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Murto: Late Model finale Sunday

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in a couple of weeks will be exciting, but when the "Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300" takes the green flag on Sunday, 42 drivers will be chasing a first-place payout of $25,000, the richest NASCAR Late Model Stock payout in the country.

And not only should it provide better short track action than you'll see in the Cup race, but it's much more affordable. Tickets are only $25 each, children 12 and under are admitted free with an adult, and camping is free for the entire weekend.

To make it even more exciting, a handful of drivers will be gunning for a big bonus, plus bragging rights as the winner of the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown.

Martinsville Speedway, South Boston Speedway and Langley Speedway partnered to stage the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown series, a season-long battle in the Commonwealth with a $5,000 payout to the winner. The second-place finisher will claim $3,000 while third will pay $1,500.

Three races made up the Triple Crown: The season-opening South Boston 300, the Langley Heat 200 on July 28 and the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville on Oct. 21. Points are awarded to drivers in each event based on their finish.

C.E. Falk leads the Triple Crown chase heading into the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 with 83 points. He won the first leg of the Triple Crown at South Boston and was second at Langley, his home track. Ridgeway's Matt Bowling is only four points behind Falk with 79 points with a win at Langley -- the most prestigious win of his career -- and a fourth at South Boston, his home track. Nick Smith is third in the Triple Crown points with 64, followed by Eddie Johnson with 40 points. Peyton Sellers and Wesley Falk are tied for fifth in the standings with 36 points.

"The Triple Crown definitely is a big deal if we can pull it off," said Bowling, who won South Boston's track championship this year with one feature win. "We think about it, but we try to keep it in the back of our mind. We're going out to win the race. It's Martinsville, you have to go in it with that mindset."

The $25,000 first-place money is the biggest in NASCAR Late Model Stock Car racing, but it could be bigger payoff if the race winner captures the Triple Crown, has the fastest time, which pays $1,000, and wins the $2,000 half-way award. That would mean a $33,000 payday, the biggest ever for a Late Model winner at Martinsville. That record currently is held by David Hyder, who took home $27,000 in 1997 when he won the race and the pole award.

Martinsville Speedway announced earlier this year it was moving away from qualifying to an all-heat race format for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300, and a lot of drivers whined about the format. Fans loved the idea from the beginning -- what's not to love about racers racing their way into the feature? Some of the drivers have warmed up to the idea.

"Real men love heat races," former race winner Jake Crum recently said in a tweet, according to a Martinsville Speedway press release.

The top eight finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the 150-lap feature. The final 10 slots in the feature will be filled through a 50-lap last-chance race with the top 10 making the show. All of the racing action takes place on Sunday, so you can drive to the track on Saturday, purchase your tickets, enjoy the free camping Saturday night and take in a full day of Late Model action on Sunday. The race annually attracts between 80 and 120 cars, so there will be plenty of action in the heat races, which will start based on Saturday practice speeds.

There will be an autograph session on the front stretch at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. The first of the four heat races begin at noon on Sunday, followed by the 50-lap last chance race. The 150-lap feature should begin around 3:30 p.m.

If you've ever wanted to see a race at Martinsville Speedway but were unable to afford tickets for the Cup race, this race is for you. In fact, the racing action will probably be better than anything the Sprint Cup cars can produce. For $25, children admitted free, and free camping, how can you go wrong? See you at Martinsville.

-- Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.






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