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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Lee Pulliam has continued to pile up the wins in his drive toward history.
The 25-year-old asphalt Late Model driver out of Semora, N.C., took home a key win Saturday in the 250-lap event at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va. The victory gave him the maximum points attainable in a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season and put him on the brink of a second consecutive national title.
The final day of the 2013 point race is Sunday, Sept. 15. After a review, the final standings are certified by the NASCAR Member Services department, and NASCAR Vice President of Touring and Weekly Series George Silbermann will make the call to inform the national champion.
“It’s still not over,” Pulliam said. “If we get a phone call from George Silbermann next week to congratulate us, that’s the special moment when we’ll know all our hard work won a national championship.”
Pulliam has 26 wins, 39 top fives and 43 top 10s in 46 starts. Saturday’s win at Motor Mile was his 18th with a maximum point return of 45. A driver’s top 18 finishes count toward crowning the national champion, as well as U.S. state and Canadian province champions.
Pulliam joined Keith Rocco as the only drivers under the current points system to achieve a perfect score. The last drivers to record a similar season under the NASCAR championship format were five-time champion Larry Phillips and current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle in 1995. Phillips and Biffle achieved the maximum points under the system at the time; Phillips won the crown by virtue of more overall wins (32-27).
Pulliam’s win total also moved him into a tie with 1982 national champion Tom Hearst for 20th all-time in a single season.
“It’s so hard to win in Late Model Stock Cars,” said Pulliam, who looks to close out the track championship at South Boston (Va.) Speedway Saturday. “Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to make sure this season isn’t a dream. All we do is work hard every day and every race. We won races that didn’t look like we were going to win with 10 laps to go. Everything just fell into place. We are extremely blessed.”
In addition, Pulliam also leads Late Model points at Motor Mile and the NASCAR Virginia points race.
In Saturday’s event at Motor Mile, Pulliam’s season-long primary challenger Deac McCaskill, placed 17th after winning the pole.
McCaskill, 35, of Raleigh, N.C., retained second place in points with 766. The Late Model points leader at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C., McCaskill has 14 wins, 27 top fives and 34 top 10s in 38 starts.
Keith Rocco, 28, of Wallingford, Conn., likely sealed third place over Ryan Preece, 22, of Berlin, Conn., in a battle of asphalt modified drivers after Preece was unable to pick up a win at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway or Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway over the weekend. Rocco holds a 742-730 lead and the most points Preece can pick up in one race would be 11. Preece and Rocco are scheduled to race Friday at Stafford, but Preece is the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour point leader and is entered in the tour’s event at Riverhead Saturday.
Dirt Modified driver Craig VonDohren of Oley, Pa., took his sixth win of the season Saturday night and clinched his seventh track title at Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa. He moved into fifth place in national points, followed by five-time Grandview champion Duane Howard in sixth.
Last week’s fifth-place driver C.E. Falk III (Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., and South Boston) dropped to seventh in points. Falk will likely be competing this Saturday for his fourth Late Model championship at Langley.
Tommy Lemons Jr. (Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., Southern National, South Boston and Motor Mile) is eighth followed by Chad Finchum (Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway and Motor Mile) and Burt Myers (Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.).
Pulliam has led the 2013 national standings since they began being posted May 14. He has been the No. 1 ranked driver in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series weekly points since last year. He’s led the national standings since taking the top spot from Falk effective with points posted July 17, 2012.
McCaskill pulled into a statistical tie atop the national points at the end of June, although Pulliam retained the lead in the tie-breaking number of wins (15-10).
“Deac is tough to beat at Southern National. He was winning at his home track while we had a little bad luck racing away from our home track,” Pulliam said. “We had to start gaining points quick to hold off Deac’s surge.”
Pulliam said his third-place finish in the national point race in 2011 opened the door for the two seasons that have followed.
“It taught us a lot,” Pulliam said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves last year to not miss anything in preparation at the shop or at the track. It’s been the same this year. We just keep persevering.”
All of Pulliam’s wins came in one car based on a Hedgecock chassis using JRI Shocks and powered by a Kowalsky Racing Engine. He ran a second car in a handful of races.
Pulliam would be the third driver in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series history to win consecutive national championships. The feat was accomplished by NASCAR Hall of Fame finalist Phillips twice (1992-93 and 1995-96) and Philip Morris (2008-09). Pulliam would also become only the third driver in series history to win more than one national championship, joining Phillips and Morris.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards will take place on Friday, Dec. 13 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame/Charlotte Convention Center. Among those honored will be the 2013 national champion, as well as track champions from 55 tracks across the United States and Canada, state and province champions, and top rookies.
Now in its 32nd season, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. There are 55 sanctioned tracks throughout the United States and Canada that participate.
A NASCAR Division I driver’s best 18 results through the Sept. 15 closing date count toward their state and national point totals and the champions are decided on overall point total. Once a driver reaches 18 starts, their point total increases incrementally as they replace some poorer runs with better results.
Under the point structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, a race winner receives two points for every car in the event up to 20 cars. Second place receives two fewer points and so on through the field. Race winners receive an additional five points. For example, if 20 cars are in the field, the winner receives 45 points, second place 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 35 points, second 28 and third, 26.
Track operators also designate support classes as NASCAR Divisions II-V and drivers in those divisions compete for points in the NASCAR Finalist program. The program brings added recognition to support division drivers. Points are kept separately for asphalt and dirt tracks.
More information on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is available at www.nascarhometracks.com.