MARTINSVILLE, Va. – official release — Race22 photo — As the defending champion of one of NASCAR’s biggest late-model races, the only pressure Tommy Lemons Jr. felt on Wednesday came from within.
The Troy, N.C., driver was consistently among the fastest 20 drivers during the morning test session for the MDCU 300, set for Oct. 5 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, and believed he had more speed in his car. Before he had a chance to find that extra speed though, rain showers wiped out the afternoon session.
Lemons made a mad dash to victory in last year’s MDCU 300, taking advantage of a late-race multi-car melee to beat Dillon Bassett to the checkered flag on a green-white-checkered restart.
“I feel like there is a little more spotlight on me, but other than that, I really don’t feel like there is much change,” Lemons said of returning to the track where he scored the biggest win of his career. “I go out every week and try to compete and try to be one of the best guys at the race track every week.”
He’s been about the best everywhere he raced this season, which included Southern National Motorsports Park, Motor Mile, Caraway and South Boston speedways. He won the track championship at Southern National, recorded six wins and 29 top-5 finishes in 43 starts. He wound up ninth in the final NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points.
Lemons does admit to putting some pressure on himself coming into the MDCU 300. “I don’t know if there is any added pressure from anybody but myself wanting to defend the title.”
His biggest concern, even as defending race winner, is making the field for the MDCU 300. Only the top-two qualifiers are guaranteed a spot in the 42-car field. Everyone else has to race their way in, either through one of three 25-lap heat races or the 25-lap last-chance race. The top-10 finishers in each heat race and the last-chance race will advance to the 200-lap feature.
“With the heat race deal, you’ve got to be spot on. You can’t give up any positions on the race track,” said Lemons. “Back a few years ago when it was qualifying, you could get locked in (the top 22). You may have had a little added pressure on Saturday. But now, I could go home next weekend and not even be in the show. There’s definitely some added pressure there.”
Because of the rain, the test has been extended to Thursday with cars on track at 9 a.m.