TIMMONSVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA — Sam Yarbrough was not happy with his No. 95 Aaron‘s Sales & Lease Ford prior to qualifying for the inaugural Marty Ward Memorial Locked In 150 at Florence Motor Speedway.
After struggling to find pace in practice, Yarbrough entered the 150-lap feature with a conservative mindset, determined to work through the issues hindering his car while simultaneously keeping it in one piece.
Any frustrations Yarbrough had faded away as the Locked In 150 progressed. The veteran racer conserved his equipment before chasing down and passing Cody Kelley for the victory on Friday night, which gave him the pole for the prestigious South Carolina 400 at Florence in the process.
“I‘m much relieved to be honest,” Yarbrough said. “I still don‘t know how we ended up here, but we made a couple good changes before qualifying and found some speed there. After making a couple small adjustments at the break, the car was really good during those last 50 laps.”
It‘s so nice to have some success after all the struggles we‘ve had this year.”
Yarbrough has long been seasoned when it comes to navigating abrasive tracks, as he won six titles at Myrtle Beach Speedway prior to its closure in 2020.
Finding the speed he lacked earlier in the afternoon was only one part of the winning formula for Yarbrough in the Locked In 150. He managed to find a perfect balance between being cautious and aggressive during the opening stage by maintaining track position inside the Top 5 while on a conservative strategy.
Despite executing the plan perfectly, Yarbrough was still unsure if adjustments would help him get around the dominant car of the night in Kelley. Once Kelley‘s car began to fade in the closing stages, Yarbrough utilized the bottom groove to take the lead and pull away with the Locked In 150 victory.
“At that break, I thought we had a second-place car,” Yarbrough said. “I figured [Kelley] was kind of going to set sail but he was struggling for drive, and I could roll the bottom of [Turns] 3 and 4 really good. I got some clean track and tried to hit my marks every lap. Everything paid off.”
Clean air did not give Yarbrough much comfort with NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Briscoe consistently recording some of the fastest laps on track.
Driving a car prepared by Chad Bryant Racing, Briscoe saved the most tires of anybody on track by dropping to the rear of the 20-car field during the opening stretch. Briscoe made a spirited charge towards the front after the Lap 97 break but ran out of time to overtake Yarbrough for the lead.
The chemistry Briscoe already shared with Bryant from their time together in the ARCA Menards Series made preparing for the Locked In 150 a calm experience. He cherished the opportunity to race with Bryant again, but was disappointed the venture did not result in a victory.
“I would have loved to have a caution,” Briscoe said. “It would have been hard to pass [Yarbrough] if we did have one because I would have been stuck on the outside [on the restart]. Towards the end, I started running the top in Turns 1 and 2, but in [Turns] 3 and 4, you had to be on the inside wall.
This was something totally different for me, and I really enjoyed it.”
A victory on Friday would have made committing to the South Carolina 400 in November an easy decision for Briscoe. The event takes place after the conclusion of the Cup Series season, but Briscoe plans to talk with his wife Marissa before choosing to chase the Late Model Stock crown jewel.
Briscoe believes he made significant progress at Florence following his debut Late Model Stock race at North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, which resulted in a solid 10th place finish. While he stopped short of saying he had the discipline figured out, Briscoe is optimistic he can compete for a win in his next Late Model Stock race, whenever that may be.
“There‘s a feel you‘re supposed to have,” Briscoe said. “All day today, I knew that wasn‘t how a car was supposed to feel, but I didn‘t really know what it should feel like. Now I have a baseline of what this thing should feel like if I want to compete for a win.”
That‘s going to be a big thing if I ever come back and run another one.”
If Briscoe does elect to compete in the South Carolina 400, Yarbrough will be one of the primary obstacles standing in his way of a win.
Yarbrough‘s triumph puts him in a perfect position to claim his second South Carolina 400 victory after previously doing so at Myrtle Beach in 2007. A win in November would make him the first driver to win the race at both Myrtle Beach and Florence.
With the South Carolina 400 being an endurance race for Late Model Stocks, Yarbrough said tire conservation is going to be even more pertinent compared to Friday but stressed the importance of also having a fast car through every portion of the feature.
“[The pole] means a lot as long as the car is good,” Yarbrough said. “If the car is not good when you‘re starting up front, you‘re just going to go backwards. The mindset is the same as every race, which is to work hard, make good adjustments and do the best you can.”
We‘re going to get this car better for November and see how it goes.”
Yarbrough has just over two months to make his red No. 95 as fast as possible before pursuing a second victory in one of the southeast‘s most cherished Late Model Stock events.