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Morris ready to crank up season / March 18, 2009
Two-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Philip Morris is ready to crank it up for the 2009 racing season, starting Saturday afternoon at South Boston Speedway.

Morris is expected to be part of a high-octane late model field when SBS, delayed by rain last week, cranks up its new campaign, and the Ruckersville, Va. driver has plenty of reasons for optimism.

“The expectation level is really high,” said Morris, driving car no. 26. He said all of his testing has shown the car is running really well, but there are reasons to be cautious about how the season opener might play out.

“There are so many factors that come into play with this type of racing.

With late model stock, it’s just so many personalities and talents and so much ability from engine builders and car builders. You never know what to expect, who’s going to step up and who’s going to be really good. Who do you have to outrun?

“There’s a lot of question marks for us. There’s more anxiety than I should have,” said Morris. Meanwhile, he believes he has solid momentum from last year’s title run, and Morris feels confident after his last two late model runs at SBS.

Morris noted he’s very comfortable in the car after preseason testing, and is hopeful for a strong run Saturday.

“I’m not saying it has to be a win,” said Morris, who is at least looking for “something solid that we can improve on.”

Morris, running a Dodge for sponsor Clarence’s Steak House, has new rules changes to deal with this season.

“The rules have changed for us because the Dodge has to carry more weight. We don’t know what that’s going to do long term. We don’t know what that’s going to be like 100 laps in a race. I’m just going to be open-minded about it and say, hope we can run close to the front and try to learn something that will help us out and improve and be able to build on, and get a good, solid finish out of the weekend.”

Morris had a strong run until he faced mechanical failure last summer at SBS, and then he won the track’s dash-for-cash all-star late model event.

In the July 4 event, it appeared Morris was on the way to a win, with Deac McCaskill finishing second. But the alternator wire broke off at lap 100, and Morris failed to bring the car home.

His last race was the fall all-star show, part of the Mason-Dixon 500 weekend on Oct. 25 and Morris won the late model race. “It was close at the end,” said Morris. Chevy driver Justin Johnson was bearing down on Morris, but had to settle for second. After the last pit stop with 50 circuits to go, Johnson “was really dealing on the spoiler, but as we ran more laps, we were able to get away from him. And that’s the advantage I may not have now, with this extra weight I’ve got to carry.”

Morris noted, “We’ve got good Chevrolets too. If we have to go back to the Chevy and start over again and build new data, more testing..that’s where we’re going to probably head if this doesn’t work out.”

Morris won the 2008 national title with a two-point margin (955-953) over Brian Harris, who raced at West Liberty Raceway.

Morris had 14 wins in 28 starts last season, with 23 top five and 26 top ten finishes en route to his second national title.

Morris won his first title in 2006.

After SBS, Morris also plans to campaign the full season at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, which opens its season April 4.

“In all indication, we’ve got a bunch of races at South Boston, more so than we’ve been able to run in the past three years. With South Boston bringing so many more races in this year, just really racking up on the races and ramping them up, we’re going to be there over 10 times, versus just three or four times that we’ve been there before,” said Morris.

Morris added, “the prognosis is positive ... it’s looking like there’s a good chance that we can really run well at South Boston this year just with the extra laps we’re going to be able to invest there.”

Morris said a three-peat for the national title is his goal.

“That’s certainly what we’ve been building towards all winter. And we’ve been working 40 hours a week ever since that last race at South Boston, ever since the banquet, to run for the same goal,” said Morris.

Morris, however, has considerable late model competition at both Motor Mile, where he plans to run for the track title, and at SBS. He won’t contend for the title at SBS, but plans to be a regular competitor here.

“The first goal right away has got to be to win the track points (at Motor Mile) and then see how things start to stack up as mid-season goes,” said Morris.

“Many, many huge talents are going to be at South Boston and Motor Mile,” said Morris, who added, “it would be awesome to be a contender in (the NASCAR Whelen Series) again.”

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