MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Mike Looney withstood a furious charge from Lee Pulliam over the final 10 laps but emerged victorious on Sunday in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway.
With nine laps to go, Pulliam actually got under Looney and climbed up his door panel when they came together off the exit of Turn 4. Looney escaped with the top spot but with visible damage across his quarter panel. Meanwhile, Pulliam was also able to keep going and they maintained the top two positions.
Looney never looked back and won by half a second over the two-time Martinsville champion.
“I’m just a nobody from nowhere,” Looney said referencing his hometown of New Castle, Virginia. “We started the season in an open trailer and now we’re in Victory Lane at Martinsville. I can’t believe it.”
Looney and Pulliam have raced against each other primarily at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia, this season and have become close friends. The two joked that they would eventually bounce off each other on Sunday night but Pulliam never really thought it would play out with his Late Model pointed towards the sky on his friends’ door panel.
“All I could see was that it was a beautiful clear night,” Pulliam said. “I could see a lot of sky. I just let off the gas until I landed because I was afraid I was going to hit him in his head. I hit the race track and they told me to gas it because Kris was closing in.
“I didn’t even know if it would even turn getting into Turn 1 or what. It’s unreal. We battled a lot of adversity today and we still finished second.”
Looney called Pulliam “the most talented race car driver I’ve ever faced” and had no qualms with how his pal raced against him with 10 laps to go. In fact, he even accepted part of the blame, grateful that they were able to still finish first and second.
“I was running for my life and running scared,” Looney said. “I bobbled a little bit getting into Turn 3. I left just a little hole and of course, I slammed it shut. We got togther and somehow I kept it straight and had air in all four tires. I’m just happy no one got hurt or torn us worse than we did.”
It’s worth noting that Pulliam was the first to greet Looney and congratulate him upon climbing out of his car.
“He’s one of my closest friends,” Pulliam said. “We joked all weel we that we were going to bounce off each other tonight but I didn’t mean it to go down that way. I’m just glad that neither of us wrecked. I’m just pleased to have finshed second.”
Kres Van Dyke, CE Falk and Austin Thaxton completed the top five.
Pulliam dominated much of the first half but not without worry as the three-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion had developed a transmission issue and was unable to shift into third gear. And yet, he was leading at halfway and was credited with the $2,000 Clerence’s Steakhouse Award.
Capturing that also cost him the lead as NASCAR inverted the top six positions following the intermission.
The scoring tower announced the invert on Lap 60 in order to allow drivers time to decide whether to fight for the halfway bonus or position themselves ahead of the inversion. Looney spent much of the first half just a few tenths behind Pulliam but began dropping positions over the final 10 laps in order to play the invert. He fell back to fourth by Lap 100 and restarted third as a result.
JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry led early in the second half after restarting second but quickly saw his chances evaporate when Philip Morris doored him into the marbles on Lap 127 and spun around in Turn 3. Stripped of his track position, Berry was then caught up in a second crash just a few laps later when he collided with Brad Kurth.
“It was just the worst case scenario for us,” Berry said. “We went from racing for the lead with Philip and he just beat me into the corner. Then we got stuck in the back and that’s what happens when you get stuck back there. It’s just how it goes sometimes.”
The first half was marred by several multi-car crashes but none larger than the one that occurred at Turn 1 on the opening lap of the event. It began when Tyler Matthews and Bradley McCaskill collided in the corners and collected Mike Darne and Justin Carroll. Several other cars scraped by with only minor damage.