Austin Thaxton has enjoyed all the publicity surrounding the three national champions in the Late Model Stock field at South Boston Speedway this season.
It’s helped him stay out of sight as he’s quietly raced to second in the points standings while putting together an average finish of just a tad over fourth.
“I hope so,” Thaxton said with a laugh when asked if he was going unnoticed. “That’s the plan. I really didn’t realize it (until this week). I hadn’t even looked at the points.”
Those three NASCAR Whelen All-American Series titleholders, five-time champ Philip Morris, four-time champion Lee Pulliam, and Peyton Sellers, winner of one national title, have combined to win all four races this season. Morris has two wins, Pulliam one and Sellers one. Sellers leads the points by 25 over Thaxton.
Thaxton came out of the gate strong this season, posting a fifth and a fourth in the season-opening twin 100-lap races and followed up with a sixth and a second two weeks ago in twin 75-lap events.
It’s a much-needed resurgence for the South Boston driver. After winning five times in 2016, he’s won just one race in each of the past two seasons.
“I’m happy with everything so far,” said Thaxton. “We’re running better than we have in a while. We had been struggling pretty bad the last couple of years. We worked hard over the winter and in the first couple of races it seems to be showing.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve worked any harder than the last two or three years, but we have been making changes that count. We’re not making changes just to make changes. We’re making them count.”
Thaxton has raced against the trio of champions much of his career. He has great respect for them but isn’t overly awed.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked if they were beatable. “They put their driving suits on just like I do. Now don’t get me wrong; all three are really good. You don’t have national championships and not be good. But I think we can out-run them and we are going to out-run them. It’s just a matter of time.”
The biggest obstacle for Thaxton so far this season has been finding speed on restarts.
“We’ve got really good long-run speed, but just not the good short-run speed,” said Thaxton, who gets sponsorship help from Italian Delight Family Restaurant, Fallen Trucking, Mincey’s Graphics and Morgan Lumber Company. “After about 10 or 15 laps we equalize but by then they are a half-a-straight ahead and that’s hard to make up.
“We just haven’t been able to put our finger on what to do to make it better. But we’ve been taking advantage of this break to work on it.”
That break ends April 20 with the NASCAR Easter Bunny Late Model 100, which features a 100-lap Late Model race, twin 25-lap Limited Sportsman races, a 30-lap Budweiser Pure Stock race and a 15-lap Budweiser Hornets race.