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LUCAMA, N.C. :: Knightdale, North Carolina’s Andrew Grady returned to Late Model Stock racing for the first time in 11 months Saturday night at Southern National Motorsports Park. He did so with a bang, scoring a pair of podium finishes in twin 40-lappers.

In a field consisting of heavy hitters such as Matt Bowling and Lee Pulliam, Grady finished second to Bowling in race one. Grady was all smiles after the race, excited for such a successful return to competition.

“It’s a feeling I can’t even describe,” an ecstatic Grady said. “To finish second, and to battle with Matt Bowling like that, that’s a good sign of how strong our team is. We came out here yesterday to practice pretty good, came back today and we were even better.”

Grady qualified fourth, and passed Jonathan Findley for third on lap eight. The caution flew on lap 29 following an incident involving Findley, which allowed Grady to restart alongside Bowling after he took the outside line on the cone-rule restart.

The first two attempts at that restart were waved off by race control before Bowling held off Grady on the third. Officials deemed Grady jumped the first start, while Bowling went early on the second attempt.

Afterwards, Grady acknowledged he was simply trying to play games on the restart.

“That restart, man,” Grady said, laughing. “[Bowling]’s got some experience on me, that’s all that is. I tried to play a little game with him, and he knew it. He beat me to it. That’s alright.”

While Grady was excited about the runner-up finish, an eight-car invert placed him seventh in the starting grid for race two.

“Thankfully, I had Lee [Pulliam] in front of me,” Grady said about the eventual winner, who started fifth. “That helped a lot. There’s a reason he’s the national champion, man. We were hooked up, I was following him through the holes. He’d make the hole, I’d follow him through.”

Grady felt he had a car that could win the second race. However, there were a couple of risks he didn’t take in his return to action.

“There are a couple of people who need to put me on their Christmas card list after tonight,” Grady said. “I cut some favors tonight that I usually wouldn’t cut. That allowed Lee and the 21 [of Tim Allensworth] to get away.”

“I really, truly think we had something for Lee,” Grady added. “I really do. I rode behind him. He was a little tight in the center, it was making him loose off and I’d run in on him.”

Ultimately, Grady loved having the opportunity to compete with the defending national champion and the current NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points leader in Pulliam and Bowling.

“That was one of the highlights of my career right there,” said Grady. “To battle with [Pulliam] and Matt Bowling like that, that’s one of the coolest things I’ve done so far. Maybe in two or three weeks, we come back and not get ran onto the apron.”

Grady plans on competing regularly at Southern National to close out 2016, and may add a couple of other races as well.

“We will definitely be back here,” Grady said about his plans for the rest of the year. “We’re talking about going to Motor Mile next weekend. Maybe even running the CARS race here. Somebody brought that up, and I’m definitely down to do it. I’m down for a challenge.

“I loved having Lee and Matt and all them boys here,” Grady added. “That really upped the competition for me and made me step my game up. So hopefully we can run the CARS race here and bring something to them.”

Zach Evans is in his second season covering short track racing, A 2012 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Evans is a proud alumnus of The Daily Tar Heel, the school's award-winning independent student newspaper.

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