TIMMONSVILLE, S.C. – At first, when Nolan Pope crossed the finish line to win the late model stock car portion of Saturday night’s Aarons 250 at Florence Motor Speedway, he didn’t even realize he had won.
His spotter and crew did, however, and a raucous party broke out in the Lee Faulk Racing pit area.
Pope successfully executed a last-lap, last-turn pass of former NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series star Timothy Peters to collect his first Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour win in thrilling fashion, rolling forward late at the four-tenths-mile oval and tracking down Peters when it mattered most.
“I had no idea that was even for the lead,” Pope said of his winning move. “Nobody said anything, but when I crossed the line, everybody started yelling and I asked if that was for the win, and I was told yes. I really didn’t want a yellow, but luckily that didn’t happen and we were able to clear [Peters] off turn four for the checkered.”
Perhaps the crew’s strategy of keeping Pope in the dark in the closing stages served as improbable motivation, but Pope’s charge was born somewhat out of necessity after he qualified fifth and quickly realized that the lead runners – polesitter Layne Riggs, Peters and Lee Pulliam – were pushing early.
“We were going to try and ride out front, but everyone was going faster than I wanted to,” Pope said. “I knew we were going to have a good chance, but we just had to be there. After that last caution 70 laps in, I told my spotter that my car was really good around the bottom and as long as it stayed there, we had a shot.”
Riggs paced the first 28 laps from the pole, before Justin Johnson rose to the head of the line and assumed control over the field on the 29th revolution. Johnson led from there until a competition caution was called under CARS Tour rules for a 40-lap green flag run to open the event.
After that, chaos ruled the middle stages of the event.
A multi-car melee on lap 42 nearly blocked the track in turns three and four and led to high-lane escapes for multiple drivers, notably eliminating title hopeful Connor Mosack with heavy nose damage.
Mosack entered Florence third in late model stock points, but failed to finish and was all but taken out of championship contention as a result.
“I couldn’t really see anything; that wall’s right there on the inside and you really couldn’t see anything further in the corners than the guy you were right behind. By the time I saw them slowing down ahead of me, I was an inch off his bumper and there was nowhere to go,” Mosack told SPEED SPORT.
“It’s just unfortunate. We needed a really good day, but now we’ll go to Greenville with nothing really to lose but to try and take home $30,000.”
Johnson continued to control the race up front after the restart, but a mechanical failure from the point on lap 69 sent him free-falling through the pack and forced the final yellow flag of the night one lap later.
It ended Johnson’s hopes for a victory and put Peters on the bumper of Matt Cox for the lead with 55 laps to go.
Peters pounced on the ensuing restart and seized control of the race, but as the green-flag run to the finish wore on longer it was clear his Nelson Motorsports No. 12 wasn’t the class of the field – but Pope’s Lee Faulk Racing-prepared No. 1 was.
Slowly but surely, Pope began reeling Peters in and picking off cars one by one. With 28 to go he sat fifth, but quickly made the pass for fourth place and was on the podium four laps later.
Pope took second from Chad McCumbee with 10 to go and erased a one-second deficit to Peters from there with consistent laps in the low 19-second bracket.
Peters was warned of Pope’s charge in the closing laps, but admitted afterward there wasn’t much he could do to stop it.
“I just gave him a little too much room, but I was getting really tight,” Peters said of the final corner. “I think I went a little too soon after the last caution. This one will go in the memory bank when we come back down here for the big race, so hopefully things will go the same way, except 10 yards in my direction.”
McCumbee hung on to the final podium position, with Lee Pulliam and point leader Jared Fryar crossing fourth and fifth, respectively.
Matt Craig won the super late model portion of the event.
Nolan Pope, Timothy Peters, Chad McCumbee, Lee Pulliam, Jared Fryar, Corey Heim, Deac McCaskill, Mini Tyrrell, Chis Chapman, Jonathan Findley, Tyler Matthews, Ronald Hill, Bobby McCarty, Jessica Cann, Layne Riggs, Jonathan Shafer, Matt Cox, Travis Truett, Justin Johnson, Auston Somero, Connor Mosack.