Gordon Holds Off McFarland, Wins Race2Recovery 225 Northern champ makes it two in a row Newton, Iowa-He's won tons of races over the years. He has four divisional titles and one national title already. But what Benny Gordon is doing this season...
Gordon Holds Off McFarland, Wins Race2Recovery 225
Northern champ makes it two in a row
Newton, Iowa-He's won tons of races over the years. He has four divisional titles and one national title already. But what Benny Gordon is doing this season is beyond belief-even to the unapologetically-brazen driver himself.
"Can you believe that?" Gordon asked after taking his sixth victory of the season in the Race2Recovery 225 presented by NAPA Auto Parts and Diamond Vogel at Iowa Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 20. "I've won at a lot of short tracks, but you can put those in the same category. I've led some laps and run second on some mile-and-a-half tracks before, but I've never won on a big track until tonight. This ranks right up there with the biggest wins of my career."
On paper, Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Samuel Metals Ford, started from the Awesome Awnings Pole, led the first 24 laps and the last 56 laps en route to his second Championship Series win in a row. But in typical Iowa Speedway fashion, the outcome of the event came down to the last few laps.
Drew Herring, driver of the No. 22s Titan Tire Ford, chased down Gordon as the race was nearing the 200-lap mark. But the rookie needed one more stop to make it to the finish of the 225-lap race, eliminating him from contention.
With Herring out of the picture, Mark McFarland, driver of the No. 81s Sears Auto Center Chevrolet, took up the chase, knifing his way from fourth to second on late-race restart. Once McFarland cleared Bobby Gill and Michael Ritch, the Southern Division champion's car began to grow larger in the leader's mirror.
"My spotter said, 'He's 12 cars back.' Then he said, 'He's eight back,'" said Gordon. "I got a little worried, but I didn't look in the mirror. I just hammered down. I knew he was driving as hard as he could, and I was doing the same."
McFarland, who led two times for 51 laps, pulled within a car length with just two laps to go, but he found himself 0.324 seconds behind Gordon when the checkered waved.
"My car was great when it was out front, but it got real tight when I was in traffic," said McFarland. "It just took a little too long to get to Benny there at the end."
In the first half of the event, McFarland didn't waste much time getting to the front.
After starting third, the Winchester, Va., driver blasted past Gordon for the lead on Lap 25.
"When I got out front, my car took off," said McFarland. "Being in clean air means a lot, even in these cars."
Gordon didn't let McFarland get far, however. The two pulled away from the rest of the field by over a second. On Lap 36, McFarland gave up the lead to come to pit road under caution.
"I started to feel a vibration, so we didn't want to chance it," said McFarland. "We came in a changed right side tires."
Gordon stayed on the track and inherited the lead. But shortly after Lap 50, Gordon lost the handle on his machine and gave up the lead up to James Buescher, driver of the No. 84s Mercedes Homes Chevrolet.
"My car got real tight, so I just slowed down and let those guys go," said Gordon. "That's how you win championships. I could've pushed it and had problems. It was too early to be pushing my car that hard."
Both Gordon and McFarland opted to come to pit road on Lap 63. After the leaders pitted, Caleb Holman, driver of the No. 75s Food Country Chevrolet, took command of the race.
Holman ran away from the field for nearly 50 laps and built leads of over two seconds. The second-year driver held the lead until coming to pit road for the first time on Lap 112. McFarland cycled back into the lead on Lap 113 and grabbed $1,000 bonus for being the Lucas Oil Halfway Leader. McFarland stayed out front until pitting again on Lap 153 for fuel.
Holman kept his off-sequence strategy going and cycled back into the lead as the leaders pitted. Holman, who led 63 laps, and Gordon swapped the lead three times in three laps before Gordon made his way out front for good on Lap 169.
McFarland made a late stop for tires on Lap 173, hoping that fresh rubber would be the way to go. The strategy might have worked, but two late-race cautions, a red flag and 14 cars on the lead lap hampered his spirited charge.
"I think if we didn't get those last cautions and that red flag, we had something for him," said McFarland. "We had the right strategy; we just came up a few laps short."
Gordon's 30th Hooters Pro Cup win pushed him 45 points ahead of McFarland with two races remaining in the Championship Series.
Michael Ritch, driver of the No. 28s Support Our Troops Ford, rebounded from a DNF at Mansfield to finish third and moved into fourth in the standings.
"I thought we had a better car than this in practice," said Ritch. "I think we had about a fifth-place car tonight, and we finished third with it. Benny and Mark were better than us, but finishing third to those guys is still pretty good. I'll take it after the way Mansfield went."
Joey Coulter, driver of the No. 02s Darrell Gwynn Foundation Ford, posted his career-best finish by coming home fourth.
Bobby Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Ford, completed the top five.
Matt Hawkins, John Gibson, Brett Butler, Drew Herring and Matt Merrell rounded out the top 10.
The Race2Recovery 225 was slowed 10 times for 61 laps of caution and featured 11 lead changes among five drivers.
Race2Recovery 225 Notebook
St. Amant Out Early
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 7n JEGS.com/Speedco Chevrolet, was still feeling the lingering effects of a practice crash when the green flag waved for the Race2Recovery 225 and decided discretion was the best part of valor. St. Amant parked his car on Lap 2.
Even with his two wins, Benny Gordon only holds a 45-point lead over Mark McFarland as the Championship Series heads back south for the running of the Aaron's 250 at Southern National Raceway Park.
"I'm excited about the last two races, but we need start beating him if we're going to make up points and win the championship," said McFarland, who won earlier this year at SNRP. "We had a great car there earlier this year, so we're really looking forward to going back."
Sure, Benny Gordon and Mark McFarland finished 1-2 for the second race in a row. But there were plenty of strong runs by other drivers turned in during the Race2Recovery 225.
Joey Coulter, driver of the No. 02s Darrell Gwynn Foundation Ford, led for just the second time in his career and came home fourth. Brett Butler, driver of the No. 99n Verve Energy Drink Ford, posted a season-best, eighth-place finish in the Race2Recovery 225.
John Gibson, driver of the No. 13s Spray Paint & Equipment Ford, finished a career-best seventh in the Race2Recovery 225.
Matt Merrell, driver of the No. 32n Merrell Lease Chevrolet, started second and placed 10th.
Another Brew for Drew
Drew Herring, driver of the No. 22s Titan Tire Ford, picked up his second straight Miller Lite Rookie of the Race in the Championship Series. Herring started sixth and finished ninth, one spot ahead of fellow rookie Matt Merrell.