Last night, the NEO Racing News Legends League hit the track at South Boston, with a championship on the line in the final race of the season. Going into the night, Travis Warling held just a 14 point lead in the standings over a charging Bill Martin. In order to clinch the title, all Warling would have to do was finish 4th or better, but it wouldn’t be that easy.
In qualifying, Martin would take the pole with a lap time of 16.713 seconds, setting himself up with great track position, with Warling qualifying back in 5th. At the drop of the green flag, Martin got the quick jump into the lead and would bring the field around for the first lap. TJ Graves would get down to the bottom groove quickly, while Kevin Myers moved into 3rd. While the top 3 were quick to fall in line, cars were battling side-by-side trying to sort things out. Ryan Borges would finally get by Kevin Berg on the outside to take 4th, moving Berg back to 5th, while behind them Warling would run door-to-door with Matt Rolfe for the first 5 laps before hanging onto the spot for 6th. The first caution would come out a couple of laps later, bunching the field together for the next restart.
After another quick caution on the restart, the next restart would come on lap 17, where Martin jumped back into the lead. Myers was able to get down into 2nd, while Borges got a good jump from 4th to get by Graves and take over the 3rd spot, just before the next yellow on lap 19.
Another restart on lap 24 would see Martin out front once again with a good jump, while Myers didn’t get going quite as well. This allowed Berg to move up the inside in attempt to grab 2nd away, but Myers would fight back on the outside to retake the spot. Right behind Myers, was Borges who was also using the outside groove and he too would get by Berg to move back into 3rd. Warling continued to hang around the 5th spot, but with Martin out front, he would need to move up to hang onto his shot at the title.
The race’s fourth caution would come out on lap 29 for a self spin further back in the pack setting up the field for the lap 34 restart and a 25 lap green flag run. Martin pulled into the lead out front, while Myers was trying to hold off Borges for 2nd. Myers would come off of turn two on the restart and would get into the outside wall allowing Borges to get by as he began to track down the leader. Behind Myers, Warling had moved into 4th and was in a good spot as the run continued on, with Rolfe moving into 5th, and Graves moving back up into 6th after pitting during an earlier caution.
As the run continued on, Borges would catch up to Martin and began to put the pressure on for the lead and closed to within a car length behind him. They continued to run nose-to-tail, and despite battling for the lead, the continued to pull away from Myers and 3rd, and began to catch up to cars at the back of the field. Patrick Hahe and Ken Belanger were in a fight for a spot just outside the top 10, and would get together coming out of turn four on lap 54. Both drivers would get loose and would struggle to regain control of their cars, which would end up with the leaders catching up to them in a hurry. Martin would have to slow and swerve to avoid them, allowing Borges to get a run on the low side, and would get by Martin to take the lead. Just a few laps later, the final caution of the race would come out.
On the final restart, Borges and Martin would go into turn one, side-by-side for the lead, until Borges got loose on the bottom allowing Martin to pull into the lead. Myers would settle into 3rd, while behind him Warling was looking fall in line in the 4th spot before Graves would make a move to the bottom and the two drivers would get together. Warling was able to save the car, but not before Graves got by, and not without losing some ground to the top 4. With Martin back in the lead, Warling would need to gain another spot, or have Martin drop back as the championship battle continued on.
While Warling was looking to hold off Rolfe and Stan Bragg to hang onto 5th, the battle for the lead wasn’t over as Borges was trying to retake the spot away. On lap 72, Borges made his move back to the inside of Martin and would take the low groove away, but Martin would continue to fight on the outside. Back for the battle for 5th though, Warling’s handling had gone away, and he wouldn’t be able to hang onto the spot, and would get shuffled back to 8th as Rolfe, Bragg and Clay Snider would get by.
The battle continued on for the lead over the final couple of laps, as Martin and Borges were fighting for the top spot. Borges gained the advantage entering the corner, but Martin would fight back and got the advantage off. Martin would be clear for the lead coming to the white flag, but heading into turn 3 on the final lap, Borges would give it one last shot and moved to the inside, trying to steal the lead away.
But when they came to the line, Martin was able to get the run off the corner and would win the drag race to the finish line to take the victory. The win would be Martin’s 5th victory of the season, and his 13th career SARA victory. Borges would come up a spot short, and would finish in the 2nd spot. Myers would finish in the 3rd position, holding off Graves who finished in 4th, with Rolfe rounding out the top 5.
With the victory, Martin would gain enough points on Warling to overcome the points gap entering the race to take home the championship. Since the 6th race of the season, Martin had an amazing string of finishes over the remainder of the season, only finishing outside of the top 3 once during that time (a 6th at the Texas Legends Oval). Martin’s championship season consisted of 19 starts, 6 poles (Stafford, Thompson, Concord, IRP, Las Vegas Road, and SoBo) with an average starting position of 2.74, 5 wins (Stafford, Thompson, Concord, IRP, SoBo) with an average finish of 4.32, 14 top 5 finishes, 17 top 10 finishes, 793 laps completed, and 316 laps led. Congrats to Bill Martin, your 2014 NEO Racing News Legends League Fall Season champion!