MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – J.P. Morgan took his No. 23 Chevrolet to victory lane for the fourth straight race in the Rev-Oil Pro Cup Series Sunday, but not before having to outlast Mother Nature, a track that hungrily chewed up tires and a strong performance from Gus Dean.
Mother Nature was relentless on Saturday, with on and off showers eventually forcing race officials to postpone the Dean Custom Air 250 presented by Carrier and ESPN The Team 100.3 to Sunday afternoon. She tried one last ditch effort Sunday just after the companion Allison Legacy Series event ended, but sunshine prevailed and the inaugural race for new CARS Pro Cup Series title sponsor Revolution Oil got underway around 4 p.m.
Fast-timer Lucas Ransone chose to fade back at the start of the event and Allen Purkhiser put his Premiere Motorsports No. 68 on top early with Tyler Young following. Dean made a brief charge into the top three as his home-state fans roared but it was 16-year-old Ryan Heavner on the charge early.
Heavner was up to fourth by lap 15, giving his Bob Schacht Motorsports entry its strongest ride of the season. Tyler Lester rounded out the top five, making his first start of the year in the Wes Gonder Racing No. 33.
But they were all chasing Morgan, who had made his move to the front and was once again trying to get away from the rest of the field. The race stayed green until lap 47 when a caution for debris on the race track set up a restart that would shuffle the order a bit.
Green flag action returned on lap 56 and it didn’t take long for both Lester and Heavner to get by Purkheiser. Lester drove around him on the top while Heavner chose the low groove to do his work and by lap 60 the top five were Morgan, Young, Lester, Heavner and Purkheiser.
Remember the fading Lucas Ransone? He had dropped all the way back to 10th in an attempt to save tires for the last 50 laps or so of the first 125-lap segment. On the lap 56 restart, Ransone hit the “go” button and by the time the field was completing the 83rd circuit he was in third behind Lester, who was driving the race of his 17-year-old life. Young faded back and eventually would make a pit stop for an adjustment to see if he could squeeze some more speed out of his car.
Leader Morgan had been able to dominate the first 80 or so laps of the race but now his car was becoming a handful.
“We had the car set up for the night race,” Morgan informed the crowd later. “So we needed the half-time break to get it where it needed to be for the daytime.”
As Morgan’s car became more unruly, Lester and Ransone smelled the proverbial blood in the water and pounced. Lap 89 saw Lester use the outside groove to take the lead but it took just four laps for Ransone to get by both Morgan for second and leader Lester and put his car out front to stay for the rest of the first 125-lap segment.
The drama wasn’t over yet, however, as Lester’s machine suddenly slowed just seven laps from the end of the segment and he dropped out of the race with engine woes.
“I never got my foot to the floor,” Lester said. “I was still taking it easy even when I was racing for the lead. Wes Gonder and his team gave me a car to win the race. The motor just didn’t let us. We hope to be back for the Motor Mile race later this year.”
When the crossed flags waved to end the first half the event it was Ransone collecting the Holley Halfway Leader Award for being on top at the break. Heavner was now in second place while Stacy Puryear charged from the back of the field to third at the stripe.
Purkheiser was fourth and Dean was running fifth. The only other two cars on the lead lap were Caleb Holman, making his first series’ start of 2012 in the Gonder Racing No. 31, and early leader Morgan, whose car faded badly at the end.
During the intermission race officials announced that due to excessive tire wear the second 125-lap segment would be shortened to 100 laps. This put the total distance of the Dean Custom Air 250 at 225 laps.
Heavner grabbed the lead from Ransone when the second segment started and pulled out to almost a straightaway advantage. While he did his best to get away, Caleb Holman started winging his way through the top five and was second by the time lap 130 went up on the board.
Also coming through the field with urgency was Morgan. As Ransone once again went into car conservation mode, Morgan’s strategy was the opposite. He was in third by lap 135 and second just four laps later. By the time 140 circuits were completed Heavner’s lead was already shrinking as Morgan was in his rhythm and closing quickly.
A Yellow flag slowed the field on lap 147 as debris was discovered in turn three. Heavner was still the leader with Morgan second followed by Puryear, Holman and Ransone. Hometown favorite Dean was in sixth at this point.
Morgan went right to work on Heavner when the green flag was shown on lap 153 and it took just two laps for Morgan to put his No. 23 under the determined youngster and take command of the race for good.
Puryear was making some waves as was the No. 56 of Dean throughout the race’s final 50 laps. Dean started making his move around lap 175, picking off cars steadily. He took over fourth on lap 183 and third on lap 186 as his fans were hoping for the Hollywood finish.
Everywhere Dean went Ransone was sure to follow and on lap 197 as Dean dove under Puryear for second the No. 00 of Ransone made sure he stayed glued to his back bumper.
At the 200 lap mark Morgan had things well in control but Dean and Ransone were running the same lap times as the leader and the crowd sensed that the race was one yellow flag away from being a three car sprint to the finish.
Ransone made his way by Dean into second on lap 208 and was now wishing the race would have not been shortened as he knew his car was strong on long runs.
“I don’t understand why (the race officials) thought they had to shorten the race,” Ransone said post-race. “I don’t know if some of these guys were soaking tires or what but ours were fine. But we’ll take second, put it in the trailer and get it ready for another day.”
The last 50 laps went without incident as Morgan cruised to the checkered flag followed by Ransone, Dean, Puryear and Heavner. It was Morgan’s fifth win of the season and his fourth straight visit to Edelbrock Victory Lane.
“This team just keeps working hard and keeps giving me fast cars,” Morgan said. “I just can’t believe we won another race. Once we changed our setup at the break from what we had in there for the Saturday night race to a better setup for the daytime the car was strong the whole second half. Lucas and Gus are tough and Ryan was strong today.
“The wins aren’t as easy as they look because we’re all running similar lap times. I just got out front and was lucky we didn’t have a lot of yellows near the end because they would have been all over me I’m sure. I want to thank the fans for coming out and sticking with us through all the weather and especially a thank you to Rev-Oil for coming on as the series’ title sponsor.”