HELTON WINS AGAIN... SO DOES FULTZ by Jason Mitchell
Third Championship Doesn't Come Easy For Jeff
It was rookie Gary Helton winning the battle on Saturday night thanks to his victory in the Montgomery 225 at Montgomery (Ala.) Motor Speedway, but it was Jeff Fultz winning the season-long war to earn the 2005 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series championship.
When all was said and done Helton was celebrating his third win of the season and wrapping up Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors while Fultz was hoisting the Southeast Series championship trophy high above his head for the third time in his illustrious career.
“This has been a very exciting year for us,” Fultz said. “It’s probably one of the most nerve-wracking years because it seemed like between myself, J.R. Norris, Jason Hogan and Dusty Williams, whoever had the championship lead would have problems. It’s like the leader was jinxed all year long, but after the last race we knew what we needed to get the job done.”
The scenario Fultz was facing heading into Montgomery needing only a 15th place finish and the title would be his even if second-place Jason Hogan were to win the race. It got a little too close for comfort when Fultz had a dead battery and was sent behind the wall while Hogan was battling among the leaders. To his credit, Hogan did all he could do by finishing second at Montgomery behind
Helton while Fultz ended up 15th to win the title by only 12 points.
“It started missing and the battery shorted out on us,” Fultz explained. “We had a good car up to that point and were just trying to stay out of trouble. We came up a little short as far as being in contention there at the end but we won the ultimate war which is what we came here to do. I wanted this championship bad and we’ve put a lot of pressure on our team to finally repeat as champions.
Helton was also in quite a celebratory mood following his second straight victory which made it three for the season.
“This is just awesome,” Helton said. “We had a great car all night long and kind of just hung around the leaders until it was time to go racing. I’m so glad that we made the decision to go racing in the Southeast Series this year and it’s been well worth the while. I wouldn’t change anything about this year if I could, except for maybe a bad race or two. We’ve had great year and I have to thank all the guys on this team as well as the great motors from Volunteer Racing Engines. You can’t ask for a better season than what we had and I can’t wait to get next season started.”
Rounding out the top five in the final Montgomery finishing order were Justin Wakefield, Dusty Williams and Robert Richardson. The Top 10 was completed by Greg Pope, Josh Hamner, Johnny Brazier, Ricky Turner and Wayne Anderson.
Gary Helton locked up Rookie of the Year by winning his second race in a row and third of the 2005 season. (Montgomery Speedway Photo)
Wayne Anderson started second, but battled past Wakefield to hold the early lead until he relinquished the top spot to Erik Darnell on Lap 31.
The championship hopes of Norris went out the window on Lap 37 when he made his second unscheduled stop, his crew going under the hood before retiring from the event with engines problems on Lap 37 en route to a 19th place finish.
The first caution flag of the night’s 225-lapper came out when Brazier went for a harmless spin on Lap 55. Surprisingly, Darnell elected to come down pit road but watched in his mirror as none of the other leaders followed which put him deep in the field. Yet like he’s
done so many times before, Darnell made a slow and methodical move through the field and was running second -- albeit half a lap behind Helton -- when the second caution flag of the night was thrown when championship contender Hogan spun coming off the second turn.
Most of the other leaders used the yellow flag to make a pit stop, but Helton as well as Darnell stayed out on the track and took the restart on Lap 99 to pace Anderson, Kevin Prince and Fultz.
The only cars that hadn’t pitted at this point were Fultz, Kevin Prince and Greg Pope.
Darnell regained the race lead on Lap 119, but then his car lost power and stalled on the backstretch three laps later and was pushed to the garage.
On the ensuing restart on Lap 128, the top-five consisted of Helton, Pope, Wakefield, Fultz and Hogan.
Jason Hogan did all he could to make it a championship points race.. and he did just that.
If there’s one thing you can say about Hogan it’s the fact that he never gave up to the very end and when all the math was done and he was informed that he was second in the final Southeast Series standings.
“We did what we had to do tonight,” Hogan says. “We won the pole and ran up front all night even though we cut down a tire and spun out one time. We still made it back up to the leaders and had a chance to win. We did everything we could do. I hated to see Fultz have bad luck but he had bad luck and made it a little closer than I think he would have wanted. I can’t think of a better guy to lose the title to than Jeff Fultz because he has so much experience and is a great driver. I’m so proud of this team because we’re the only team in the top-five that didn’t win a race this year. That goes to show how consistent we really are and we’ve got something to build on heading into the future.”
The final top-five in the Southeast Series standings behind Fultz and Hogan were Helton in third, Dusty Williams fourth and Norris in fifth. The Top 10 was completed by Wakefield, Kevin Prince, Pope, Allen Karnes and Richardson.
Jeff Fultz won his third championship, but it was much closer than he would have liked this time around.
Pope took the lead from Helton on Lap 131 with so many different pit strategies up in the air that it was hard to figure out what was going to happen over the final 90 laps. When the fourth caution of the night came out Lap 143 when Terry McMahan spun in the fourth turn, it allowed Fultz and Helton to hit pit road for the first time for four tires and gas to go the distance.
Pope held the point until Anderson swept by to take the lead on Lap 164 and what pursued was an unreal battle among the leaders for the final laps. In the end, though, it was Helton hoisting the race winner’s trophy while Fultz was celebrating his third Southeast Series title.
ANDERSON BACK IN ACTION
Two-time Southeast Series champion driver Wayne Anderson was back in competition Saturday night at Montgomery, driving the No. 84 McDowell Construction Chevrolet. It marked Anderson’s first Southeast Series start since last year at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C. where he sat on the pole and finished third.
Saturday night marked Anderson’s 97th career Southeast Series start, victorious in 21 events with close to a half-million dollars in career earnings. Anderson was the most victorious driver in Southeast Series history until Jeff Fultz bypassed him last season
Helton had a stellar rookie season.
HOGAN BAGS BUD POLE AWARD
Jason Hogan turned the half-mile track at a speed of 91.963 mph to earn his second Bud Pole award of the season, as well as the season ending Bud Pole award. Dusty Williams also won two poles this year, but wasn’t eligible for the award because he doesn’t run stickers promoting alcohol for personal reasons.
The track record at Montgomery was set by Jeff Purvis at a speed of 94.443 mph in April 1993.
“This is awesome,” Hogan said. “I knew we were in a tie with a bunch of other good guys with one pole, so to wrap
Hogan earned his second Bud Pole of the year and wrapped up the Bud Pole Award.
up the Bud Pole Award in the last race is pretty awesome.”
Erik Darnell won the season-long Bud Pole award in the Midwest Series, bagging two poles in only five races.
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS
Longtime Southeast Series Media Coordinator Bill Desmond made a return trip to Montgomery on Saturday night not only to see a few old friends, but also to get back into old role as a color commentator for the Montgomery 225. Desmond got the chance to see many former colleagues, officials and drivers who haven’t had the chance to meet the retired legend since his retirement.
Southeast Series tour director Les Westerfield and a few other NASCAR officials took Desmond and his wife, Marge, out for a seafood dinner at one of their favorite local restaurants.