But when the first caution flag came out, Marquis did not pit. Nor did the #18 of Donny Lia. They played the pit strategy game and elected to conserve the seven tires that they were allowed to change during the race until later.
The strategy almost bit Marquis though. The race had a long green run until lap 145 and at that point, his tires were long used up and he was within a straightaway of being lapped himself.
THOMPSON 300 STORY HAS SEVERAL CHAPTERSby Mike Twist
Mod Tour's Longest Race Featured Racing, Wrecking, Strategy and Tempers
The Sunoco 300 at Thompson International Speedway is twice as long as most of the event on the schedule. It’s even 50 laps longer than the new-for-2005 marquee race under the lights at Martinsville Speedway. The 300 has been around since 1975, and there have been plenty of stories to tell about the races through the years.
This year was no different. Over the course of 300 laps, there were plenty of very diverse stories to tell. There was pit strategy, hard driving, anger and a winner who had won everything but a 300 so far in his career.
But in the end, 90% of the race didn’t even matter. It was the last 30 laps that decided the top five and left everyone talking.
Jerry Marquis was the early rabbit in the race. He put his #4 car into the lead on the fourth lap. Since the first 84 laps of the race went trouble-free, Marquis was able to set a torrid pace early on. He put several good competitors, including Tyler Haydt, Rick Fuller, Mike Christopher and Jimmy Blewett, down a lap before the race was even 80 laps old.
Ted Christopher (#13) and Donny Lia (#18) race for the lead. (Howie Hodge Photo)
“We were going to hold out until lap 125 [to pit],” said Marquis. “When there was that caution and everyone pitted, we were alright. We weren’t strong-strong. We just hung around and that next caution that happened around lap 100, we should have come in. That really killed us. The next caution [lap 145], we were able to come in and put three tires on and we made up a bunch of ground.”
Tony Hirschman, Lia, Zach Sylvester and Eric Beers all took turns out front in the middle of the race thanks to differing approaches on how to finish 300 laps before
Jerry Marquis dominated the race in its early stages. (51 Photo)
anyone else did. Not far behind those characters were Ted Christopher, Eddie Flemke, Doug Coby and Tony Ferrante.
“You had to choose when to go fast,” said Flemke. “’Hirschy’ choose until there were about 30 laps to go until he went. We choose to go early, and then ride for awhile and save some for the end. We came up just a little bit short. You just never know.”
Beers was leading entering the final 100 laps of the race, but his tires were older than his pursuers. With 30 laps to go, he was leading a nose-to-tail pack with Christopher, Lia, Coby and Sylvester in tow. Ten laps later, not one of those drivers was running in the same position. Christopher was now the man in front.
Marquis (#4) and Doug Coby (#77) race for positions in the top five. (Mary Hodge Photo)
“I knew that he [Beers] had pitted earlier and I was just running my line,” said Christopher. “I saw him getting closer and closer and then I saw a little twitch. That’s when I knew that his tires were going and I was catching him. Then the #18 [Lia] came to my outside, so I had to really work hard.”
Christopher was able to relax slightly when the battle for second-place heated up. Coby and Lia battled for the spot and that turned into a free-for all. Coby hit Lia while racing under green. Then things got more tense when Lia made contact with Coby under caution, sending Coby’s #77 into the frontstretch wall.
Coby’s night was finished. He had heavy front end damage to his car. Lia’s night was finished as well. NASCAR parked him for the remainder of the race due to the horseplay. We’ll have more on the incident coming later this week.
Sylvester was in the pits early as well as an electrical problem sidelined him before the race was over.
On the restart, Christopher had a different battle for second-place in his mirror. Eddie Flemke was the runner-up with five laps to go. Tony Hirschman took that spot from him shortly after the race when green again. But nobody had anything to catch TC, who won the 300 for the first time in his career.
In victory lane, Christopher was happy, but reserved. After all, it was still just another win and he has a race in New Hampshire on Friday to get ready for as he heads down the homestretch of the season as the point leader. Just as soon as the checkered flag fell at Thompson, that was the top thing on his mind.
“This is special, but all of the wins are,” said Christopher. “I don’t dwell on them too much. My job is over with and we won the race. We’ll celebrate a little bit, but tomorrow it’s back to work.
“Hopefully, this is another step towards our championship. Right now, we have pretty good form going and we are coming up on New Hampshire, Stafford and back here for two races [all tracks which have been very good for TC in the past], so we’ll see what happens.”
Speed51.com will have more from Thompson later this week with leftovers and the latest on the Lia vs. Coby incident.
Ted Christopher win a trophy from a race that he had not won before. (Howie Hodge Photo)