MARTINSVILLE — The first leg of the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown is complete and for the second year in a row, driver Peyton Sellars heads into the Hampton Heat at Langley Speedway at the top of the standings.
Sellars, who won Saturday’s Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 presented by Grand Atlantic Resort at South Boston Speedway, said he knows there is still work to do if he wants to repeat as the Triple Crown champion.
“We’ve definitely got a leg up on everybody with the win,’’ Sellars said. “Obviously, we still have work to do. Lee Pulliam, Mike Looney, Timothy Peters are all there. There’s a lot of guys lurking around the top 10 that are going to run well at Langley.’’
Of those drivers, Looney, a past winner of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, is racing for the Triple Crown for the first time in his career.
Looney said his effort is two-fold.
“If you don’t fire any bullets, you won’t hit any targets,’’ Looney said. “It would be a pretty big goal. Virginia is the hot bed for Late Models and the list of the names who have won (the Triple Crown) are household names,’’ Looney said.
“It would be a big thing for the accomplishment, but the money would go a long way for our team. We are pretty unfunded and unsponsored and are doing it out of pocket,’’ Looney said.
When it comes to winning the Triple Crown, one thing most drivers tend to agree is that the “bad luck’’ factor must be minimized.
Tyler Hughes is one driver who said he hopes he’s gotten the “bad luck’’ out of the way.
Hughes led the majority of the second half of Saturday’s race before a cut tire stymied his bid for victory. He finished eighth.
“As far as the Triple Crown goes, anything can happen,’’ Hughes said. “Last year, we went to Langley third in the standings and had terrible luck. We just weren’t that good.
“As far as this year goes, I feel our program has improved and we’ve found a lot of speed. I think we’ve been able to prove that,’’ Hughes said.
“I think we can go into Langley and run pretty well. Anything can happen. We can go into it to have bad luck or go in and come out in the top three or top five and be a contender,’’ Hughes said.
Brandon Pierce is another driver, who like Hughes, had some bad luck at South Boston. The difference was Pierce’s bad luck came early in the race. He was able to overcome being two laps down (to the race leader) at one point to finish sixth.
“These races you’re running against the best of the best in the country, but if you just keep after it, the cards will usually fall your way and you have something to look forward to,’’ Pierce said.
“We did that and now we can put our sights to the Hampton Heat,’’ Pierce said.
“At halfway (Saturday), I would have told you we can go to Langley and try to win, but there goes the Triple Crown. Yet, here we are. So, we’re well positioned going to Langley. I’m tickled to death,’’ Pierce said.
Both Sellars and Looney have victories at Langley this season. That should give the pair some confidence heading into the July 20 showdown.
“We went to Langley for the first time two weeks ago and won the race. It was the first time we’d ever seen the track, so we’re going to go back and try again,’’ Looney said.
Sellars won at Langley earlier in the season and has had solid runs in each of the handful of starts he’s made there this year.
“We went there (two weekends ago) and ran well,’’ Sellars said. “We won the big race early this year. We know how to win at Langley Speedway. You don’t have to win Langley to win the Triple Crown, but you’ve got to have a solid run there to win it.’’
This year the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown pays first, second and third place, a channge from the winner-take-all format of the past few years. That change has drivers excited knowing a bad run won’t keep them out of the bonus.
“In the past, to win it you’ve got to have a perfect slate and you don’t get a mulligan,’’Looney said. “But, it takes a hell of an effort to be competitive in all three of those races and to work to get some money back on the investment from a business standpoint.
“We’re not looking to make money; just enough to keep racing and make ends meet,’’ Looney said.
“As far as paying the top three goes, that’s a good deal for any driver. Any Late Model team could use the extra cash,’’ Hughes said. “It does give you some wiggle room (if you have) some bad luck, but I still think the competition is going to be pretty stiff.’’
Pierce referenced last year when talking about the changes and what they mean to teams.
“To give some perspective on it, if this format had been used last year…I would have finished third in the Triple Crown, so that would have been nice,’’ Pierce said.
Pierce finished fourth at South Boston, was knocked out of the race at Langley and came in third at Martinsville Speedway in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.
The Virginia Late Model Triple Crown is a bonus program that rewards the three drivers who have the best average finish in the three races.
The Triple Crown pays $7,000 to win, $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third.
The final race in the series is the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 on Saturday, October 5.
Editor’s Note: Brooks Taylor is the Director of Public Relations at Martinsville Speedway.