This past Wednesday night, the GM Parts XPerts Pro Late Model Series took their turn at the Richmond International Raceway for their season opener. A night after the Street Stock race was cut short due to server issues, the Pro Late Models were able to go the full distance for all 100 laps.
During Time Trials, Austin Yarbrough put his name at the top of the list with a lap of 21.735 seconds to pick up his first career SARA pole. However an 8-car invert would drop him back into the field while Joshua Hart was inverted to the top spot, and would lead the top ten cars from time trials into the Qualifying Dash for some extra bonus points. In the Dash, Hart jumped out to the early lead and had no issues as he came around to take the Dash victory.
Hart led the entire 29-car field back to the green flag for the feature event, and was able to jump out to the early lead once again. His lead in the opening laps grew out to nearly a full second, until Cody Kelley moved up into the runner-up position and began reeling him in. By lap 12 Kelley had closed the gap, and when Hart slid up, it allowed Kelley to get the run he needed and made the pass on the inside to take over the lead on lap 13.
The race’s first caution of the night came on lap 24, as a lapped car spun coming out of turn four, leaving Ty Spearman with no where to go and he would get collected after moving up into the 4th position.
On the restart, Kelley quickly jumped back ahead out front, while Austin Yarbrough moved up into the 2nd spot. James Linkiewicz would fight back though, and retook the position a couple laps later. After the race’s second and final caution on lap 43, the story would be the same as Kelley remained in the lead while Linkiewicz, Yarbrough, and others battled behind him.
There were already plenty of comers-and-goers by this point in the race, but a 53-lap run to the finish would spread the field out and allowed everyone to see what they had on the long run.
The one driver that had the best long-run set was Kelley, and he coasted out to nearly a four second lead as he came around to take the checkered flag, picking up the season opening victory at Richmond. The win for Kelley was the 34th of his SARA career.
Behind Kelley, Linkiewicz ran in the top three the entire race, only giving up the runner-up position on the restarts, but fought back each time to finish in the 2nd spot. After being inverted back after Time Trials, Yarbrough quickly moved his way up into the top three and ran there for the rest of the race to finish on the podium in 3rd. Hunter Combs dropped a few positions in the opening laps before working his way up into the top five, where he would have to hold off David Krikorian over the second half of the race. Combs held on to finish in 4th, with Krikorian rounding out the top five in 5th.
Just outside the top five, Jason Benoit scored an impressive 6th place finish, his best career score to date after he charged up from the 16th position and ran strongly in the top ten all night. Russell Berry started nearly last on the night, but he too charged through the field and battled with Benoit in the closing stages before he ended up finishing in the 7th spot. After leading laps early and falling off some, Hart recovered from a penalty and going a lap down at one point, to fight his way back up to an 8th place finish. With a damaged car, Spearman didn’t nearly have the speed he did earlier in the race, but was able to work his way back up to finish in 9th. Bill Martin fought an ill-handling race car for the second half of the race, clipping the wall a number of times, but was able to hang on and would round out the top ten.
As the series leaves Richmond, they will head to the Five Flags Speedway next week for a 125-lap feature event. Cody Kelley and James Linkiewicz will lead the field into the race as they sit tied atop the points standings after the first event of the season.