J.R. Bertuccio earned his first trip to Victory Lane the hard way.
The 32-year-old from Centerrach, N.Y., had to hold off four-time NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion George Brunnhoelzl III on a green-white-checkered finish to win Saturday's Southern National 150. The win came in Bertuccio's 28th career start. He had three previous top fives with his best finish coming at Caraway Speedway with a third-place run in the 2014 season opener.
“This is a new car to us,” Bertuccio said, “we’ve always run a different kind of chassis, but we’ve just got a good combination going. My guys are paying attention and they’re working hard. I just can’t wait to see what the season brings.”
Bertuccio took the lead from Brunnhoelzl III, who started from the pole, on lap 11 and held on for the remainder of the evening. He survived five restarts, including the final one which set up the green-white-checkered finish.
Saturday night’s victory moves Bertuccio one point ahead of Andy Seuss, 89 to 88, in the championship standings. The tour heads back to Caraway (N.C.) in two weeks, with Bertuccio confident that he can improve on his third-place finish from a week ago.
“We were great at Caraway,” Bertuccio said. “Believe it or not, we actually found some things wrong with the car. We can’t believe we finished third [there] and I think we’ll be even better than the last time we were at Caraway. I can’t wait for two weeks.”
While Bertuccio held on to the top spot for the better part of the evening, the second through fifth-place spots remained an open game for a handful of drivers.
On the final restart, Kyle Ebersole managed to slip past Brunnhoelzl to take second, forcing the defending tour champion to settle for a third-place finish. An unfortunate turn of events for Brunnhoelzl III, who seemed on his way to seriously challenge Bertuccio for the lead.
“The third place finish is really tough,” said Brunnhoelzl III. “The guys worked really hard and, we had the lead right there if that last caution hadn’t come out. That’s tough, but I’m glad to see JR in Victory Lane. I wish it were me, but I’m glad it’s him.”
The green-white-checkered finish extended the race to 155 laps. Overall, there were five cautions for a total of 20 laps.
Andy Seuss and Jason Myers crossed the line fourth and fifth respectively. They were followed by Luke Fleming, Gary Putnam, rookies Joe Ryan Osborne and Spencer Davis, and Bryan Dauzat to round out the top 10.
The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will be off next weekend before running at Caraway (N.C.) Speedway on Saturday, March 29.