KENLY, N.C. – At the beginning of the week, Stacy Puryear hadn’t even planned on driving in the Southern 250 at Southern National Motorsports Park.
Due to engine failure two weeks ago Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., Puryear thought his chances to race again for team owner Wes Gonder were done for the year.
“On Wednesday I got a call from Wes telling me that they had an engine for the car and that I would be racing after all,” said Puryear, a veteran of 79 career starts.
The car number that Puryear would pilot would change from the No. 36 that he has used previously this year to the No. 33. The Wes Gonder Racing team was working hard to win the car owner championship and the No. 36 entry had the best shot at doing so. Puryear’s teammate Jeb Burton was going to be able to run in all of the remaining races this season, so he would switch to the 36 car.
It didn’t seem to matter to Puryear what number was on the side of his bright yellow machine. He put the No. 33 on the pole – his second pole of the year. Throughout the race, Puryear battled hard for the win, leading four different times en route to collecting his second career Pro Cup victory.
The last time the South Boston, Va., driver had collected the checkered flag was way back in 2001 at Jennerstown (Pa.) Speedway.
When the green flag flew, Puryear didn’t get off to a great start and that allowed championship leader J.P. Morgan to lead the first three laps from his second-place starting. By lap four, Puryear had caught and passed Morgan for the lead, followed closely by the No. 68 of Allen Purkhiser, who started the race in third. Lap 10 saw Purkhiser sail past Puryear for the second of eight lead changes during the race.
Purkhiser would lead until lap 35 when Puryear once again showed how strong his car was and re-took the lead, bringing teammate Jeb Burton along for a better view at the front of the field also.
Unfortunately, Purkhiser would not be a factor for the win the rest of the race as he began to struggle with the handling of his car, making pit stops under nearly every yellow flag period. Purkhiser would finish the race in fourth position.
Burton, winner of the previous race at Motor Mile Speedway, would grab the lead from Puryear on lap 37. Ten laps later, the first of four yellow flags would fly, bunching the field back up. Burton led the field back to green on lap 54 and shortly after that, Puryear showed his strength again, nudging his teammate out of the lead on lap 57.
After leading the first three laps of the race, Morgan fell back a few spots, but in familiar fashion, he got back into rhythm and allowed Puryear and Purkhiser only a brief visit at the front of the field. Morgan took command again on lap 59 and dominated the field for the next 66 laps until the halfway break would brought everyone to the pits.
In the middle of Morgan’s run, a caution flag flew when the No. 66 of Andrew Gordon spun in turn four, Gordon, nephew of two-time Pro Cup Series champion Benny Gordon, would keep his loose car off the wall and ultimately brought home a seventh place finish.
The halfway break saw a field invert of eight cars being selected in the random draw, which would challenge Morgan to work his way back through the field in the second half of the race.
West Virginia native Dalton Hopkins, who had been having a good race and found speed using a higher line than the rest of the field, found himself leading the field back to green when the Southern 250 began the final 125 laps.
For the first time in his brief Pro Cup career, Hopkins would lead laps. For 35 of them, he held off all challengers. But on lap 162, it was time for Puryear to resurface. He had worked his way back from the restart to challenge Hopkins for the lead. Once he got it, he would never relinquish it again. Hopkins would drift back slightly but still come home in fifth position.
A yellow flag flew on lap 183 for debris and another on lap 199 when Rusty Skewes spun in turn four after contact with the No. 56 of Gus Dean, which allowed the field a chance to take the lead away from Puryear, but none could.
Hopkins held onto second for a while and then Morgan began the hunt when he took over that position. Morgan would dog Puryear for much of the final 50 laps, making several attempts for the lead, but coming up short each time.
“I did try to make a run at the end but it just wasn’t there like it needed to be. They ran good,” said Morgan, winner of six races this season.
It was a very emotional victory lane for Puryear. He was grateful for the opportunity to get back into a Pro Cup car again this year after a six-year break and thankful to team owner Wes Gonder for putting good cars under him each race, but uncertain when his next chance might be. He hopes to be able to return for the season finale at Orange County Speedway on November 3.
Coming into this race, Tyler Young was second in the points, but struggled mightily throughout the race. He pitted under most yellow flags for adjustments, but never got the handle on his car, falling off the lead lap at times. He finished the race in ninth.