USAR: Indy IRP: Race report

Lindley Wins Naturally Fresh 200 Clermont, Ind. -- Hindsight isn't always 20/20. After qualifying fifth for the Naturally Fresh 200 presented by Lucas Oil Products at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Saturday night, Mardy Lindley questioned the...

Lindley Wins Naturally Fresh 200

Clermont, Ind. -- Hindsight isn't always 20/20.

After qualifying fifth for the Naturally Fresh 200 presented by Lucas Oil Products at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Saturday night, Mardy Lindley questioned the teams' gear selection for Sunday's race. With cars qualified in race-ready condition, the Hooters Air Team was stuck with their decision. And in the end, that was a good thing.

Lindley took the lead away from Benny Gordon, driver of the No. 66 Predator Performance Ford, with 24 laps remaining in the Naturally Fresh 200 and cruised to his second win of the season, beating Gordon to the stripe by 4.832 seconds.

"We weren't sure about the gear we pulled after qualifying," said Lindley "But there was a dramatic change in the weather from yesterday, and it ended up to be the right gear. Man, this is exciting to get Hooters Air and the team two wins this early in the year."

For much of the race, however, it looked like Lindley may have some stiff competition for the win.

Mike Laughlin Jr., driver of the No. 7 American Body Company Ford, started from the second spot on the grid, but the Southern Division regular wasted little time getting to the point, slipping around Johnny Rumley, who picked up an extra $1,000 for being the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award winner, at the exit of Turn 2 on the first lap and leading first 44 laps.

Laughlin Jr. elected to short-pit on Lap 44, and Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73 NGA/Hooters Golf Tour Ford, inherited the lead. Agnew was able to hold the lead until Lindley made his first trip out front on Lap 58. Rumley, who dropped to fourth after starting from the pole, followed Lindley around Agnew. The trio of leaders quickly distanced themselves from the fourth-place car of Danny Sammons, driver of the No. 97 Ford, by Lap 60.

Rumley hounded Lindley for the top spot on several occasions before caution waved on Lap 62.

Many of the lead-lap cars, including Lindley, elected to pit under the caution, handing the lead to Rumley on Lap 64.

Rumley led until coming to pit road for his mandatory-pit stop on Lap 73. After leaders had cycled through their pit stops, Laughlin Jr. regained the lead on Lap 74. Laughlin's short-pit strategy paid off in the form of a $1,000 check from Lucas Oil Products for being the Halfway Leader.

Once the green waved on Lap 77, Laughlin Jr. flexed his muscle again, pulling out to a three-second lead over Gordon and Lindley. But that was soon erased as caution waved for the seventh time on Lap 109 after Kris Limerick hit the wall in Turn 4.

After the race restarted, Gordon and Lindley were able to keep up with the torrid pace being set by Laughlin Jr.

Gordon peaked to the inside of Laughlin Jr. on Lap 115, but the 2003 Miller Lite Rookie of the Year was unable to finish the pass.

Laughlin Jr. was able to fend off Gordon and, once again, started to pull out to a comfortable lead. But moments later, Laughlin Jr. would be anything but comfortable.

On Lap 142, a gaggle of cars battling to stay on the lead lap tangled and sent Jason McLellan into the outside wall on the backstretch. With nowhere to go, Laughlin Jr. tagged McLellan in the passenger-side door. Laughlin's car limped around to the frontstrech before stopping just shy of the Start/Finish line. Gordon took the lead on Lap 143 as Laughlin Jr. rolled to a stop.

Gordon and Lindley checked out on the field after the restart with 50 laps remaining. Clear to battle among themselves for the win, Gordon and Lindley went nose to tail for 25 laps before Gordon got loose in Turn 4 and Lindley swept around for the winning pass.

"I'm excited about the way we ran today," said Gordon. "We've been fast all year, but we had some problems. We wanted the win, but after the way the season started, we'll take second and go on to Jennerstown."

As the two leaders battled for the win, Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 11 Jegs Mail Order Chevy, was showing why he's know as one of the best racers around.

After being pinched off by a lapped car, St. Amant fell from sixth to ninth late in the race. Undeterred, St. Amant regrouped and went from ninth to third in the last 20 laps to win $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race.

"We had the freshest left-side tires at the end," said St. Amant, who also picked up $500 for being the Hard Charger. "We keep getting behind with about 50 laps to go, and we've got a lot of ground to make up. We've done it now for a couple of races. One of these days, we'll be in the top three with 50 to go, and we'll get us a win."

Local favorite Brian Ross, driver of the No. 42 US Insurance Group/Speedco Ford, ran in the top five all night and finished fourth.

"Track position was everything today," said Ross. "We were better on our first set of tires. On second set of tires, our car got tight. The old Speedco Ford did pretty good today."

Danny Sammons and Johnny Rumley fought side by side for the fifth spot for the last 50 laps of the race before Sammons pulled ahead for his first top-five finish of the season.

The race was eight times for 46 laps of caution.

Rewriting the Record Book

The BFGoodrich Tires Traction T/A radial was supposed to be good, but not this good.

For sixth time in eight races, track records have fallen in Hooters ProCup qualifying.

Johnny Rumley's lap of 22.680 seconds shattered the Regan Smith's former record of 23.071 seconds. The top four qualifiers were quicker than Smith's record.

Two Winners

Delbert Frazer, of Rushville, Ind., became just the second fan to win the "Team Hooters Challenge." Frazer correctly picked Mardy Lindley to win the Naturally Fresh 200 and picked up a $500 check. Lindley also pocketed an extra $500 for his part in the Team Hooters Challenge. It was only the second time in eight races the lucky winner has picked the race winner. Sara McCubbins, an 18-year-old high school student from Nashville, Ind., was the first to pick the correct winner. McCubbins picked Shane Huffman to win at New Smyrna Speedway.

Gaining Gault

As Gary St. Amant was mowing through the field at the end of the race, Glenn Gault was doing the same. Gault went from ninth to sixth in the last 10 laps en route to his second top-10 finish in as many races.

"We're really happy," said Gault. "I wish this was a 250-lap race and we could have gotten a few more spots."

No Luck at Home

Out of the first three races of the Northern Division, Joel Kauffman, driver of the No. 44 Chevy, was probably looking forward to running at IRP the most. Kauffman grew up racing in Indiana before relocated to the Mooresville, N.C., earlier this year. But it was the homecoming he was looking for.

Kauffman ran fourth during the first half of the race, but he contact with Danny Sammons before the halfway mark and struggled to keep pace in the final 100 laps.

"We started off the weekend off good with our qualifying run," said Kauffman, who started fourth. "The car was really loose right from the start of the race. We took a spring rubber out and the car was good after that. Then, we got together with Danny Sammons and it bent the rear end, and that was it after that."

Best -- And First -- Finish

Kertus Davis was the man to beat at the end of the Northern Division season last year, but he was nowhere to be seen in the first two races of 2004. Davis, driver of the No. 68 N-ergy Beverage Ford, had two DNFs before his 10th-place finish at IRP.

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Series Stock car
Drivers Brian Ross , Regan Smith , Kertus Davis , Joel Kauffman , Shane Huffman , Johnny R , Jeff Agnew