Myrtle Beach, S.C. (August 7, 2004) - The quest to be the sport's very best. NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series driver Jeff Fultz took a major step in picking up the honor of being the most successful driver in Southeast Series...
Myrtle Beach, S.C. (August 7, 2004) - The quest to be the sport's very best.
NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series driver Jeff Fultz took a major step in picking up the honor of being the most successful driver in Southeast Series history thanks to a thrilling late race pass of Erik Darnell to win the AutoZone 150 at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
The win - Fultz's third straight at Myrtle Beach - ties Wayne Anderson with 21 Southeast Series victories. In a bit of an uncharacteristic celebration for Fultz, he turned his car around at the start-finish line and made a backwards lap and series of burnouts on the front straightaway much to the delight of the crowd in attendance.
"This really means a lot," Fultz said after padding his championship lead. "I have always liked this place a lot. If I could win one more race and become the all-time Southeast Series win leader - that would be something I could tell my kids and grandkids one day. I'm glad to win, but I'm still looking at the big picture which is the championship. I know not to get too confident because I won six races last year but didn't win the title."
For much of the race, it looked as if it was going to be Darnell picking up his second straight Southeast Series win. But in the race's closing stages, it was evident the handling on his car was going away and Fultz took the lead from him for good with eight laps to go. The problems also allowed rookie driver J.R. Norris to grab the second position while Darnell ended up third on a night he appeared to have the win all but in hand.
"I think we broke something in the rear end of the car with about 50 laps to go," Darnell said. "Even when I was leading, I knew Jeff Fultz might have had a faster car because he has been around this sport for so long. I'm not really sure if he was holding back a little something or if our problem in the rear end was what cost us the race."
Norris said he simply ran out of time and laps.
"We had a really fast car there at the end, but I was too far behind and didn't have enough time," Norris said. "That's just the way it goes sometimes."
The top-five was rounded out by Kevin Prince and Robert Richardson.
Because Saturday night's race was started from the Southeast Series point standing thanks to a July 17 rain-out date, that allowed Fultz to start from the pole alongside Norris. But it was evident from the first lap that Darnell was going to be a contender for the victory as he moved to second after the completion of the first green flag lap.
While Fultz enjoyed the lead early in the going, he was doing anything but pulling away from Darnell. In a bold move coming off the second turn at the famed .538-mile track on Lap 17, Darnell went to the outside and grabbed the lead from Fultz a lap later. Darnell, meanwhile, was able to pull out to a huge lead until the first and only caution flag of the night was displayed for a harmless spin by Wayne Bowen coming off the second turn on Lap 70.
What had been an almost straightaway lead that Darnell had padded was put to the test when the green flag was thrown on Lap 74 of the 150-lap race. Yet as the laps wound to an end, the car of Fultz kept getting closer and closer in his rearview mirror until Darnell lost the lead only eight laps shy of the victory.
The Southeast Series returns to action next Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in the 'Rock 101' 150. Fultz won the last race at the legendary track June 5 just ahead of Prince who ended up second.