Austin Thaxton

Austin Thaxton relaxes while waiting for the start of a recent NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car Division race at South Boston Speedway. Thaxton has mounted a late-season surge that includes five straight top-five finishes.

Every driver and every team wants to be surging, peaking as the season’s championship chase heads down the homestretch of the season.

Austin Thaxton is doing just that as he and his fellow NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car Division competitors eye the last two nights of racing and the remaining three races left in the 2019 points season at South Boston Speedway.

Thaxton sits in second place and trails former NASACAR national champion and defending track champion Peyton Sellers of Danville by 95 points heading into Saturday night’s NASCAR Late Model 100 at South Boston Speedway. He holds a 21-point edge over former NASCAR national champion Lee Pulliam of Alton, who sits in third place.

The South Boston native has been one of the stronger competitors in the Late Model Stock Car Division over the past couple of months. He finished third behind Pulliam and Sellers in both of the twin 75-lap races at South Boston Speedway in his last outing on Aug. 10.

Those third place finishes are among five straight top-five finishes he has posted since running into misfortune with a blown engine in the 200-lapper on June 29. On three of those occasions, he has finished third behind the two former national champions. He also has won a race this season.

“It’s big for my team,” Thaxton said following the pair of third-place finishes on Aug. 10.

“We all work really hard to get here every week, and we do the best we can. Being able to come here and run third to these two guys, both of whom have won national championships, is big. It makes me want to go back and dig a little deeper now.”

The recent string of strong finishes has given Thaxton a boost of confidence.

“I’ve always been confident in my team, and they have been confident in me,” Thaxton pointed out.

“We’ve been working on the car a little more trying to get it better. We’ve been trying to do some different things with the car instead of doing the same thing all of the time and getting into a rut. Every week we change something a little differently.”

Thaxton has occupied second place in the point standings virtually the entire season. Had it not been for a couple of disappointing finishes, especially the 31st-place finish he encountered as a result of the engine issue in the June 29 race, Thaxton likely would be closer to Sellers at the top of the standings.

“That really hurt our championship hunt,” Thaxton said of the June 29 race.

“I felt that was going to be the race where we would really shine just because of the way my car has been all year and the way we have been up near the front at the end of races.”

While Thaxton is 95 points out of the lead entering Saturday night’s 100-lapper at South Boston Speedway, he still has a shot at the track championship.

“Going into the season, we had really hoped to win this championship,” Thaxton pointed out.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question yet, but we’re going to have to win these next couple of races to have a chance. We’re going to try real hard to do that.”

Thaxton and his fellow NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car Division competitors will return to action at South Boston Speedway Saturday night with the NASCAR Late Model 100 racing program.

A 100-lap race for the Late Model Stock Car Division, twin 25-lap races for Limited Sportsman Division competitors, a 30-lap race for the Budweiser Pure Stock Division, a 15-lap race for the Budweiser Hornets Division and a special 25-lap race featuring the Southern Ground Pounders are included in the night’s action.

Grandstands open at 5:30 p.m., qualifying starts at 6 p.m., and the first race begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 with children 12-and-under admitted free with a paying adult.

Joe Chandler is the sports editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at jchandler@gazettevirginian.com.

Joe Chandler is the sports editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at jchandler@gazettevirginian.com