Breakaway Turns into Breakout Short-pit strategy helps Shelby Howard pick up first Hooters Pro Cup win Jennerstown, Pa.-With Benny Gordon in another zip code during the first 100 laps of the Giant Food Stores 250 presented by Predator ...
Breakaway Turns into Breakout
Short-pit strategy helps Shelby Howard pick up first Hooters Pro Cup win
Jennerstown, Pa.-With Benny Gordon in another zip code during the first 100 laps of the Giant Food Stores 250 presented by Predator Performance, Shelby Howard's Tony Stewart Racing team decided to employ a different strategy.
The gamble paid off.
Howard, driver of the No. 20 Tony Stewart's Original Bar-B-Que Sauce Pontiac, came to pit road on Lap 84, cycled into the lead when Gordon came in for service on Lap 145 and beat Gordon to the checkered flag by .368 seconds en route to his first Hooters Pro Cup win.
"It's been awhile," said Howard, a former ARCA winner and open-wheel standout. "We've been close several times, and we finally put it together tonight. Hopefully, there will be a bunch to follow."
Howard's choice not to follow Gordon proved to be the turning point of the night.
Howard, along with many of the lead-lap cars, dove to pit road and left Gordon alone on the track on Lap 84. Howard brought the No. 20 Pontiac to pit road in fourth, but his crew would send him off pit road ahead of all the pitting cars.
"I knew [Gordon] had a really good car, probably the best one here," said Howard. "I was worried about the decision [to short-pit] at first, but I knew how hard it was for us to get through traffic, so I knew he was going to have a hard time."
Even with 100 laps on his BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radials, Gordon's No. 66 Predator Performance Ford showed no signs of slowing down. But as he pulled away to more than a two-second lead near the halfway mark, Gordon began to realize his decision could be costly.
"Older tires were faster," said Gordon. "Looking at it now, if we'd a pitted on Lap , come out with the lead and run our on line, maybe it would have worked out for us.
"We would have had to run 170 laps on that second set of tires, and I was concerned with that. We wanted to have fresher tires at the end, but we know better than that. Track position is everything here. If I'd of blown back through the pack and won the race, it would have been perfect."
It nearly was.
With 100 laps remaining, Gordon restarted eighth after his pit stop. Gordon quickly moved into fifth behind Jody Lavender. But for nearly 30 laps, Gordon was unable to slip past the No. 84s Lavender Motorsports Ford, allowing Howard and Bobby Gill to stretch the lead up front. Gordon finally made his way past Lavender at the 200-lap mark, but he was 3.9 seconds behind the leader, and his next pass would be just as tough.
Gordon battled for third with Johnny Rumley, driver of the No. 8 GORTECH Global Fabrication Chevrolet, for nearly 20 laps before making it around with 15 laps remaining.
While Gordon was marching to the front, Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Brand Ford, began to apply pressure to Howard for the top spot after several late-race restarts. But after a few laps of green, Gill's efforts were futile. Howard was able to fend off each attempt, and Gill fell into the clutches of Gordon with 10 laps to go.
Gordon pulled under the three-time Pro Cup champ on Lap 243, but a caution flag negated the pass, leaving Gordon three laps to pass two cars. Coming to the white flag, Gordon swept under Gill to take second, but time ran out on his bid to win for the second time this season.
"I'm pretty disappointed we had a fast car and did not win. Actually, I'm ticked about that, but we gave it our all. It was a good [points] night for us," said Gordon, who stretched his point lead to 118 over Jeff Agnew. "We needed green-flag laps to win this thing."
Howard, however, wasn't quite as sure if more laps would have changed the outcome.
"The cautions may have helped us, but I don't know; there was still stuff left in our car at the end," said Howard. "The car was loose after our pit stop, but, once we burnt some fuel off, it came around."
Gill finished third and was the highest-finishing Southern Division invader.
"We accomplished what we wanted," said Gill, who was using the out-of-division start as a test for the Championship Series. "It's a brand new car with a front end we ain't ever messed with. So to come here run third and not tear anything up was a good night. We'll go home, work on it and get ready for Lakeland."
Johnny Rumley, who won at Kil-Kare two weeks ago, came home in fourth.
In his third start at Jennerstown, Jody Lavender was able to pick up his first top-five finish.
"We got too tight there at the end of the run," said Lavender, a Southern Division regular. "Jennerstown is a place I don't have a lot of laps at, so it was good all around to come up here and get our car straightened out. This is the first time I haven't had problems here and it should help us in the Championship Series."
Jack Bailey, A.J. Frank, Eric Corbett, Mart Nesbitt and Lonnie Rush Jr. completed the top 10.
The Giant Food Stores 250 featured two lead changes among two drivers and was slowed 13 times for 49 laps of caution.
Giant Food Stores 250 Notebook
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 72 JEGS.com Chevrolet, can't seem to catch a break this season. Despite running in the top 10 all season, it seems cosmic forces have kept the short track legend down. That was the case again in the Giant Food Stores 250.
St. Amant started 13th and ran in the top 10 before being collected in an accident on Lap 104, dropping him to 31st in the finishing order.
If there's a common theme to the Northern Division season so far, it has to be the emergence of Jack Bailey. The first year Pro Cup driver seems to always end up near the front of the field. It took longer than normal at Jennerstown, but the No. 93 Ferguson Waterworks/RHR Ford made it to sixth at the finish.
"We had a drive shaft come off after qualifying and had to start at the back of the field," said Bailey. "I told the guys 'we had to pick the night with the most cars of the year to come from the back.' I was able to dodge some wrecks, and everything was on our side. We didn't have that great of a car, but we kept adjusting on it. I'm definitely satisfied with a sixth-place finish."
Racers will fight for every inch of the race track while battling for the win, but they are also known for lending helping hands to competitors. Most of the time it's the use of spare parts, but Todd Gordon, crew chief for Benny Gordon and owner of GORTECH Global Fabrication, took it one step further.
Gordon sponsored Northern Division rival Johnny Rumley's car in the Giant Food Stores 250. Rumley didn't roll over when Benny Gordon caught him late in the race, and that's the way it should be.
Making the Most of the Moonlight
Brett Butler, driver of the No. 99s Aaron's Dream Machine and a regular in the Southern Division, spent the night moonlighting in the Giant Food Stores 250 and was the highest-finishing rookie, picking up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race.
"It's nice to get the rookie of the race," said Butler. "It's our first time here, and our first Northern race. I couldn't tell the difference in divisions. I think both are the toughest divisions in racing. We had a good night and learned some things that will help us later in the year."
Not so Blue
Mart Nesbitt, driver of the No. 88 Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C., has seen his fair share of bad luck this season, posting just one top-15 finish, but Nesbitt broke out of the early-season slump and notched a top-10 finish at Jennerstown.
"We'd planned on getting top-10's all season, but we hadn't been able to stay on the lead lap because of breaking or crashing," said Nesbitt. "Car was pretty good, not great. It could hold its own wherever it was. It wasn't the best night, but we'll take it."
The Giant Food Stores 250 was peppered with seven Southern Division regulars using the race as a test for the Championship Series event at Jennerstown later in the year. But, while Bobby Gill and Jody Lavender had solid runs, two heavy hitters from the South exited early.
Shane Huffman, driver of the No. 88s Champion/US NAVY/Snap-On Chevrolet, and Clay Roger, driver of the No. 44s Automotive Development Group Ford, both experienced mechanical failures and finished 35th and 32nd, respectively.