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Pletcher stays in front of trouble

On Lap 55 of the 100-lap Bud Light Late Model Championship at Sunshine Speedway Saturday night, veteran Dave Pletcher finally snatched the lead from pole-sitter Mike Bell and held on for the win.

That wasn't a big surprise; Pletcher has done that lots of times. In fact, he has won more Late Model races than anyone at Sunshine. The surprise was what went on behind him during the final 10 laps.

After losing his third-place position to Pletcher's No. 75 on Lap 43, last year's Late Model champion and current points leader No. 22 Sammy Coghill of Largo had moved into second by Lap 63. For the next 28 laps, Coghill stayed on the Clearwater leader's bumper.

"Something went away somewhere," Pletcher said of why he could no longer put a big gap between himself and the field in the late laps. "I just protected the bottom groove and gave them room to run outside, but no one wanted to go."

Instead, coming down the front straightaway on Lap 91, Coghill attempted to dive to the inside and beat Pletcher into the first turn. It didn't work. The No. 22's front end hit the rear side of the No. 75 and Coghill slid across the infield.

As he emerged back onto the track, Pletcher already was gone, but the No. 1 of Pinellas Park's Wayne Jefferson smacked Cog-hill and sent him into a spin. For bringing out the yellow flag, Cog-hill was sent to the rear of the lead lap and finished sixth.

That put Jefferson in second behind Pletcher, and the No. 93 of Rob Partelo of St. Petersburg in third, which was a surprise. Although an accomplished Open Wheel Modified driver, Partelo had been behind the wheel of a Late Model only since the beginning of the season.

It seemed almost certain Jefferson would take a run at Pletcher. On Lap 95, Jefferson was only inches from Pletcher's bumper, and Partelo was only inches from Jefferson's. However, Pletcher didn't come out of Turn 2 as quickly as he had been. Jefferson hit the brakes and so did Partelo, but not quickly enough. Jefferson was spun, and both he and Partelo were sent to the rear of the lead lap, which meant Jefferson finished seventh and Partelo eighth.

That put No. 27 Rob Elting of Tampa and No. 57 Kenny Moore, a rookie from St. Petersburg, directly behind Pletcher, which was where they finished. No. 77 Brian Lowe of Pinellas Park was fourth and No. 4 John Gerstner of Tampa fifth in the 25-car field.

Both Elting and Moore were delighted.

"I went from the back to the front," said Elting, who runs the Florida Pro Series. "I spun out at the beginning of the race. They put me to the back, and I came all the way back to finish second. This is the first time I've been back at Sunshine in a year. I was ecstatic."

Said Moore: "I came in third, but this is a win to me, racing against these guys. I didn't really expect to do this well."

NOTES: While leading the Mini Stock feature on Lap 17 of the 20-lap race, Skip Buchanan's No. 49 exploded in flames as he dived into the first turn and he hit the wall at Turn 2. Although the cab was engulfed by the blaze, the Spring Hill driver was uninjured. No. 12 Ed Mozader of Largo picked up the win, with No. 22 Mack Mongold of Largo second and No. 30 Tim McPhail of Pinellas Park third.

Other results:

Figure 8s: No. 94 Bill Gearhart, Seminole; No. 7 James Leacock, Seminole; No. 05 Mason Love, Pinellas Park.

Street Stocks: No. 72 Mike Carr, Safety Harbor; No. 32 Bill Gearhart; No. 0 Mason Love.

Oval Drags: Frank Hill, Clearwater; Dave Tennis, Pinellas Park; Paul Godby, St. Petersburg.

Men's Enduro (first feature): No. 02 Pete Cracolici; No. 23 Ken Parker; No. 33 Tony Mineo. (Second feature): No. 12 Paul Cowan; No. 10 Bob Mattull; No. 8 Gerry Paradis.