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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – In a night loaded with full-contact battles throughout the field, the best one of them all was at the front.
That's where Matt DiBenedetto and Corey LaJoie waged a spirited war for the Army Strong 150 victory. Though the drivers made contact several times, notably through the third and fourth turns on the final restart of the race, DiBenedetto led every lap in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut at Bowman Gray Stadium.
“The Madhouse” lived up to its nickname.
“We were just fighting like crazy,” DiBenedetto said. “(LaJoie) did a really good job racing me really hard and not doing anything to wreck both of us. It was a good points day for both of us. We raced hard – beating and banging a lot – and the right side is tore off our car, but we're really excited about it.”
Drivers had talked in the days leading up to the event at Bowman Gray about how difficult racing could be. More to the point, they worried that tempers would flare and a wild night would turn unbearable.
Though each and every one of the 27 starters in the race showed some sort of cosmetic damage, there were very few hot tempers in the garage after the event was over. At the front of the field, DiBenedetto thought it was good, hard racing – but it didn't cross the line in his mind.
“You can't carry tempers off the race track when you come to a quarter-mile bullring,” DiBenedetto said. “You've got to know going in what to expect. It was just short-rack racing, and I think we made it an interesting show for the fans.”
LaJoie said he, too, felt the racing stayed above board despite its physical nature.
“It's Bowman Gray, baby,” LaJoie said. “When you see everyone standing on their feet clapping, you know it's a good show. I can't complain. It's a tight little quarter-mile track that Legends cars are tight on.
“You're going to get together, you're going to hit fenders, you're going to tear some tails off.”
PRESSLEY'S NIGHT ENDS EARLY: Polesitter Coleman Pressley spent most of the first half of the event running single-file between DiBenedetto and Brett Moffitt in the Top-3 before misfortune hit.
A flat tire put him to the back of the field before an accident gave him an oil leak that ended his night after just 125 laps.
“On one of the restarts there, I just got really loose under caution,” said Pressley, who ended up 22nd. “I started weaving around, and the right rear felt like it was down. We came in to the pits, and there was just six pounds (of air pressure) in it – something cut through the sidewall.”
Though Pressley was frustrated, he was happy to see his X Team Racing teammate DiBenedetto get to Victory Lane. It was the first win for the first-year three-car team.
“We had a plan worked out with Matt and (Moffitt), and we were going to get in line and just try and get away. It worked out for Matt, but not so much for me and (Moffitt),” Pressley said. “I'm really excited. I'm excited for Matt, and I'm excited for the whole X Team Racing team. We'll just go to Gresham and try and get them next week.”
MOVERS: One of the most surprising parts of the Army Strong 150 was seeing the cars of LaJoie and Eddie MacDonald move toward the front so effortlessly in the early going.
On the notoriously one-groove race track, LaJoie went from 13th starting spot to the Top-5 in less than 30 laps, while MacDonald went from 21st to seventh in the same span.
“The bottom was where it was,” LaJoie said. “I caught a break there on the inside, and the outside just got freight-trained. The bottom was just rolling.”
But LaJoie also found a way to get something out of the outside groove, too.
He battled up to second place late in the race by passing both MacDonald and Moffitt in the outside groove.
“We got the high side and I was driving for all its worth, but the high side just wasn't where it was,” said LaJoie, who matched his career-best finish in the series at Dover last September.
NOTES: Darrell Wallace Jr. came from dead last in the starting field to finish sixth and take over the series points lead. Wallace brushed the wall after completing his qualifying lap on Friday night, and the team was forced to forfeit its ninth-place qualifying run to start at the rear... Ben Kennedy finished third for his best career finish... Matt DiBenedetto became the 120th different driver to win a race at Bowman Gray Stadium... Sergio Pena ran well inside the Top-10 before his engine overheated and ended his race after only 87 laps. He finished 26th after starting 5th.