Words by Natalie Sather with Rob Tiongson
South Boston Speedway
Saturday, May 7, 2011
The way that the start of the season shaped out did not give me much hope for the upcoming races. We had a rough start to what would end up becoming the best few races thus far in my career. After this past Saturday night, someone pointed out to me that we have had a string of six consecutive top five finishes - something I thought was going to be impossible just a few weeks ago.
After finally clinching my first top-five finish of the year on April 2nd and continuing that effort with another on April 23rd, things really started to turn around with the Sellers Brothers Racing team. With twin 75 lap features coming up, we were focused on continuing our consistent finishes.
With another top-five finish under our belt, I was looking forward to the two twin 75 lap features for the night. The PASS cars were in town, so the track was going to be a lot different with all the rubber they would lay down.
The night started off better with a seventh-place qualifying effort. We had finally gotten back into the top-ten, which was something I have struggled on and off with throughout the beginning of the season. Strapping in for the first race, my goal was another strong top-five finish. My teammate Peyton Sellers was helping us out for the night. He reminded me before I went out to be sure to not abuse my tires as I still had another 75 lap race to run.
Once the green flag dropped, the action began. The race was pretty much caution free, but with the laps winding down, I worked my way past a few cars and crossed the finish line in fifth. Needless to say, it was not an action packed race. Little did I know what was about to unfold....
As we prepared for the second race of the night, I focused on what my goals were. I jokingly told my crew chief Brian that I was done with this fifth-place stuff and that it was time to break into at least the top four! (laughter)
Starting the race from fifth (where we finished the race prior) was an advantage with it being a 75 lap shootout.
"Green, green," I heard and the race was on for the second twin 75-lapper. I settled into sixth after a rough start and set my sights on the fifth place car. My spotter Justin was on the radio, keeping me calm and helping me work my way up.
The Sellers guys really put a great car together for the second race. I was super comfortable and very fast. Catching cars slowly but surely, I was careful not to spin my tires and conserved them till the last part of the race.
We started to pick off cars one-by-one, eventually finding myself running in second place, and catching Philip Morris – yes, THE Philip Morris.
I was so pumped but yet trying to remain calm all at the same time! (laughs) With 15 laps to go, the yellow flag came out.
YES! This was my chance. The pace car ducked down pit road as it was Philip to the inside and yours truly in the Butler Built Seats No. 94 car to the outside. The race was on....
"No pressure from behind," is what I kept hearing from Justin as Philip and I duked it out for 10 laps. I was holding my own on the outside, even leading a few laps.
He eventually pulled ahead of me just enough and passed me coming off turn two, making contact with my front end. So... coming into turn three I wasn't about to give up.
I gave him a little "love tap" as we can call it in racing, and looked to the inside. Peyton comes on the radio. "Do it again, do it again," in a very excited tone.
Well now, if you give me permission of course, I am going to do it again, not that I wouldn't of anyways! (laughter) Coming into the next turn, I got enough of an advantage on the bottom and was making my pass when the YELLOW came out!
NO! I was so disappointed with just five laps to go, barely enough time to make a final charge for the lead and win.
Going to the outside again on the restart didn't pan out as well, as I had used up all my tires running on the outside for so long. I had to settle into a solid second place finish, which was a bittersweet end to a great race.
Pulling onto the frontstretch, something I have not done so far at South Boston Speedway was so refreshing. I couldn't believe it - second place, finally! I got out of my car to be greeted by a very excited group of guys.
As they started victory lane interviews, the three-time National Champion, came over to me, shook my hand, and bowed to me...
Yes you read that right, bow! (laughs) I was in total shock, and couldn't believe that the guy I watched two years ago on the stage accepting his National Championship trophy was congratulating me. It was a great feeling.
Team Sellers Racing works so very hard at and away from the race track. I was so glad to get them the finish they so deserve, working hard racing for them. It was definitely what we needed to bring up our confidence and show that we can do it – even if second place is the first loser.