Mike Looney outfoxed the top dogs at Motor Mile Speedway Saturday night.
The crafty Catawba veteran employed a contrarian strategy that proved superior to speed in the waning circuits of the Coors Light 150 presented by WFXR News and 105.3 The Bear. Looney edged a resurgent Philip Morris to snare his second consecutive O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model victory of the season.
“You know, it’s the tortoise and the hare. The fastest car doesn’t always win the race,” Looney said. “Philip kicked our butts by two tenths in qualifying, and we didn’t have that kind of speed in this car. If you can’t just drive past them and win, you have to think of something.”
The dramatic finish was a fitting climax to a captivating marathon feature that produced a plethora of twists and turns on the .416-mile oval.
Morris posted a blistering 15.74 hot lap in Price’s Body Shop pole qualifying to top the 18-car field, with Looney alongside on the front row. The Late Model veterans’ contrasting approaches to the race were on display from the outset: while Morris sprinted away from the pack, Looney intentionally dropped to the back. By lap 20, Morris was entrenched atop the leaderboard. Looney was scored ninth.
“I’d been thinking about [strategy] all week,” explained Looney. “Having the best rubber at the end is what’s going to win the race, so we made the call to save. It worked out that there were plenty of regular cautions, and we saved enough.”
Looney’s scheme hinged on predetermined competition cautions scheduled in 40-lap intervals. Only one competition caution was implemented, however. The race was replete with five additional yellow flag periods, with the penultimate caution of the nightcap on lap 111 changing the complexion of the contest.
Kyle Dudley had emerged as Morris’ primary challenger as the race neared its halfway point. The lone competition caution on lap 73 afforded Dudley an opportunity at the top spot, and on the restart, Dudley capitalized. Following a brief side-by-side tussle, Morris relinquished the lead to Dudley on lap 80.
Dudley’s tenure at the front of the field came to an abrupt end following the event’s fourth caution on lap 103. Dudley’s no. 4 became entangled with Morris’ no. 01 in turn two on the lap 111 restart, triggering a two-car crash with race-altering repercussions.
“I feel really bad for Philip. I should’ve done something different there, but I didn’t expect the car to step out like that. He was pinching us tight, which is what he’s supposed to do… it just upset the car and I washed up into him. I made a mistake that cost him; he had us all covered tonight,” explained Dudley. “We had a really good car tonight…we could’ve had a real good run.”
Significant front-end damage relegated Dudley to the garage. Morris incurred minor suspension damage as a result of the contact.
“I never did see Kyle. I got a good restart; we got down into [turns] one and two, and I had such a head of steam that I thought I was way out in front,” Morris said. “He came over and apologized—I feel bad for Kyle, too. I’ve done that before.”
Looney had quietly marched into fourth in the laps preceding the dustup involving the race leaders. When the race resumed on lap 120, Looney was second. Morris restarted twelfth.
Kyle Grissom inherited the race lead, and following the sixth and final yellow flag period on lap 122, a riveting battle for the point ensued. Grissom surrendered first to Looney on lap 138 following a lengthy white-knuckle bout for the top spot.
Yet, it was Morris who was garnering all of the attention.
From seventh on the lap 128 restart, Morris rocketed into fourth as Looney simultaneously authored the event’s eighth and final lead change. The resilient effort continued as the laps dwindled, with Morris eclipsing Grissom for second with six laps remaining.
Although Morris sported the fastest machine in the closing circuits, Looney had preserved enough of his equipment to forestall the hard-charging four-time NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion at the finish by a 0.778-second margin of victory.
Morris was vying for his history-making 100th Motor Mile Speedway Late Model win in the 150-lap headliner.
“The positive is, we’re going to get to that no. 100. The car is really good. The last few laps I had to cut it loose, and I didn’t realize how good it was until then,” remarked Morris, noting the collision had impacted the toe-in on the car.
It was a trademark win for Looney and car owner Billy Martin. The outcome of the shrewd strategy play underscores the against-all-odds attitude and bootstrap mentality that has come to define the dark horse race team with the alabaster no. 87 Chevrolet.
“You take all the variables into play. The no. 01 is so fast— you’ll burn your car down trying to keep up with something that fast. I knew the equalizer was 150 laps. After qualifying, I thought strategy was our best play,” explained Looney. “I had my spotter feeding me intervals. [Crew Chief] Preston [McGhee] was timing the leader. It was a total team effort.
“We definitely weren’t the fastest, but we were pretty competitive at the end,” continued Looney. “And that’s what pays.”
Grissom completed the podium. Derrick Lancaster and R.D. Smith rounded out the top five.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Karl Budzevski swept the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman twin bill Saturday night. Newcomer Dillon Houser posted a pair of impressive podium finishes in the two 50-lap features, placing second and third, respectively.
Richard Caldwell tallied third in the opener. Daryn Cockram recorded second in the finale.
Chucky Williams collected his first checkered flag of the 2017 season in the 30-lap Carpet Factory Outlet MOD-4 division contest. Defending track champion Doodle Lang finished second; Brittany Cockram notched her second consecutive third-place finish of the season.
Doug Williams tallied his third straight win of the season in Super Street competition, expanding his points lead to six markers in the standings over Scooter Hollandsworth, who placed second in the 30-lap sprint. Dan Martin completed the podium for the third consecutive race.
Motor Mile Speedway