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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Philip Morris has been through enough championship battles to have the process down to a science. But this year has been a little more difficult to get a grasp on what it’s going to take to win the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.
“It may just take winning every race the rest of the year,” joked Morris.
At the rate the top contenders are rattling off victories, he may not be far off.
The Ruckersville, Va., driver swept the Late Model Division features last Saturday at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. It gave Morris, a three-time national champion, his fifth win in his last eight starts and 14 wins in 21 starts overall.
Up the road, Lee Pulliam ran his win streak to five with a victory in the first of two Late Model features at Motor Mile Speedway at Radford, Va., Saturday. After an eighth in the second feature, the Semora, N.C., driver has 13 wins in 22 starts.
And they’re both chasing defending national champion Keith Rocco.
The Wallingford, Conn., driver swept the Modified division races at the three Connecticut tracks – Thompson International Speedway on Thursday, Stafford Motor Speedway on Friday and Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday – for the second time this season. He has won 10 of his last 12 races, including a spot start at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H., and has 19 wins in 33 races.
“Lately, it’s starting to feel like it was last year,” said Rocco.
Rocco has 733 points, putting him ahead of Morris with 712 and Pulliam with 709.
A driver’s best 18 results through Sept. 18 are counted toward their state and national points totals, and the champions are decided on overall points total. Once a driver reaches 18 starts, their total increases incrementally as they replace some poorer runs with better results.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the 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 bonus 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.
Of Rocco’s 19 wins, nine have produced a maximum number of points (45). Morris has eight of his 14 wins and Pulliam five of his 13.
With the division not racing this weekend at South Boston, Morris will take his Late Model to Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., Saturday, where CE Falk III has used a strong run to move to fourth in the national standings. Falk has four wins in a row at the track, including a sweep of the double features last Saturday. Pulliam said he is still deciding between running Langley or Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., this Saturday.
Combined with Frank Deiny Jr.’s win in the second Late Model feature at Motor Mile, the top five drivers in the nation won nine of their 11 starts last weekend.
“A lot of it is the people you surround yourself with,” Rocco said. “A lot of this gets done in the shop – a lot of prep to make the cars as good as they are.”
Rocco credits crew chief Shane Hopkins for taking the lead on prepping his Thompson car, allowing Rocco to focus on getting his Modified ready for Stafford and Waterford. It’s helped them rebound from a couple of accidents that have nearly totaled his cars this season, and get back to winning.
Likewise, Morris has leaned on H.C. Sellers. Sellers, the brother of 2005 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion Peyton Sellers, keeps and prepares Morris’ car out of his shop in Danville, Va.
“It’s a load off, no question,” Morris said. “The points deal is always a heavy load on your mind. It’s nice to get in the car and worry about winning races, rather than getting in and worrying about something breaking or falling off.
“The car is just so good. Even when we miss, we’re still competitive.”
Nate Monteith (New Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway and Motor Mile) is sixth in the national standings, followed by Ryan Preece (Stafford, Thompson and Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway), Brandon Davis (Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.)), Bill Leighton Jr. (Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Neb., and Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb.) and Lee Tissot (New Kingsport and Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway).
Track, state and provincial champions and the top-three finishers in the national standings earn invitations to the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet at the Charlotte Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday, Dec. 9.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Top 25
|1||Keith Rocco||Waterford, Monadnock, Thompson,||33||19||25||30||733|
|2||Philip Morris||S Boston, Motor Mile||21||14||17||18||712|
|3||Lee Pulliam||S Boston, Caraway, Motor Mile||22||13||18||20||709|
|4||C E Falk, III||Langley, S Boston||19||7||16||18||669|
|5||Frank Deiny, Jr||S Boston, Caraway, Motor Mile||19||1||13||17||525|
|6||Nate Monteith||Kingsport, Motor Mile||20||8||17||17||522|
|7||Ryan Preece||Riverhead, Thompson, Stafford||22||3||16||19||509|
|9||Bill Leighton, Jr||I-80, Adams, Junction||14||3||14||14||485|
|10||Lee Tissot||Kingsport, Greenville||18||3||15||17||477|
|12||Travis Braden (R)||Columbus, Kil-Kare||18||7||17||17||467|
|13||Natalie Sather||S Boston||17||0||13||15||466|
|14||Daniel Pope, III||Kingsport, Motor Mile||18||3||15||17||463|
|15||Andrew Kosiski||Junction, I-80||18||2||7||15||462|
|16||Mike Darne||Old Dominion, S Boston, Caraway||20||6||9||16||436|
|17||Woody Pitkat||Stafford, Thompson||16||2||13||14||432|
|18||Adam Royle||Raceway, Elko||19||8||17||17||422|
|21||Ted Christopher||Stafford, Thompson, Waterford||18||3||13||13||411|
|25||Donald Mahaffey, Jr||Columbus, Kil-Kare||19||3||13||17||403|