Southampton race report 2003-07-11

CAPRON, Va. (July 11) - Employing a bit of pit strategy, Denny Hamlin of Chesterfield, Va., took the lead on lap 103 and rolled on to victory in the Dodge Power 200 for the Late Model Stock Cars, the featured event of Friday...

CAPRON, Va. (July 11) - Employing a bit of pit strategy, Denny Hamlin of Chesterfield, Va., took the lead on lap 103 and rolled on to victory in the Dodge Power 200 for the Late Model Stock Cars, the featured event of Friday evening's NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series program at Southampton Motor Speedway.

With his third win in a Dodge Power Super Series event, Hamlin assured himself of a $5,000 bonus in the "RaceRap Run for the Riches" program and remains in contention for a $25,000 payoff.

Mark McFarland of Winchester, Va., Hamlin's Jim Dean Motorsports teammate, earned the pole for the race, qualifying at 96.722 mph. Hamlin was second-quickest and shared the front row with McFarland. Brandon Butler of Petersburg, Va., and Phil Warren of Norfolk, Va., made up Row 2, while Chesapeake, Va., drivers John Staton and Terry Allison occupied Row 3.

As the event got under way, McFarland, who entered the night with a five-race winning streak, leaped into the lead, pulling ahead of Hamlin as the field rumbled out of Turn 2 on the opening circuit. Hamlin settled into second, followed by Butler, Warren and Staton.

The top three quickly put some distance between themselves and fourth-place Warren. By lap 15, the gap had grown to nearly half a straightaway.

Behind the leaders, Frank Deiny Jr. of Mechanicsville, Va., was on the move. A regular in NASCAR's Featherlite Southwest Series this season, Deiny qualified seventh, advanced to sixth in the early going and cracked the top five on lap 19, scooting around Staton.

McFarland enjoyed a two-length advantage when the leaders began to encounter slower traffic on lap 40. Hamlin quickly erased McFarland's margin and ducked to the inside of his teammate on lap 53. He was forced back in line on lap 56 as Butler moved up to join the fray.

The first caution flag flew on lap 58 when Steve Owens of Barco, N.C., apparently lost an engine at the end of the backstretch.

As the field slowed, Butler made the turn into the pit area. While he gave up third place, the early stop put Butler in position to gain several spots at the halfway break.

Back under green, McFarland bolted away by more than four lengths as Hamlin worked past a lapped car. That bulge was short-lived, however, as the second yellow flag flew on lap 73 for a two-car incident in Turn 4.

Having taken notice of Butler's earlier stop, Hamlin peeled off the banking during the second caution period and headed to his pit stall. He received service and hastily returned to the track, maintaining a spot on the lead lap. A funnel that was being used in the refueling process protruded from Hamlin's car, but shook loose on the backstretch and was retrieved by track workers. The incident would become a point of contention during post-race interviews.

Lining up for the restart, McFarland, Warren, Deiny, Staton and Tommy Cherry of South Mills, N.C., made up the top five.

As the race resumed, Staton slipped by Deiny for third place. Deiny tailed Staton until lap 85 when he regained the spot. Cherry tried follow Deiny past Staton, but the two tangled and Cherry spun in Turn 2. The mishap caused Cherry to drop from the lead lap.

Back under green, Chesapeake's Elton Sawyer, a two-time NASCAR Busch Series winner subbing for an ill Chris Perry, made his way into the top five, grabbing fifth from Chesapeake's Bob Shreeves. Butler tagged along with Sawyer and took over sixth place.

The fourth caution flag appeared on lap 91 when Shreeves spun in Turn 2 while battling to hold off David Blankenship of Moseley, Va. Jamey Caudill of Four Oaks, N.C., and Cherry were collected in the incident.

With the yellow flag waving, Deiny headed to the pits, surrendering third place. McFarland, Warren, Staton, Sawyer and Butler made up the top five for the restart.

A short dash brought the race to its midway point. During the brief run, Hamlin drove to the outside and swiped sixth place from Blankenship. Continuing on the high side, he pulled even with Butler and edged ahead to take fifth at the crossed flags.

As the field slowed for the midrace break, the top four cars headed to the pits for service. Hamlin and Butler, meanwhile, parked at the start/finish line and moved up to first and second place for the beginning of the second half. Returning to the track, McFarland lined up third, followed by Warren and Staton. Sawyer, Blankenship, Chesapeake's Bubba Johnston and Deiny were the other drivers on the lead lap.

When the race resumed, Hamlin and Butler darted away in nose-to-tail formation as McFarland struggled to clear Mike Buffkin of Yorktown, Va., who was a lap down.

Butler rode Hamlin's rear bumper until lap 112 when the leader suddenly widened his advantage to a couple car-lengths off Turn 2.

Back in the pack, Deiny had advanced to sixth place and was hounding Staton for fifth. He grabbed the position on lap 125 and set off after fourth-place Warren.

Battling for seventh place, Blankenship and Sawyer locked horns on the frontstretch on lap 139. Cocked perilously sideways, Blankenship sawed the wheel and made a masterful save, dropping only one position in the exchange.

The first caution flag of the second segment appeared on lap 142 when Butler tangled with a lapped machine and spun in Turn 2, falling from second to sixth in the running order. Hamlin, McFarland and Warren occupied the top three spots for the restart, separated from fourth-place Deiny by two lapped cars.

Returning to green, Butler swept past Staton for fifth place. Hamlin, meanwhile, enjoyed a three-length advantage over McFarland as the race entered its final 50 circuits.

The seventh caution flag flew on lap 153 when Johnston and Mike Conner of Gloucester, Va., spun in Turn 4.

On the restart, fifth-place Butler had trouble coming up to speed and began to drop back in the field, eventually falling to ninth.

Deiny went after Warren for the third spot on lap 163, taking the position on the following circuit. At the head of the pack, in the meantime, Hamlin fought off a challenge from McFarland and pulled away by nearly half a straightaway.

A caution flag was thrown at the completion of lap 180 and lead-lap cars were directed to the front of the line. The event would end with 20 more green-flag circuits. Hamlin, McFarland, Deiny, Warren and Sawyer made up the top five.

Back under green, Deiny got the drop on McFarland and moved into second place. Warren tried to follow, but, before that battle could develop, the ninth caution flag flew for a two-car spin on the backstretch. Caution flag #10 appeared on lap 184 when fifth-place Sawyer spun past the start/finish line.

On the ensuing restart, McFarland drove to the outside of Deiny in a bid to regain the runner-up spot. The two went door-to-door until lap 185 when Deiny pulled ahead in Turn 2. With his potential challengers tussling in his mirror, Hamlin opened a two-length lead.

The final caution flag was unfurled on lap 186 for debris in Turn 4. Gathering for the dash to the finish, Hamlin, Deiny, McFarland, Warren and Blankenship were first through fifth, in that order.

On the final restart, Hamlin fashioned a one-length edge and began to drive away. Within five laps, his advantage had grown to four lengths and, by the finish, his margin of victory had swelled to 2.529 seconds - nearly half a straightaway - over Deiny, who ended up fighting off McFarland for second. Warren and Blankenship tailed the lead trio to the line. Staton, Butler, Johnston and Sawyer also completed the entire distance.

In Victory Lane after the race, Hamlin, who has been the center of recent controversies at his Saturday night home track, addressed that situation and handed out accolades to his crew: "The car wasn't that great all day long. I was down on it. But, I'll tell ya', we made all the right adjustments right before the race. Car was great. And, for anybody who (thought) that I needed cheatin' heads to win, they're wrong. This is a borrowed motor and we come back and we still win. That's the best feeling you can have. It feels good to come down here and just be able to win. Mark's real strong. He's gotten better every week. I just can't say enough for the crew. They're making the best adjustments. Couldn't have had it better."

Remember that errant funnel? For his part, second-place Deiny wasn't so sure he shouldn't have been the winner of the event: "We messed up in the pits there, tried to get a little bit more position and could only get one tire on. Seems like when certain cars came down pit road, they got a little extra time. I don't know if they purposely threw their funnel out of the car or what, so they'd get a little extra time. Not so sure, if you review the rulebook, when a fuel cell's open and funnel's hanging out, you get a one-lap penalty. So, in my mind, this is the first-place car. But we'll come back and beat Denny Hamlin on the racetrack. At least we got in between the two Dean cars, so we're getting better. Got to have a little chicken tonight (a reference to McFarland's sponsor, Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits), see if we can get some of Denny Hamlin later."

While he saw his five-race winning streak come to an end, third-place McFarland didn't seem overly disappointed by his run: "The car was a little bit off. We've been working on it all day. It was pretty good in qualifying and we thought we had a good car for the second half, but something I think's going wrong with the rear, just spun the tires all the way out of the corner. It was fun racing with those guys. Glad to see Frank back down here. It's a lot of fun racing with these guys. They give you room to race and that's what it's all about."

The next Dodge Power Super Series race is slated for Friday, Aug. 29. Should Hamlin win that race, his RaceRap bonus will grow to $10,000 and he can begin looking forward to the Sept. 19 series finale and a possible $25,000 jackpot.

The start of Friday evening's program was delayed by a passing thunderstorm and, in the waning laps of the Late Model race, rain began to pelt the Speedway again. As a result, races for the Mike Duman Auto Sales Limited Late Models, Rick's Rock Cafe Pure Stocks, INEX Little Race Cars Legends and Virginia Mini-Cup Racing Association were called off.


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Drivers Elton Sawyer , Steve Owen , Mark McFarland , Denny Hamlin