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Why the time was right for Lee Pulliam’s CARS Tour debut

Matt Weaver | STS

Lee Pulliam has read the internet chatter.

He doesn’t care, of course.

But Pulliam has read the claims that he is a four-time champion of a flawed NASCAR national points system or that he’s ducked the toughest competition in pursuit of ‘full fields’ and ‘easy wins.’ In response, Pulliam would casually point you in the direction of a trophy case that includes two victories in the Martinsville 300, six in the South Boston 200 and one each in the Myrtle Beach 400 and Thanksgiving Classic.

But still, Pulliam will have a chance to once again silence the critics next weekend when he makes his CARS Tour debut in the Do the Dew 150 at Tri County Motor Speedway. In doing so, Pulliam will cave to one of the biggest demands from fans in the Carolinas and Virginias.

Run a CARS Tour race.

“We’ve been watching the CARS Tour grow and they’re doing some really cool things,” Pulliam said. “It was just time to change it up a little bit and put some fun back into the racing. NASCAR has been fun. But after you’ve done it for over 10 years, it’s a good chance to do something different.”

The four-time Whelen All-American Series champion revealed last month that he would step away from full-time racing in 2018 to spend time with his wife and daughter, while also placing more energy towards his driver development program.

But the 29-year-old never called it a retirement.

In fact, Pulliam never said he was done with full-time NASCAR racing, either. He expects there will come a time that he will chase the record-tying fifth championship and maybe a sixth that will put him one over the legendary Larry Phillips.

READ MORE: CARS Tour reveals first-ever entitlement sponsorship

But for now, Pulliam just doesn’t want to race 30 weekends a year. CARS Tour boasts a 12-race schedule across the Carolinas and Virginias, opening the door for Pulliam to chase a different kind of championship if he wants, and one that would shut the fans up for good, too.

“You never know,” Pulliam said. “We’re just trying to have fun this year. But I’ll tell you what. If we come out of here next weekend with a good finish, we’re planning on going to Myrtle Beach for the second race and we won a bunch of races there last year so we’ll see what happens if we get out of there in the championship hunt.”

And oh by the way, that’s the same Myrtle Beach where Pulliam won 17 times in 2017 en route to the track championship.

But regardless of his schedule, and what the critics say, this is a more relaxed Lee Pulliam. A degree of intensity has been lifted from Pulliam during the off-season. This is Pulliam simply trying to have fun and win races.

He was laughing more at the Tri County test than he might have all season and it wasn’t a coincidence.

“Racing 50 times a year takes it out of you,” Pulliam said. “I think it was about last summer that I decided that I might want to scale back this year. I was just wore out. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun, but I didn’t want to miss the things that mattered.

“My daughter is 2 and I don’t want to miss anything with her. So I’m just going to have fun this season.”

And if a surprise CARS Tour championship bid emerges out of his new approach, that’s pretty cool. And if it doesn’t, the haters can still take a look at the trophy case should they have any questions. There might even be a new addition to collection come next Saturday night after the Do the Dew 150 at Tri County.

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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