Jonathan Brown took two big drinks of water before emerging from his victorious car in the Hayes Jewelers 200 on opening night of Bowman Gray Stadium’s 72nd season.
He took the gulps, took a few more breaths and then emerged as the winner of the longest Modified Division race of the season. He also shed a few tears realizing he had just won the biggest race of his career.
“Man, I don’t know,” he said when asked if this was his most emotional win of his career as it came in front of 17,000-plus fans. “This is probably the biggest win of my career, absolutely.”
Brown held off Danny Bohn, who finished second, with James Civali third and Chris Fleming fourth. Brown started in the 14th position but kept moving up as the long race unfolded.
“I know Danny (Bohn) was going to be good and I knew I was going to have to really run hard on those last re-starts,” said Brown who took the lead on lap 139 and never let up after that.
Pole-sitter Burt Myers dominated the first half of the race leading the first 95 laps but took a chance and decided to pit to get fresh tires. He eventually got up to sixth place but couldn’t get back up with the leaders in the second-part of the race.
Myers, who is the four-time defending champion, was trying to win the Hayes Jewelers for the sixth time. In his previous five wins he was also on the pole.
Myers is trying to became the first to win five straight Modified Division titles since Pee Wee Jones did it in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Despite not getting to the practice day on Friday because his car wasn’t ready, Brown did enough early in the race to get used to the track.
“I knew after a few laps what we could do so we kind of figured it out after that,” Brown said about not coming to the practice day on Friday.
There were 14 caution flags in the race, and Brown had to withstand the double-file restarts, but he used quick starts to stay in the lead.
“First off, this is the biggest race of the year and to win it is awesome because I’ve finish second at least five times,” Brown said. “Our first goal was to win this, and we also want to win the points title so we are off to a good start.”
In the first race of the night, a 40-lapper in the Sportsman Division, “Tiger” Tommy Neal won to prove he isn’t slowing down at all as a 50-year-old.
Neal overtook Michael Adams on lap 28 then held him off through two double-file restarts where Adams went to the outside but couldn’t move past Neal, who won his 49th Sportsman Division victory.
“I was able to stay in front on the restarts and that was key,” said Neal, who started seventh but worked his way up early in the race and by lap nine was right behind Adams, who was on the pole.
Neal is the active leader in wins in the Sportsman Division but finished second behind Justin Taylor in 2019 in the points’ race. Neal had four wins in 2019 and is off to a good start in the shortened season with only 11 weeks of racing.
“Our goal is to win the points,” Neal said, who won the Sports-man title in 2016. “I couldn’t be happier with how the guys got the car ready. This was a great night with all these fans here and to see everybody here again is so cool.”
Zack Ore was third while Taylor was fourth, Sterling Plemmons was fifth and Amber Lynn was sixth.
In one of the Street Stock Division races, Billy Gregg, the defending champion, picked up where he left off in 2019 by winning another race.