Before the green flag waves for Saturday‘s South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway, Sam Yarbrough finds himself with an advantage over the rest of the field.
A win in the inaugural Locked In 150 at Florence in September secured the South Carolina 400 pole position for Yarbrough. This eliminated any concerns about Yarbrough potentially being relegated to a heat race and gave him a clear plan of attack in pursuit of a second victory in the event.
Despite this, Yarbrough said the pole will only benefit him for so long, adding that his No. 95 Aaron‘s Sales & Lease late model needs to be perfect through all 250 laps if he wants to be up front at the end of a long, grueling night.
“You still have to go through the motions and be the best you can be,” Yarbrough said. “It‘s certainly nice to know where I‘m starting, but it doesn‘t make the task any easier when it comes to making sure the car is good enough to win the race.”
Just putting together an efficient setup for the Locked In 150 was a trepidatious process for Yarbrough and his McCumbee Elliott Racing team.
The entire afternoon saw Yarbrough deal with frustration as he struggled to find speed against a talented field of competitors. A major swing prior to qualifying proved to be a turning point for Yarbrough, as he used the newfound speed to pull away with a Locked In 150 victory during the closing laps.
The inaugural #LockedIn150 belongs to Sam Yarbrough.
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) September 2, 2023
While Yarbrough was happy with what he and his team discovered in the Locked In 150, he does not expect the same game plan to be effective Saturday evening. A larger entry list and opportunities for diverging strategies will put more emphasis on Yarbrough finding perfect track position when it comes time to get aggressive.
“[The South Carolina 400] is probably going to be a little bit different,” Yarbrough said. “The final run is going to be 125 laps, so you‘re going to see a lot of people jockey for position during those first two segments while others fall back. It‘s going to be harder to finish this race off simply because more good cars are coming.”
Yarbrough has never known a South Carolina 400 to not be reliant on patience and strategy in his 13 previous attempts, which stem back to when the event was known as the Myrtle Beach 400 at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
Although Yarbrough earned six Myrtle Beach track championships before its closure in 2020, he only visited Victory Lane in the track‘s crown jewel event once back in 2007. He accomplished that feat by maintaining solid track position and keeping his car out of trouble, which allowed him to pass the late Marty Ward for the win with 10 laps remaining.
The following years at Myrtle Beach would see Yarbrough put together several more solid performances but come up short of a second win each time. For Yarbrough, the challenge of claiming South Carolina‘s Late Model Stock crown jewel comes down to consistently outsmarting other competitors lap after lap.
“Everybody brings their best,” Yarbrough said. “When it comes to these races, there‘s a whole field of good cars. You really have to buckle down and stick to your game plan or you‘ll do something you don‘t need to do that‘ll hurt you later in the run. This race asks a lot more out of the people and the car. It‘s just a tough race to win.”
When the Myrtle Beach 400 was rebranded to the South Carolina 400 at Florence in 2020, Yarbrough was once again faced with many of the same obstacles that defined racing at Myrtle Beach for so many years.
The two South Carolina 400s Yarbrough has competed in so far were dominated by tire conservation just like the Myrtle Beach 400, but a slightly less abrasive surface at Florence provided more flexibility for Yarbrough to be slightly more aggressive earlier in the race.
Yarbrough believed he had executed his strategy perfectly in last year‘s South Carolina 400. After starting on the pole, he spent most of the event pacing the field until two separate collisions with Mason Diaz took him out of contention, relegating him to 20th in the running order.
Just like in 2022, Yarbrough is set to lead a stacked group of competitors from the top spot Saturday evening. He is confident about parking his car in Florence‘s frontstretch Victory Lane if he is responsible with his car and avoids trouble on the track.
“We‘ll get the car as good as we can get it,” Yarbrough said. “We‘ll try to dial it in on a long run and not be too concerned about the speed since we‘re already starting on pole. It‘s going to be about getting the car comfortable, but we‘ll have to save tires. You can‘t do too much, just take what the track gives you, otherwise you‘ll get put in a bad hole.”
Should Yarbrough prevail in the South Carolina 400, he will become the first driver to win the prestigious event between two different tracks. The only other driver on the entry list who could pull this feat off is 2017 Myrtle Beach 400 winner Josh Berry.
Yarbrough will have a head start on making history Saturday as he looks to further cement himself as one of the best Late Model Stock competitors in South Carolina with two wins in the state‘s most cherished short track event.