Lee Pulliam took the CARS Tour Late Model Stock field to school on Saturday at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
The four-time Whelen All-American Series champion and reigning track champion literally ran dead last for the first half of the 100-lap race before deciding to pick up the pace on the abrasive South Carolina surface. Upon deciding to go, Pulliam methodically began picking-off the competition, one car at a time, taking the lead with 10 laps to go.
Once he got around Ronald Hill, he never looked back, winning his first CARS Tour race in just his second career appearance.
Pulliam feels he should have won the season-opener on March 10 at Tri-County Motor Speedway and entered the weekend with a chip on his shoulder. For Pulliam, there was no better track than the Beach for him to make his second series showing at, after winning 16 times at the Grand Strand in 2017.
Even though Pulliam fell to the back early on, that wasn’t a strategy the 30-year-old wanted to employ, but was forced into it when he qualified 20th. With a guaranteed caution somewhere in the first three quarters of the race because 40 consecutive green flag laps results in a yellow flag, Pulliam knew exactly what he needed to do.
The caution waved 40 laps into the race, with Pulliam riding right in front of leader Ty Gibbs, and the race was on from that point.
“I never planned to run in the back, honestly,” Pulliam said. “I never ran worse than sixth or seventh all those races we won here last year. But we kind of got screwed up in group qualifying with the slower cars pulling out in front of you.
“I know how valuable tires are, so starting that far in the back, riding in the back was really my only option to have a shot at it. That was really tough. I’d rather just qualify in the top-5 and stay there to manage it.”
He said he had something to prove after Tri-County didn’t go his way. It sounds like he’s going to Wake County on Apr. 7 to stay in the championship mix. pic.twitter.com/O1WiYJKZ6s
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) March 24, 2018
Gibbs qualified on the pole but set a blistering pace, at one point putting an entire straightaway over the field and second-place Justin Johnson.
The problem with such a strategy is that Myrtle Beach is so aged, and eats rubber so aggressively, that drivers won’t have the grip needed to race in the closing stages. The race was just a four-tire affair and Gibbs struggled in the second half.
He fell outside of the top-10 with five laps to go and was involved in a crash in Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag.
“It was tire fall off, we fought a tight race car all day, but I think we could have been better if I had managed them better,” Gibbs said after the race.
Meanwhile, it looked like Ronald Hill had enough to secure a significant upset victory over the rest of the field, but simply ran out of time when Pulliam came charging through the field. Hill and Johnson actually caught a break when the caution waved on Lap 65.
Pulliam would have preferred the race stay green because it made the cars easier to pick off.
“Nah, man,” Pulliam said. “I thought the race would have played out better in my favor if it had stayed green. The cars were spreading out and I could pick them off one at a time.”
Instead, Pulliam was forced into several three-wide scenarios and had to use up more of his tires than he wanted while breaking into the top-5.
Johnson finished third and could do nothing but tip his cap to Pulliam’s performance.
“I was really concerned with the rear tires,” Johnson said. “After that last caution, I lost the front tires. I must have chewed up the right front a little harder than I expected. I had pretty good forward drive at the end so hats off to (Pulliam) because that was impressive.”
As for Pulliam, he never expected to compete for a CARS Tour championship this season, but winning one of the first two races has him in the mix. He plans to continue on with the tour when it resumes on April 7 at Wake County Speedway.
“Everyone says come to the CARS Tour because that’s where the competition is,” Pulliam said. “They’re right. These guys are real tough. I’ve had to work my butt off the first two races. We should have two wins, but neither of those races were gimmes.”
So does that mean Pulliam is in it for the long haul?
“I guess so,” Pulliam said. “You know, I said we would play it by ear, but we’re having a good time right now. I want to make sure my business and family comes first. But this has been fun so far.”
The complete results can be found below.
- Lee Pulliam
- Ronald Hill
- Justin Johnson
- Josh Berry
- Bobby McCarty
- Bradley McCaskill
- Matt Cox
- Sam Yarbrough
- Cody Haskins
- Brandon Pierce
- Layne Riggs
- Colby Howard
- Craig Moore
- Deac McCaskill
- Sam Mayer
- Ryan Repko
- Joe Graf, Jr.
- Justin Crider
- Jacob Heafner
- Bryant Barnhill
- Justin Carroll
- Ty Gibbs
- Grayson Cullather
- Dexter Canipe, Jr.
- Craig Stallard
- Trevor Ward
- Charlie Watson
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