Lemons Survives Martinsville Fireworks

Tommy Lemons Jr. celebrates after winning the MDCU 300 last year at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. (Jason Smith/pixelcrisp Photo)
Tommy Lemons Jr. celebrates after winning the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 300 Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. (Jason Smith/pixelcrisp Photo)
Tommy Lemons Jr. celebrates after winning the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 300 Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. (Jason Smith/pixelcrisp Photo)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Late-race fireworks set the stage for an improbable finish and Tommy Lemons Jr. seized the moment as he took home the famed grandfather clock in the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville Speedway.

With two-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Lee Pulliam pacing the field on a lap 201 restart, third-place Deac McCaskill took out Pulliam entering turn one and set the race on its top.

Also collected were three-time Martinsville 300 winner Philip Morris and CE Falk III, who were restarting third and fifth, respectively.

Lemons, who was running eighth prior to the melee, then moved up to the front row outside Dillon Bassett, who inherited the lead for what would be the second and final green-white-checkered flag finish attempt as darkness settled in.

On the final restart, Bassett didn’t get the jump he needed and Lemons – from Troy, N.C. – had the lead by turn one that would not be relinquished.

“Words can’t express it – this is amazing,” Lemons said of his first Martinsville victory. “This race [tops] everything I’ve done in my Late Model career – my racing career, period.”

Bassett held on for second followed by Dennis Setzer, Blake Stallings and Ryan Stiltner. Wayne Ramsey, Brenden Queen, Hayden Woods, Dennis Holdren and Bruce Anderson brought home the top 10.

Pulliam and Morris finished 15th and 16th in the rundown, respectively.

It was an up-and-down day for Lemons. The Troy, N.C., driver started the 200-lap feature on the outside of the front row and jumped out to the lead on the first lap ahead of polesitter Chad Finchum. Lemons paced the field the first 10 circuits before being overtaken by Morris.

He ran near the front the remainder of the first half of the race, but had problems coming out of the midway break.

On the restart following the break, Lemons car temporarily stalled and he had to go up high around the other cars once it refired to get back into position. Lemons believed he ran over some type of debris that eventually resulted in a flat tire and wall contact in turn two after the race went back green.

Although he didn’t lose a lap, a trip to pit road to replace the flat resulted in a lot of lost real estate on the track.

“It was really hard, my guys kept me positive,” Lemons said of the cut tire. “There with about 20 to go when we were 10th or so, I thought it was over. But luck was on our side, the lord was on our side and we came back victorious.”

The race saw seven lead changes among eight drivers and was slowed by 11 caution periods.

The annual Late Model showcase attracted 87 entries to the historic .526-mile Martinsville oval. The 42-car, 200-lap feature was set earlier Sunday afternoon by four 20-lap qualifying races and a 20-lap last-chance qualifier.

Bassett was transported to a local hospital after the race after showing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Bassett wasn’t the only driver transported to the hospital Sunday. A wild crash during the first heat race saw Michael McGuire’s entry land on top of the car driven by Anderson Bowen in turn three. Bowen was transported to the hospital after complaining of pain in one of his legs.