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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Philip Morris’ trophy case is overflowing. And that’s just from 2011.
The three-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion has rattled off an impressive nine straight Late Model victories at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. Morris, 46, from Ruckersville, Va., has been so dominant that the track has offered a reward to any driver that can beat him.
Morris’ five wins in seven starts at South Boston and Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., over the last month also earned him another honor. He was voted to the top spot for June in the Hunter Index, as determined by a panel of auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives.
“What Philip Morris is able to do week in and week out is amazing,” said David Smith of DavidSmithMotorsports.com. “Virginia does not produce many slouches when it comes to Late Model Stock Car racing. Morris having this kind of consistent success for as long as he has can only mean that he is in a class by himself.”
Morris’ recent run allowed him to edge past defending national champion Keith Rocco for the top spot in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings.
It also pushed Morris past Rocco in the voting, despite an equally strong month by the Wallingford, Conn., driver. Rocco had five wins, seven top fives and nine top 10s in 10 races in the asphalt Modified divisions at three Connecticut tracks – Thompson International Speedway, Stafford Motor Speedway, and Waterford Speedbowl.
Morris edged Rocco, 174-168. Morris had four first-place votes to Rocco’s two.
Drivers are ranked on their performance over the previous month. The rankings are compiled by a panel of auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives. This season, the panel was expanded to 12 media members from across North American with experience covering NASCAR’s touring and weekly series, along with two voters from NASCAR.
Panelists rank their top 15, with first place receiving 15 points, second 14, third 13 and so on.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader Brett Moffitt collected three first-place votes to take third place with 165 points. The Grimes, Iowa, driver led a race-high 138 points en route to winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series combination event at Iowa Speedway.
Ron Silk of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Late Model driver Lee Pulliam rounded out the top five. Pulliam beat Morris twice at Motor Mile.
The Hunter Index, which was launched in 2010 on NASCARHomeTracks.com, is a monthly power poll designed to highlight the standout performances in the NASCAR developmental series. This year, the monthly winners will be presented with a trophy designed by Jostens.
Silk, who led every lap in winning at Stafford, earned a first-place vote, as did Greg Pursley (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West), Zach Hausler and Duane Howard of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Pursley was fourth overall at Iowa, but was credited with a win as the top finishing NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver. It was his third win in five races this season and fifth in the last seven dating back to last year.
Hausler became the first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series driver to reach 10 wins and three wins and a third in four starts at Houston Motorsports Park and Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle, Texas, during the most recent voting period. And Howard, who finished third in the national standings last year, had a win and a second in two starts at Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Penn.
“How tough is Grandview competition?,” said Len Sammons, editor of Area Auto Racing news. “During both nights in May, 18 modifieds failed to make the 24-car feature event. That’s more than most tracks in the country draw for a headline division. When Howard won the event on May 21, he started 16th in the feature event thanks to the track's tough handicapping system.
“On May 28 he had to run the consolation to qualify for the main event. He then started the 21st in the 30-lap feature event and finished a close second. All this passing on a very tight third-mile dirt track.”
Pursley was sixth in the overall voting, followed by Max Gresham (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), Hausler, Scott Steckly (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series) and Howard.
The Hunter Index is named for the late Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications and a longtime supporter of the weekly and touring series that make up the NASCAR Developmental Series.
The Index was designed as an opportunity to compare the top drivers from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series all the way up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. It will also encompass drivers from the NASCAR Mexico Series, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
The Hunter Index is released the first week of each month from April through November.
The panel also included media members: J.A. Ackley, Dick Berggren’s Speedway Illustrated; Shawn Courchesne, Hartford (Conn.) Courant; Bob Dillner, SPEED; Tim Haddock, haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com; Keith Lair, Los Angeles Newspaper Group; Spencer Lewis, Inside Track Motorsports News; Jorge Mondaca, FOXSports.com; Pat Patterson, SIRIUS NASCAR Ch. 128/ESPN Radio; Len Sammons, Area Auto Racing News; David Smith, DavidSmithMotorsports.com; and Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com. They are joined by Brett Bodine, who is the chairman of the NASCAR Résumé Committee and represents the NASCAR competition side on the panel, and Jason Christley, a NASCAR public relations representative.
HUNTER INDEX - JUNE
|1||PHILIP MORRIS (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why he’s here: The Ruckersville, Va., driver is on the fast track to a fourth national title. Nine straight wins at South Boston, including five this past month, edged him past Rocco in the standings in what’s shaping up as a phenomenal race.|
|2||KEITH ROCCO (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Defending national champion slipped to second in the points standings, but not because he’s slowed down. Five wins and seven top fives in nine starts gives him win in nearly half (7 of 15) of his starts this season.|
|3||BRETT MOFFITT (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East)|
|Why He’s Here: Grimes, Iowa, driver won at his home track with combination race victory at Iowa. Also allowed him to take the points lead by one over Darrell Wallace Jr. heading into this weekend at Bowman Gray.|
|4||RON SILK (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour)|
|Why He’s Here: Norwalk, Conn., driver had the field covered in the TSI Harley Davidson 125, leading all 125 from the pole for his fifth career victory. Moved to second in points with the victory.|
|5||LEE PULLIAM (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Only driver to beat Morris, he did it twice at Motor Mile – the track where Morris won seven titles. The Semora, N.C., had three wins at Motor Mile and three seconds to Morris at South Boston.|
|6||GREG PURSLEY (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West)|
|Why He’s Here: Fourth at Iowa and top West finisher meant the Newhall, Calif., continued to pad his points lead. Three wins in five races already in 2011.|
|7||MAX GRESHAM (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East)|
|Why He’s Here: Just missed picking up his second straight win in the combination race at Iowa, coming from 23rd starting spot for a runner-up finish.|
|8||ZACH HAUSLER (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: The 16-year-old Tomball, Texas, driver is making a name for himself. Four more wins this past month at Houston and Thunderhill, and he is undefeated overall at Houston.|
|9||SCOTT STECKLY (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series)|
|Why He’s Here: The Milverton,Ontario, driver began his quest for a second NASCAR Canadian Tire Series title by leading a race-high 112 laps in winning the opener at Mosport.|
|10||DUANE HOWARD (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Has has three wins and two seconds in five starts at Grandview, and the Olney, Penn., has to do it the hard way thanks to the track’s handicapping system starts the fast cars in the back.|
HONORABLE MENTION: Joe Williams (Devil’s Bowl and Albany-Saratoga/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Jorge Goeters (NASCAR Mexico Series), Rowan Pennink (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour), Greg Edwards (Langley Speedway/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), and Ted Christopher (Thompson and Stafford/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour).