There are puzzling finishes and then there is the 2019 Myrtle Beach 400.
After enduring two days of rain and a day of condensed race day schedule as a result, the prestigious event in the heart of the Grand Strand was aborted right as it was set to deliver its most compelling action.
The end result was Will Burns scoring the biggest win of his career, and the $10,000 that came with it, while everyone else was left searching for the words to explain what had happened.
Burns and Jeff Fultz were the dominant cars of the second half, but if history is any indication, the results were in question as tire strategies came into play.
As the laps winded down, back-to-back cautions resulted in the race running precariously close to an 11:00 p.m. county curfew. When the race restarted on lap 226 of 250 the field roared into Turn 1.
Just behind the leaders of the field, Corey Heim and Josh Berry made contact and eventually took Sammy Smith and Fultz out of contention. The caution waved and the field made one lap under yellow before being shown the checkered flag — adding Burns’ name to the storied list of winners.
“This is easily the biggest win of my career,” Burns said. “It’s not even close.”
The reason for the curfew is a local noise ordinance. While the track has been in its location since 1958, a neighborhood has developed behind it, which has successfully placed restrictions on late finishes. The rain-delayed event couldn’t start until after noon on Sunday for the same reasons.
While the track has occasionally run later than their curfew due to weather or other difficult circumstances, it was not allowed to finish to completion on Sunday night, as an sheriff’s deputy appeared to notify the track to cease track activity.
The perfect storm of weather and a race schedule that was condensed to a single day resulted in simply running out of time and, therefore, exhausting available race time.
“I do recall them saying that in the drivers’ meeting,” Burns said. “I got a heads-up about 10 laps beforehand. I really wasn’t banking on it. I did not think that was going to happen. I’m sure, had the police not come out to stop us, it probably would have gone on to the finish.
“I completely did not expect that at all. I expected it to go to 250. We were prepared for that, our car was good enough, we saved enough, and we were ready to race it out at the end.”
Speedway general manager Steve Zacharias said his track was left with no other recourse but to end the race, calling it disappointing for both fans and competitors alike.
“Obviously, that is not how we wanted to end the 400,” Zacharia said. “With this weekend the way it was, with weather and going back to one weekend, to start with, and then having to finish it all in one day was crazy in itself.
“We went as hard as we could all day. It is 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday. Kids have school in the morning. We do have the curfew of 11:00. That is a mandated deal by the county. When it came to it and we had 30 more laps to go, I knew there was no way we were going to continue…
“We have to do the 11 o’clock thing. It sucks. I know it is frustrating probably, for the people who felt like they had a shot at the win there at the end. We did give them notice in the spotters’ stand. We said ‘Hey, this is the final green flag. If you guys can finish it to the end, then we’ll go to the checkered flag. If not, this is the last green flag run.’ Everyone was fully aware, but at the end of the day, I hate making the call and having to do it but, it is what it is.”
Due to their involvement in the caution, Fultz, Smith and Berry were all relegated to tail end of the lead lap finishes. Burns, who stayed ahead of the melee in turns 1 and 2, took the win with Heim, Berry, Timothy Peters and Ryan Millington completing the top-five.
The top-five were, expectedly, not happy about the curfew decision.
This adds to Heim’s tragic history of losing races in remarkable fashion. He was denied a victory in the 2018 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville when that race was called after three green-white-checkered finishes, despite the fact he was ahead of race winner C.E. Falk at the time of the final caution.
The track later changed the rules to prevent that from happening. Heim also had wins stripped from him at South Boston Speedway last fall for a controversial disqualification ruling.
“Yeah, it wasn’t a very good call,” Heim said. “They gave us until 11:00 p.m., which I guess was their curfew. They told our spotters that with 20 minutes left. At that point I think we got two chances to take the lead.
“They basically gave the field an opportunity to self-destruct. The entire field just self-destructed there. I don’t understand it at all. I understand they have some deal with the city where they have a curfew but it is just complete B.S. We had the field covered by three-tenths.”
Peters said he expected more from race control to run a tighter schedule than what ultimately put them so behind, the rain all weekend notwithstanding.
“When you’ve been here for a whole week and the money that these teams have spent, that is not a good call to make,” Peters said. “… You need to think about your customer. We’re the customer.
“I’m sure I won’t be the only one to put a suggestion in the suggestion jar come Monday morning… At the end of the day, it ain’t going to matter what I say. You need to think about the customer. The way we finished tonight, that was uncalled for.”
The first 80 laps of the race was a side-by-side race-pace dance.
Drivers dove three-wide multiple times to grab the lead. There were three cautions during the first half of the event that claimed Matt Cox and ultimately Justin Hicks. Chad McCumbee, Bryant Barnhill, Lucas Williams, Blaise Brinkley, David Roberts and Randy Porter all retired before the midway break in the race.
The second half of the race was highlighted by Fultz leading most of the laps ahead of Burns before the crash the eliminated him from contention.
“They came across the radio and said that was going to be the last restart,” Fultz said. “At the same time, they took us from leading and put us in second, and I never understood that point of it. I was leading. We got a start and the guy kind of jumped me at the line, which is fine, we crossed the line and he might have been ahead by a nose but we never even completed a lap.
“We came back around and I don’t understand that part of it. They said this would be the last restart, which I was fine with that. Once I accepted that they put him in first, I had to race him. I had a faster car. Something happened behind me, I got clipped and turned around, and it tore Mike Darne’s racing car up.”
Berry and Heim, who showed the most strength in the first half, were cruising in the top-six and simply waiting for the final 25 laps, as most race winners at Myrtle Beach usually do.
“I think we (he and Heim) were probably the two best cars, especially in the first half,” Berry said. “The second half was just about getting to the end there. At the end, if the race would have played out naturally, I think we would have found ourselves one and two again, but that’s not what happened.”
The most excitement throughout the race was provided by Jamie Weatherford.
At one point Weatherford was two laps down. He raced his way around the leaders and drove back through the field to unlap himself to return to the lead lap. At that point scoring erroneously scored him as the leader and caused Race Monitor to be shut down for a handful of laps.
The remainder of the race saw a handful of cautions that took out Justin Milliken, Weatherford, Jacob Heafner, Shane Lee and others.
The official results from the Myrtle Beach 400 can be found below.
- Will Burns
- Corey Heim
- Josh Berry
- Timothy Peters
- Ryan Millington
- Jason York
- Austin Somero
- Myatt Snider
- Kevin Leicht
- Connor Hall
- Bradley McCaskill
- Sam Yarbrough
- Jamey Caudill
- Matt Linker
- Jacob Heafner
- Austin McDaniel
- BJ Mackey
- Stuart Ricks
- Conner Mosack
- Michael Faulk
- TJ Barron
- Peyton Sellers
- Justin Johnson
- Chris Throckmorton
- Tommy Lemons
- Jeff Fultz
- Sammy Smith
- Matt Leicht
- Jamie Weatherford
- Justin Milliken
- Shane Lee
- Brenden Queen
- Woody Howard
- Bryant Barnhill
- Matt Cox
- Randy Porter
- Chad McCumbee
- David Roberts
- Brian Vause
- Lucas Williams
- Blaise Brinkley