FULTZ, BIGLEY STAGE EPIC FINAL 10-LAP DUEL By Jeremy Troiano
Bigley Not Happy... Fultz Ends Big Week... Hogan Can Only Watch
In a race that was delayed by more than three and a half hours because of torrential rain and water seepages around the 4/10-mile South Boston Speedway, fans looked like they were going to get their moneys worth after a great duel in the opening laps between Jeff Fultz and Billy Bigley Jr.
But then, for the next 120 laps, it looked like it was going to be a snoozer, with Bigley putting all but six other cars at least one-lap down. Then Fultz, the defending series champion, decided to make it a show the fans wouldn't soon forget, staging an epic battle with Bigley over the final 10 laps, eventually making the pass for the lead and winning his first Kodak Southeast Series event of the 2003 season.
"This team was due a win and it was time for that win," said Fultz. "The track got really oiled down those last five laps. I found myself over-driving the car. I almost crashed off the corners on the front stretch. I couldn't keep the car under control. I was getting so mad at myself.
Jeff Fultz with his trophy and Billy Bigley's tire mark in Victory Lane at South Boston.
But it was how Fultz made that pass that had the fans on their feet and Bigley steamed after the race.
When Bigley passed Fultz for the first of only two lead changes in the race on lap 12, he did it with a nice little nudge and a "see you later" pass. Bigley then checked out on Fultz and the rest of the field.
But a series of late-race cautions got Fultz back into the race. With just 10 to go, Fultz knew it was time to make a move. Only a few laps later, he had made the move.
Driving two distinct lines, Bigley and Fultz battled side by side, making contact on numerous occasions, before Fultz finally muscled his way under Bigley after some major contact and got the lead with just six to go. Bigley tried several desperation moves to get back by Fultz, again with contact between the two, but laps finally ran out and Fultz celebrated with his team in Victory Lane.
Fultz's #54 was hooked up on the apron.
"Billy was a little better at the beginning of the race, but we were better on restarts, so with 15 to go or something like that, I just knew I had to go. I was getting underneath him on every restart and he kept trying to block a little bit. He is just trying to win and I understand that.
"I would like to have passed him clean. But I got underneath him and he came down and I bumped him, but once I bumped him, I just had to keep going. He would have done the same to me. He knew I was just going after the win. He did the same to me early. It wasn't payback, I just had to go and it paid off."
Bigley, who looked to be the class of the field in the 150-lap race, had a different point-of-view on his second-place run.
"We had a good car on long runs," said Bigley, the 2000 series champ. "I was just trying to be cautious on those short runs. But Jeff just wants to play bumper tag. I can play bumper tag too. However he wants to play, I'll play.
"I bumped him early, but I was way faster than he was. He wiggled coming up off of two and I got into him. It was evident that he couldn't run with us.
"I didn't need those all those cautions, because every time I got away from him, we got a caution.
Billy Bigley Jr. wasn't very happy with Jeff Fultz after his late lap antics.
"That's racing and I'll take second. But I won't forget."
Jason Hogan, who steadily moved his way up all evening into contention after and early run-in with David Reutimann, had the best view in the house of the Fultz / Bigley feud. Hogan was hoping to get involved and make it a three-way race for the win, and briefly got into Fultz when he had to back off after getting into Bigley, but couldn't make it past the two leaders and had to settle for third.
"I wanted to get right up there and race with them," said Hogan, who also qualified in the third-position. "On that last restart, I had my chance to get up there. Fultz slammed Bigley kind of hard right there and then I went to get up there on the outside of Fultz and I got into him and let him go. I had no choice. That is how we race around here.
"I had a good car and it isn't tore up, so I am ready to go again. I know we have a good race car and a good race team. I am excited about going on with this season."
Up next for the Southeast Series are back-to-back races on the superspeedways, starting this week at Nashville and then heading to Kentucky.
Jason Hogan could only sit and watch the battle for first place.