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WINSTON-SALEM, NC :  Tommy Neal returned to the form of old in the longest and most prestigious race for the Sportsman division at Bowman Gray Stadium on Saturday night with a wire-to-wire win in the Whelen 100.

Michael Adams claimed the pole in qualifying for the annual race on Memorial Day weekend, and would lineup third after the top six redrew.  This put Neal on pole after he pulled pill number one with, crowd favorite and defending Sportsman champion, Taylor Branch in second as he made his long awaited season debut.

Neal got the jump into turn one to lead early on as it appeared the race might be tame for the first half.  Adams moved up to second with Zack Ore, John Holleman and Billy Gregg the top five as Branch dropped through the field in the first 10 laps.

The first caution waved on lap 16 after Justin Taylor had an incident in the South end of the speedway.  This setup a messy restart as the lapped car of Les Miranda would lineup on the outside of the second row when he shouldn’t have been up there.

As the field drove into turn 1, Miranda didn’t get up to speed and about a half-dozen cars went for a spin and crash behind him.  Among those heavily damaged was 2016 point leader Zack Clifton who backed into the guardrail.  As Clifton sat on track the field passed by him to put him one lap down, this was not noticed by scoring until the final caution.  Ore was also involved and suffered severe damage to his #55 and an end to his night.

Neal’s dominate lead was erased as the race approached halfway for a series of minor spins.  On the lap 51 restart Adams would line up alongside Neal on the front row.  As the green waved Adams tried to get in between third place Holleman and leader Neal but instead got tangled up going for the lead and crashed off the second turn.  Holleman got a piece of it but continued, while Wayne Hill, Adams, and Kyle Southern all were towed off track with heavy damage.  Miraculously the Adams crew repaired his car under the lengthy cleanup and he rejoined the race before it restarted.

The final 40 laps would see all sorts of excitement behind Neal.  On lap 70, Noah Triplett finally got around the fading car of Holleman for second and brought Michael Tilley and Jordan Fleming with him.

By the time Clifton made the pass he was a full straightaway behind leader Neal, but a caution for Robbie Brewer on lap 83 brought new life for Clifton, or so he and everyone else thought.

Another killer restart for Neal as he led Clifton and Triplett, which was soon erased after Adams sent Holleman for a spin as they exited turn 4 just 9 laps from the finish.

Under this caution flag the officials finally noticed that Clifton was not on the lead lap and was one lap down from his accident earlier in the race.  They then made the decision to give him the lucky dog on lap 96 and sent him around to join the tail of the field, even though the lucky dog was not being used in this race.

It didn’t change the outcome up front as Tommy Neal drove one more perfect lap to score the victory in and green and white finish in the longest event of the season for the Sportsman division, the Whelen 100.

“I had a good car and a great piece,” said an exhausted Neal after the event.  “The car has been fast all year, but we just had some bad draws.  We had a good draw the last race and the motor went south on us with a broken rocker arm and a messed up carburetor.  This week we were flawless and it was the great.  The car was good from the moment we started and it got a little tight in the middle and I just put a little rear brake into it and she came alive.”

“I can’t thank all my guys and the good Lord above for giving me the strength to keep doing what I love to do, and we will keep on going and maybe win us a championship this year.”

Sportsman Whelen 100 Results :

  1. Tommy Neal (#21)
  2. Noah Triplett (#70)
  3. Ryan Robertson (#31)
  4. Michael Tilley (#26)
  5. Jordan Fleming (#40)
  6. Dylan Ward (#7)
  7. Zack Clifton (#81)
  8. John Holleman (#4)
  9. Jeff Garrison (#3)
  10. Michael Adams (#0)
  11. Kevin Neal (#22)
  12. Robbie Brewer (#68)
  13. Taylor Branch (#86)
  14. Wayne Hill (#11)
  15. Rob Dixon (#19)
  16. Kyle Southern (#92)
  17. Billy Gregg (#28)
  18. Les Miranda (#14)
  19. Justin Taylor (#12)
  20. Zack Ore (#55)
  21. Terry Thompson (#41)

 

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