9th Place Finish Rocks Hessert, ...
9th Place Finish Rocks Hessert, #1 MAACO Team to 3rd in Points
(Concord, NC) May 4, 2008 -- The inaugural Carolina 500 at Rockingham Speedway held trepidation for Andy Belmont Racing and rookie driver Tom Hessert III as the date approached. With 50 cars slated to start the 500 kilometer race, Hessert and Belmont knew extra preparation would be required to come away from "The Rock" with a good finish. While ABR worked hard getting "Barney" prepared, Tom Hessert worked on his stamina, knowing that 312 laps in the May heat of North Carolina would be a grueling effort. "This is definitely the longest race I've ever run," said Hessert. "My plan was to simply let them knock each other out and to wear them out at the end." As the laps ticked toward the close of the Carolina 500, Hessert piled on the steam from the #1 MAACO Ford Fusion, passing three hard chargers in the final 30 laps to vault to a 9th place finish, his first top 10 since the season opener in Daytona.
"Starting in the back is really tough," said Hessert. "But the guys got working on the car and I got really pumped up there at the end. The track got slicker and slicker all day. I just tried to race smart and keep the fenders clean and at the end there, we were the best we were all day."
"The race pretty much went as we expected it to," said Andy Belmont. "Tom Hessert is one heck of a race car driver. He kept his head about him, kept his cool on the radio and the guys gave him great pit stops. The combination of great talent, a great crew and plenty of practice shows in the results. "
The weekend started out a very tough for the ABR crew. Pre event testing had all of the ABR team members looking for a top ten qualifying run. The qualifying results didn't reflect the team's preparation efforts. After posting a disappointing 31st fastest time in first round qualifying, the crew went to work on the car, making adjustments to find out what went wrong before second round and their efforts paid off. Hessert posted the fastest lap in second round qualifying, earning a $500 bonus for his efforts. "To go 25.21 in the absolute heat of the day was pretty awesome. I knew we were back on track," said Belmont. That midway, 26th place starting slot, while better than the initial qualifying effort, still rankled some nerves in the ABR camp. "It's just real hard to come from the back. The lapped cars give no room or respect, they run you all over the race track and they don't discriminate. Tom Hessert used all that he learned in USAC short track racing to navigate the traffic."
"Initial pit strategy played a big part in being there at the end," said Belmont. "Most of the lead lap pack came in on the second caution for tires while we stayed out, keeping track position. That helped us save a set of stickers for the end when most of the others were out of tires. We gambled a bit that the cautions we needed would come to us and they did."
While Hessert piled it on to come away with a 9th place finish, The Rock took its toll on several of the top competitors, leaving Andy Belmont Racing a big beneficiary of attrition. The #1 MAACO team was able to advance three spots in the championship points hunt, leaving them in third place, just 95 points out of the lead. "This is the kind of season that all team owners hope for with a rookie driver and that few receive. To be third in points a quarter of the way through the season is a credit to the talent we have at the shop and the talent we have behind the wheel," said team owner Jennifer Belmont.