Charlie Bradberry locks up championship, Jeff Fultz wins race, John Wilkinson III gets Rookie-of-the-Year title. All this on the August rainout make up race! Greenville, S. C. (Sept 20 2003)-The curtain came down on the NASCAR Elite Division...
Charlie Bradberry locks up championship, Jeff Fultz wins race, John Wilkinson III gets Rookie-of-the-Year title. All this on the August rainout make up race!
Greenville, S. C. (Sept 20 2003)-The curtain came down on the NASCAR Elite Division Kodak Southeast Series 2003 season Saturday evening with five milestones being recorded.
Jeff Fultz, defending series champion, ended his reign by finally winning at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, to record his sixth win of 2003, taking the checkered flag in the postponed Flexcheck Cash Advance 150. Fultz's win gives him 17 career wins and ties him with Freddie Query as runner-up to Wayne Anderson's 21 victories. His winning speed of 63.055 mph breaks a 12-year old record set in 1991 for a 150-lap series event at the historic Greenville track.
Charlie Bradberry finished fourth in the event to become the youngest series champion in the history of this NASCAR Division, finishing with a 17-point margin over Fultz. Bradberry is 21 years of age.
John "Boy" Wilkinson II finished one position ahead of his brother-in-law, Terry Mason Jr. to earn Victory Circle Chassis Rookie-of-the-Year honors and a year-end award of $5,000.
And for the first time ever, every series rookie contender finished in the top ten in the final series points standing.
"I couldn't have done anymore then we did tonight," said an obviously subdued Fultz as he sat in his racecar in victory lane. "We had an outstanding year except for a couple of races but anytime you can win six races in a 10 race schedule and have seven top ten finishes it had to be a good year."
"Sure we wanted to repeat as champion but you have to give Charlie (Bradberry) credit. He was steady and consistent all year. We had a good race car tonight. With the series inversion procedure we started ninth and it took us a little time to get going but the car was fast. The Craig's have given me the greatest racing opportunity in my life and I am proud of this team. They worked their tails off all year. I am just as proud of them now as I was last year when we won the championship," continued Fultz.
For Bradberry it was a dream come true. "When I was a kid this is what I dreamed about. My hero's were All Pro drivers like Billy Bigley Jr., Bobby Gill, Jody Ridley and my brother Gary. Watching them race and working on Gary's team left no doubt what I wanted."
"I can't thank my dad enough for making all this possible. We never have had any kind of sponsorship. My dad has always been behind Gary's racing program and now mine," continued the new champion who seemed to be in awe of winning.
"I don't think this will sink in till the banquet and I get that Champion's Diamond Ring," chuckled Bradberry. "This will really give us momentum going into the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. Going there representing this series and being introduced as the 2003 Champion really will mean a lot. I think this series will represent Kodak and everyone very well."
David Reutimann returned to the series one final time to earn his first Bud Pole Award in 2003, turning the half-mile oval in 20.001 Secs (89.996 mph). Reutimann's pole made him the ninth different pole winner this year. Another feat never accomplished before on the series. The Myrtle Beach event was started on points due to inclement weather. Reutimann expects to be competing on the NASCAR Busch Series in 2004.
The series inversion procedure put Jason Hogan at the point with Greg Pope on the outside front row for the start of the race.
Pope had an excellent start jumping to the point in turn one to lead his first laps of 2003. Hogan did not let him get too far as the 2002 rookie-of-the-year closed on the back bumper of Pope's Chevrolet. These two remained one and two until the first caution waved on lap 24. Cars started making their mandatory pit stop after lap 25 with Pope, Fultz, A. J. Frank, Kevin Prince and Dusty Williams staying on the track and pitting on lap 27.
When Pope made his stop that put Hogan at the point with Wilkinson, Reutimann, Shane Sieg and Johnny Brazier in the top five spots on the restart.
By lap 52, Reutimann had passed Wilkinson and had his Pennzoil Chevrolet on the back bumper of Hogan's Universal Chevrolet. Reutimann kept the pressure on Hogan numerous times trying to get on the inside of Hogan's machine but he could not make the pass with Hogan's car on the highside of the track.
While these two were battling, all eyes were on the championship contenders. On lap 66, Fultz was running third and Bradberry was in eighth with the separation down to 13 points.
Hogan, Reutimann, Fultz and Randy Gentry were the top four cars as Reutimann kept trying to pass Hogan with Fultz and Gentry challenging Reutimann. These four opened a 15-car lead over Wilkinson, Brazier, Bradberry and Mason.
"I knew if I was going to win this race and the championship I had to make my move," said Fultz which he did with a bonzi move around Reutimann's car in turn one as the field restarted the fifth race caution. He then moved in on the back bumper of Hogan's Chevrolet and into the lead on lap 91.
"My crew was keeping me posted on what Fultz was doing," said Bradberry after the race. I knew I had to finish at least seventh to win the title and by lap 108 was up to sixth.
Gentry ran a very strong race after starting dead last in the 24 car field and was up to third with only 20 laps to go. But he and Reutimann rubbed together going for position and Gentry's car fell off the pace after he scrubbed the outside retaining wall and broke a lower control arm on his car.
With Gentry out of the race, Bradberry was running fifth. Then when Wayne Bowen and Kevin Prince got together in turn three causing Brazier to back off, Bradberry ducked to the lowside of the corner and took over the fourth spot.
Wilkinson was the top finishing Victory Circle Chassis Rookie contender with Hogan winning the POWERade "Power Move Of The Race Award". Bradberry, Wilkinson and all series drivers will be honored at the Annual Awards Banquet on October 24 at the Atlanta Airport Hilton.
Time of Race: 1 Hr. 11 Mins. 22 Secs
Winner's Average Speed: 63.055 mph
Margin of Victory: .176 Secs
Caution Flags: Eight Cautions For 43 Laps (24-31; 36-39; 47-52; 63-68; 87-90; 94-98; 129-133; 138-142)
Lead Changes: Two Lead Changes Among Three Drivers
Lap Leaders: Greg Pope, Provisional Pole, 1-27; Jason Hogan, 28-91; Jeff Fultz, 92-150
PowerAde "Power Move Of The Race Award" Jason Hogan
Victory Circle Chassis Rookie-of-the-Race: John Wilkinson III
NASCAR Elite Division, Kodak Southeast Series Final Top 10 Points Standing: As Of Sept. 20 2003; (Unofficial), 1. Charlie Bradberry, 1529; 2. Jeff Fultz, 1512; 3. Jason Hogan, 1452; 4. Terry Mason Jr., 1406; 5. John Wilkinson III, 1403; 6. Cecil Chunn, 1269; 7. Johnny Brazier, 1265; 8. Justin Wakefield, 1241; 9. A. J. Frank, 1230; 10. Dusty Williams, 1227.