A RACE OF REDEMPTION
Mike Looney overcomes penalty in Late Model opener to triumph in 50-lap finale – JW Martin
Photo Credit: Chad Fletcher
It was a checkered night for Mike Looney at Motor Mile Speedway.
The Catawba, Va., Late Model veteran experienced the highs and lows of NASCAR racing in Saturday night’s BAIRD Drywall TWIN 50s presented by 94.9 Star Country. Track officials flagged Looney for aggressive driving on the final lap of the Late Model division’s first 50-lap race, resulting in the forfeiture of a second-place finish. In a race of redemption, Looney rallied from ninth on the grid in the nightcap to capture his ninth career checkered flag in a remarkable comeback performance.
“It’s really special to come back from adversity; we didn’t hang our heads and get down,” Looney said. “It means more to me when I can make a difference. I feel like I made a difference tonight.”
Philip Morris topped the 14-car Late Model field in qualifying to collect the Price’s Body Shop Pole Award, and started the first feature third due to the re-draw. The defending NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion swiftly ascended the running order, overtaking Kyle Dudley for the point on lap five. A flurry of caution flags presented opportunities for Morris’ competition throughout the opener, and Ryan Wilson was primed for the challenge. Wilson launched repeated salvos at Morris on the restarts, but his attempts to wrestle the lead away from Morris were to no avail.
Wilson had settled into second place in the waning stages, and was eyeing a career-best finish in Motor Mile Speedway’s Late Model ranks, when his fortunes took a sharp turn coming to the checkers.
Looney had marched from eighth on the grid to occupy third on lap 45. Looney’s no. 87 rapidly converged on Wilson as the laps dwindled, and as Morris coasted to the win, the racing intensified for second place. Looney enveloped Wilson’s no. 12 down the backstretch on the white flag lap, but failed to maneuver to the inside of Wilson entering turn three. As the pair sprinted to the apex of the corner bumper-to-bumper, the nose of Looney’s no. 87 made contact with Wilson’s machine. The no. 12 careened up the turn four banking, and as Looney seized second, Wilson spun out.
“I didn’t mean to get into him,” explained Looney. “I meant to get right on him, but I didn’t mean to turn him around.”
Motor Mile Speedway officials penalized Looney for the contact, a ruling that relegated the no. 87 team to ninth place. Wilson finished eighth.
Kres Van Dyke was awarded second, with C.E. Falk rounding out the podium. Dudley and Matt Elledge finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
A fortuitous eight-car invert following race one provided surprise consolation to the no. 12 team: Wilson started on the pole for the latter feature. The determined driver capitalized on the opportunity.
Wilson paced the second race for 39 circuits, fending off a hard-charging Falk in the early stages and a subsequent assault from Morris as the race unfolded. Despite losing all radio communication with the team during the contest, Wilson appeared to have the winning race car.
Meanwhile, Looney was knifing his way through the field. Having overcome his ninth-place handicap on the grid, Looney found himself once again in contention for the win with 10 laps to go. With Morris’ bid at the top spot proving unsuccessful, Looney began pressuring Morris for second. Looney completed the pass on Morris with six laps remaining, and in a fateful plot twist, Looney and Wilson were reunited in a spirited duel for the win.
The battle for first began down the back straightaway with four circuits to go. White-knuckle, side-by-side racing ensued, with Looney muscling alongside Wilson on the front stretch. Though both drivers agreed that no contact was made, the two cars appeared inseparable entering turn one. Wilson fought admirably from the top groove of the track, but surrendered the lead to Looney out of turn two on lap 48. It proved to be the pass for the win.
Looney acknowledged that he was conscious of how he raced his counterpart as the tussle for the top spot climaxed.
“You approach the pass without touching the guy. He was a big man there--- I appreciate him racing me clean. He could have junked us [at the end]. I owe him some breaks, because he had a good finish that I took away from him, and I apologize for it,” Looney said.
In a stunning rebound, a resurgent Looney triumphed at the finish by a .266 margin of victory over Wilson. Morris placed third, with Van Dyke and Dudley rounding out the top five.
Wilson’s second-place result capped an impressive showing for team no. 12 in the Late Model twinbill.
“This is a big boost of confidence---getting in a good car and showing I can still drive. This is by far the best we’ve ever run here,” said Wilson. “Very, very happy to run this good, but also very disappointing.”
A roller coaster night of racing ended in an unanticipated triumph for Looney, who boasts two wins in four Late Model starts this season.
“I really didn’t think I could get by Philip [Morris], and I didn’t think I could get by Ryan [Wilson]. I just tried to keep my head and use my experience… and we got the job done,” said Looney.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS Cory Dunn celebrated his first-career win in just his second-ever start in the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division Saturday night. The Rookie of the Year contender snared the Price’s Body Shop Pole Award and led a total of 37 circuits en route to the win.
Four cautions slowed the pace of the 40-lap feature, including a late-race dustup between Dunn and Karl Budzevski two circuits from the finish. The pair tangled in turn three while battling for the lead; track officials deemed the contact a racing incident.
“These guys put a heckuva setup under this thing, and I put it in the wind and kept it there,” Dunn stated. “I hate it for [Budzevski]. There is a reason why he is always up front; the man can drive a racecar. But you can’t cut across somebody’s nose… you can’t do it. But it is what it is. We’ll take it as it is and move on.”
Jamie Byrd placed second, and Charles Smith rounded out the podium. With the win, Dunn vaults to the top of the division standings by 15 markers over Budzevski.
Dennis Holdren notched his second consecutive win in the Super Street division, besting Kyle Barnes and Scooter Hollandsworth to take top honors.
Doodle Lang was awarded the Carpet Factory Outlet MOD-4 division victory after race winner Taylor Asberry incurred a disqualification in post-race inspection. Kirby Gobble and Scott Foley rounded out the podium.
UCAR race winner Ricky Howell, Jr. and podium finisher Ryan Cox were disqualified following post-race inspection; Mike Reed inherited the win. Jamie Lafon was credited with second, and Peyton Howell received third-place honors.
Full results forthcoming.