Russell Fleeman Wins GAS Season-Opener at Birmingham
Veteran Racer Holds Off Jimmy Garmon on Final Restart for Victory
Russell Fleeman celebrates his Early Bird 100 victory with his family and crew. (51 Photo)
Russell Fleeman had the dominant car throughout Early Bird weekend. Fleeman was fast in practice and won the Atlanta Freightliner Pole Award on Saturday afternoon. Then he backed it up with a dominating performance on Sunday in the 100-lap feature event to start off the 2007 Georgia Asphalt Series season.
Even though Fleeman led throughout the last half of the race, he was still fully aware of the dangers that BIR could – and did - throw at him.
“I talked to a lot of people, good friends, who have many laps around this place,” said Fleeman. “They gave me real good helpful hints, and I think that made a tremendous difference. But I think I heard every rock hit the sheet metal and a whole lot more in those last 20 laps.
“We came over here and tested a couple weeks ago. This was just my second time at this track, so we came over to make sure the driver was comfortable. After the test, we had some good feelings coming back here. Yesterday we changed a few things trying
to make the car quicker. There was a little bit of driver error when I hit the wall (in practice). All the guys had to work pretty hard to get everything back together. We didn’t get to make any laps on the car before qualifying and got the pole and won the race.”
Fleeman started the Early Bird 100 from sixth after the post-qualifying invert. The invert put Gary Sanford, Jr. and Bubba Pollard on the front row. Pollard checked out to an early lead, but Sanford fought back on lap 27. Just a few laps later, however, it was Fleeman who took charge after pacing his way through traffic to the top spot. From there, Fleeman was on cruise control.
Birmingham International Raceway is a tough, old racetrack that has given even the most veteran of racers fits for decades. Some of stock car racing’s biggest names cut their teeth at the historic speedplant, but it would be hard for any of them to claim that they have ever truly mastered the intricacies of the flat 5/8-mile track.
When the Georgia Asphalt Series drivers pulled their rigs into BIR for the season-opening Early Bird 100, the veterans and young up-and-coming stars that make up the GAS roster in 2007 alike knew that BIR would be a handful. While everyone in the infield tried their best to figure BIR out, only one veteran was able to show that he had what it took to get into victory lane.
Gary Sanford (#25) and Bubba Pollard (#26) led the way early on Sunday.
That was, however, until a yellow flag on lap 81. Veteran racer Jimmy Garmon had worked his way up to second and closed to Fleeman’s bumper under caution. On the restart, Garmon took a look underneath Fleeman going into the first turn. Garmon pulled even with Fleeman in the corner, eventually taking the lead in turn-two, but Fleeman used a nifty crossover move to get back under Garmon for the lead that he would not relinquish again.
“I knew that was my only shot,” said Garmon. “Earlier I had gone on the bottom like that and the car would stick, but you can’t do that too many laps in a row. It just kills the right front.
“When my spotter said ‘clear,’ I had to use up the racetrack and that just let Russell get back under up me. He raced me clean, and that’s all you can ask for. I wanted him to try and earn it. It was a lot of fun.”
Fleeman had been so dominant, he was not about to let the first checkered flag of the season get away from him.
Jimmy Garmon had a good car all weekend long at BIR, but he came up just a little short of victory.
“When I took the green on the restart, I heard everything in the world and thought something was going to go wrong. I went down in the corner, and he got a good run down on the bottom side, and all I could do was counteract with him. We had a good enough car that I could turn it down to the bottom and go.”
Fleeman’s victory and Garmon’s runner-up result topped a sweep of GAS veterans at the head of the field in the Early Bird 100. The series’ more seasoned racers used their experience to earn strong finishes to kick off the 2007 season. David Elliott, Fredrick Moore and Paul Kelley, all GAS veterans, brought home top-five finishes.
The Georgia Asphalt Series will be back in action at another historic short track in the Southeast on March 10th when the GAS stars make their first appearance at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.