the back straightaway, it was suddenly a four-car battle for the top spot. A white-knuckle scramble for first climaxed in turn three, as Pulliam made a last-ditch effort to unseat Ryan topside. The move opened the door for Lemons on the apron of the track, and the leaders were again three-wide exiting turn four.

The final 135 yards of asphalt transformed into a dragstrip as the top four barreled towards the checkers, with Ryan prevailing in a stunning storybook finish over Pulliam. The interval from first to fourth underscored the magnitude of the spectacle: 0.13 of a second.

Due to transponder issues on Ryan’s no. 23, the track’s scoring system failed to record an official margin of victory. Photo evidence of the finish was definitive.

It was a breakthrough performance for the first-year Late Model competitor, who entered the event with three career Late Model victories. From the cockpit, the young wheelman knew it wasn’t quite too close to call.

“From the first race I had bent up my nose a little bit, so I could see [the finish]. I looked over, and thought ‘Yes! I got it.’ I kinda knew,” beamed Ryan

“It’s the closest win of my career. It almost gave me a heart attack,” Ryan continued. “We wanted a couple top fives and a clean race car. We don’t exactly have a clean race car, but we got the win.”

Pulliam placed second, with Sellers, Lemons and Ryan Wilson rounding out the top five.

IN OTHER DIVISIONS:Ryan - Joe Mills PhotoScott Lancaster captured his second consecutive Collision Plus Limited Sportsman victory in the 50-lap division heat, expanding his advantage in the track standings to 24 points over Travis Hurt.

Chucky Williams coasted to back-to-back victories in the New River Nissan MOD-4 division. In just his second start, Matt Gusler took top honors in the Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock contest, and Scott Howell claimed his second win of the 2014 season in the UCAR division.

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