EASY PICKENS FOR MILLER AT GREENVILLE by Matthew Dillner
No Tires, No Power Steering, No Problem for Southern Mod King
When it comes to tire conservation in the Modified ranks, nobody does it better than the King of the Southern Modifieds, Junior Miller.
So when the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour hit the rough pavement of one of NASCAR’s oldest speedways for the first time, South Carolina’s Greenville-Pickens Speedway, it took a wily veteran to tame the tricky track.
Tires were the name of the game on the sandpaper-like surface. Miller started on the pole after qualifying was canceled due to a lengthy weather delay. Before the race, Miller made it clear that he did not want to start on the pole fearing that the rapid pace of racing with 20 others at his heels would take a toll on his tires. But that theory proved wrong for the second straight week.
Much like Ted Christopher did in the season opener at Caraway, Miller stayed out front and set his own pace. Junior led all 150 laps in route to the dominant win.
“We started on the pole and I really didn’t want to because I knew we were going to eat the tires up tonight,” said Miller. “I had just assumed start 10th. But the car was good enough to where I didn’t have to push it. It’s the best racecar I’ve been in in a long time.
Junior climbs out of his winning racecar in front of his crew and a big crowd at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. (51 Photos)
“We set our pace and never did run hard. Then with 20 to go they said that (Tim) Brown was catching me so I picked up the pace a little bit.”
Even though the defending series champ led all 150-circuits, it didn’t mean he had it easy. A late race caution flag bunched the field up and gave the packed house at Greenville-Pickens a green-white-checker finish. And that two lap dash almost dashed Junior Miller’s chances for a win.
When the green flag dropped, Miller’s #69 got very sideways when he got in the throttle. As the field stacked up, Miller made undoubtedly the save of the night and then held off a hard charging Tim Brown to get the big win.
“I just rode around all night and then in a split second I almost lost it there when I didn’t realize the power steering was gone,” said Miller about the tense moment on the green-white-checker finish. “When I spun the tires it about spun me out because I couldn’t correct it. I thought we were doomed. When I realized it I backed off the gas, corrected it and come on and beat ‘em.”
“He spun the tires real bad,” said second place finisher Tim Brown. “I actually got a good run but ran into him. He was still
Junior Miller's Advance Auto Parts #69 was fast in practice and in the race on Saturday. (51 Photos)
sideways so I checked up and got back in the gas and mine spun. If I had layed back a little bit it would have been one of those deals where I could have blown by him on the outside and won the race. But you never know. I gave it everything I had there at the end but came up short.
“If we hadn’t lost our power steering,” added Junior, “I was about to show him ten car lengths. He (Brown) had a good racecar and saved his car all night and almost beat me at the end. You don’t get beat ‘til the end and I’m hard to beat with a lap or two to go because I can make that car wide if I have power steering.”
Although a lack of power steering and a green-white-checker scenario nearly changed the face of the race, there was no mistaking that tires were still the name of the game. Miller’s dominance and uncanny ability to save his right rear tire left many of his competitors scratching their heads as they looked at their severely worn tires after the race.
“I don’t know how Junior done what he done,” said 10th place finisher Frank Fleming. “I rode for 75 laps and never mashed the car wide open. I just followed the #23 car (Brian Loftin) and I reckon we fell to the rear there.
Tim Brown's Hayes #83 was the only car that had a shot at Miller.
Then Junior came up and was about to lap us so I went to go and couldn’t go nowhere. I rode for 75 laps and it still killed my tire. I reckon Junior is the man with the answers tonight.”
“Junior did a real smart thing tonight,” said Brown. “He used Jay Hedgecock’s tires up just riding around in the middle of the track. Jay couldn’t get under him. He couldn’t go to the outside. So Jay had to pit. I was sitting back there and smiling. I was watching them burn there stuff up and watching the #1-car (Burt Myers) and the #87 (Alex Hoag) sideways and I hadn’t spun my tires yet. I was patient all night and made myself be that way and it paid off. We didn’t win the race but second is not bad tonight.”
“My car was good enough to where I could run half throttle all night,” said Junior about saving his tires. “I had good enough horsepower and I just used what I needed to win the race. We just ran about half throttle and went off in the corners easy and saved it until the end.
“You have to run in a way to be there at the end. They didn’t pressure me too hard and I ran my own race. I still think that if we started in the back though we still would have won the race because I really did have the dominant car tonight. I know I always have a little edge when you have to save tires.”
And the King proved the worth of his crown at Greenville.
Miller was happy to hoist the hardware after his first win of 2006.
Although Miller has basically done it all in the Southern Mod ranks, the early season race win and the ring on his finger from winning the first NASCAR Whelen Southern Mod Tour championship has rejuvenated the veteran and his Riggs Racing Team.
“When I sat in the back room in New York after winning the championship with all the top-ten best drivers in NASCAR getting ready to talk to all the reporters, that will energize you to do better next year. We’re coming out wide open to see if we can win ‘em all.”
The win at Greenville gave Miller two top-fives in two races and also vaulted him atop of the NASCAR Whelen Southern Mod Tour points standings.
And as runner-up finisher Tim Brown stated about Junior’s masterful performance at Greenville-Pickens, “They don’t call him ‘The King’ for nothing”.