CAPRON, Va. (Mar. 22) - Denny Hamlin of Chesterfield, Va., started on the pole and led 195 laps on the way to victory in the RaceWorld.com 200 Late Model Stock Car race, the featured event of Saturday's NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series 2003 season...
CAPRON, Va. (Mar. 22) - Denny Hamlin of Chesterfield, Va., started on the pole and led 195 laps on the way to victory in the RaceWorld.com 200 Late Model Stock Car race, the featured event of Saturday's NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series 2003 season opener at Southampton Motor Speedway.
Hamlin claimed the pole with a 95.764-mph qualifying effort. Mark McFarland of Winchester, Va., Hamlin's Jim Dean Motorsports teammate, was second-quickest. Jamey Caudill of Four Oaks, N.C., and Philip Morris of Ruckersville, Va., made up Row 2, while Brandon Butler of Petersburg, Va., was fifth-fastest in the 26-car starting lineup.
As the event got under way, Hamlin jumped into the lead. Caudill tagged along with Hamlin, taking over second place and relegating McFarland to third. Butler moved up to fourth as Morris settled into fifth.
On lap 8, Morris slipped in Turn 4 and gave way to Woody Howard of Chesapeake, Va., Eric Sartin of Kermit, W.Va., and Tommy Cherry of South Mills, N.C.
Holding a three-length advantage, Hamlin headed into traffic for the first time on lap 20. On lap 26, he scuffled with a slower machine at the end of the backstretch and Caudill, NASCAR's 2002 Southeastern Coastal Region champion, pounced, grabbing the lead at the start/finish line.
Caudill's stay at the front was short-lived, though. On lap 31, Hamlin motored under Caudill into Turn 1 and moved back to the point off the second corner.
The first caution flag appeared on lap 48 for a two-car incident on the backstretch. Lining up for the restart, Hamlin, Caudill, McFarland, Butler and Howard made up the top five.
Back under green, Hamlin opened a one-car-length edge over Caudill. Meanwhile, Morris, who restarted in seventh, suddenly dropped off the pace and began to fall back through the field. At lap 63, he headed to the pits where his team discovered a loose alternator wire.
The second yellow flag flew on lap 65 when Ryan Patterson of Chesapeake spun on the frontstretch. Sartin slowed to avoid Patterson and collected Chesapeake's Bubba Johnston in a vicious collision. The race was red-flagged as the cars of Sartin and Johnston were removed and debris was cleaned up.
When the race resumed, Hamlin pulled out to a two-car-length lead over Caudill, who was feeling pressure from McFarland. On lap 76, McFarland drove under Caudill on the frontstretch and completed the pass for second into Turn 1. Butler and Howard followed McFarland, dropping Caudill to fifth.
The event was slowed for a third time on lap 79 when a multi-car fracas broke out just past the start/finish line. Among those involved were Morris, Mike Conner of Gloucester, Va., Brian Carter of Poquoson, Va., and Chesapeake drivers John Staton, Jimmy Adkins and Albert Falk.
On the ensuing restart, third-place Butler failed to come up to speed and fell to eighth place.
The fourth caution flag appeared on lap 90 for a single-car spin in Turn 2.
The field went back under the green flag on lap 95. Hamlin grabbed a two-length advantage over McFarland and led the field to the halfway mark and the scheduled 10-minute break.
Under the race rules, actually making a visit to pits during the halfway intermission was optional. Drivers could have chosen to park their cars on the track and gain track position over the drivers who went in for work. As it turned out, though, no one took that strategic gamble as the entire field made the left turn onto the pit lane.
At the break, 11 drivers remained on the lead lap - Hamlin, McFarland, Howard, Caudill, Nick Woodward of High Point, N.C., Phil Warren of Norfolk, Va., Butler, David Blankenship of Moseley, Va., Terry Allison of Chesapeake, Mike Buffkin of Yorktown, Va., and John Eversole Jr. of Richmond, Va.
Seventeen of the original 26 starters answered the bell for the beginning of the second segment. Cherry, who lost a lap in the early going when he was forced to pit to remove a piece of debris from his car's grille, was positioned to the outside of Hamlin.
Back under way, Hamlin, McFarland and Howard quickly disposed of Cherry. Within 10 laps, Hamlin had fashioned a four-car-length margin.
Hamlin, whose car seemed to strengthen on longer runs, enjoyed his biggest advantage - half a straightaway - at around lap 150. Caution flags at laps 110, 122 and 153 kept him from getting too far away.
At lap 180, another yellow flag was thrown and, as planned, the lead-lap cars were placed at the head of the field for 20 green-flag laps to finish the race. Hamlin remained on the point, followed by McFarland, Howard, Caudill, Woodward, Warren, Butler, Buffkin, Blankenship, Allison and Eversole.
Back under green, Butler jumped to the outside, passed Warren and Woodward and pulled alongside Caudill. His charge was blunted, though, when he and Caudill made contact off Turn 4 and Butler was squeezed into the outside wall. He rolled to a stop in Turn 2, prompting the 10th yellow flag.
The 11th caution flag appeared on lap 182 when Butler, restarting at the rear of the field, and Conner tied up in Turn 4. During the ensuing caution period, Caudill made his way to the pits to change a right-rear tire, moving Woodward and Warren up to fourth and fifth, respectively.
The final yellow flag waved on lap 194 when Blankenship and Allison scuffled on the frontstretch. While Blankenship made the save, Allison wasn't as fortunate, collecting Cherry.
On the last restart, Hamlin forged a slim, one-car-length edge over McFarland. Heading to the white flag, though, McFarland erased that margin and began to hound Hamlin for the lead.
In Turn 4 for the final time, Hamlin drifted wide and opened the door for McFarland, who shot to the inside. Exiting the corner, however, McFarland slipped and Hamlin held on to win by 0.197-second - about a car-length.
Howard, SMS's 2002 Late Model champ, was third, followed by Woodward . and Warren Buffkin, Blankenship, Eversole, Butler, Caudill and Allison . tailed the top five to the stripe .
In Victory Lane after the race, Hamlin commented on his run: "We really had a dominant car. I can't say enough for the people that put me behind the wheel - Jim Dean and Rick Townsend and Dannie Cox - for putting out a great product for me to drive. I mean, if I didn't have anything good to drive, then we wouldn't be here."
Continuing, Hamlin talked about his teammate, McFarland: "I believe he had a strong car there at the end and we did what we needed to do. I used up the right-rear pretty good, but as long as it lasted for 200 laps, that was good."
In his comments, McFarland spoke about racing his teammate for the win: "I was trying my hardest to catch him (Hamlin). He was getting a little bit loose and he was backing up to us, but it's just a great team we're with here. We've got great equipment. Great guys working on it with Rick Townsend. Jim Dean has given us the best of everything and that makes our job easier."
As it turned out, McFarland had some personal experience with Hamlin's car: "That car's real good. I drove it down here in a big race and finished second with it, but it's a great car. We've got all good cars. Just a matter of tweaking on this thing and I think we can make it better."
With the win, Hamlin becomes the first driver eligible for the "RaceRap Run for the Riches" bonus. Four more 200-lap Late Model races remain on SMS's `03 schedule. If Hamlin wins two more of the longer races, he'll claim an extra $5,000. If he can win three more, he'll pocket an extra $10,000. A clean sweep of all five races would mean an additional $25,000. The bonus program is sponsored by RaceRap.com, the popular Internet messageboard. The next 200-lapper is slated for Friday, May 23.
In the day's other feature events:
Ray Ashworth of Mechanicsville, Va., posted his first SMS victory in a 50-lapper for the Mike Duman Auto Sales Limited Late Models.
Ashworth started on the pole, at 88.300 mph, but gave way to Chesapeake's Joey Cohen at the beginning of the event.
Cohen showed the way until lap 18 when Steve Zuskin of Disputanta, Va., took the lead, bringing Ashworth along with him.
On lap 25, Ashworth ducked under Zuskin in a bid for the lead. He nosed ahead on lap 27 and cleared Zuskin on the following circuit.
Zuskin remained in contention for the win until lap 39 when, running second, he tangled with a lapped car in Turn 4, prompting the race's only caution flag.
For the restart, Ashworth was separated from second-place Cohen by four lapped cars. He took full advantage of the situation, bolting from the pack. Cohen, meanwhile, skated high in Turn 2, losing six spots. Cohen eventually headed to the pits on lap 40.
While Ashworth cruised to a full-straightaway win, Zuskin quickly sliced back through the field and came home with a runner-up finish. David Wheeler of Prince George, Va., was third to the stripe. Michael Perkins of Petersburg, making his first start for his new car owner, pro wrestler Buff Bagwell, was fourth and John Eversole Jr. was fifth.
Stan Holmes of Chesterfield, Va., led from pole to checkers to win a 20-lapper for the Ukrop's Mid-Atlantic Champ Karts. Stanley Holmes of Chesterfield, the winner's dad, held down the runner-up spot throughout the event, finishing a kart-length behind his son.
George Dehner of Glen Allen, Va., Jim Grady Jr. of Richmond and James Verlander of Chesterfield were third, fourth and fifth to the line.
While the Holmeses worked well together at the head of the pack, the other competitors were never able to organize themselves into an effective draft that might have brought them closer to the point.