USAR: Lakeland: 2006 season opener preview

Naturally Fresh 250 Ushers in 10th Hooters Pro Cup Season Stiff competition on tap for 2006 Longs, SC--For the past nine years, the Hooters Pro Cup Series has gone from a relatively unknown entity to the premier short-track series in the ...

Naturally Fresh 250 Ushers in 10th Hooters Pro Cup Season
Stiff competition on tap for 2006

Longs, SC--For the past nine years, the Hooters Pro Cup Series has gone from a relatively unknown entity to the premier short-track series in the country.

Last season, new records were set in registration and driver participation. But the biggest record was in the competition. On any given week, nearly 15 drivers per division had a legitimate shot at ending the night in victory lane. As the series prepares to start its 10th season with the running of the Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Racing Electronics on Saturday, Feb. 22 at USA Int'l Speedway, it appears the depth of the driver's pool is only going to continue to grow.

In the Southern Division alone, the addition of new talent such as Jeff Fultz, Trevor Bayne, A.J. Fike, Mike Mason and Dange Hanniford, coupled with the return of eight of the top 10 drivers from 2005, the competition bar will rise again this season.

"The competition is going to be a little more than last year," said Shane Huffman, who won the Southern Division title last season. "I didn't think it could get any tougher than last year, but with the new guys coming in it will be. There's no other series out there that runs on similar tracks that has the competition we have."

Regardless of the new and returning talent, most in the garage area are still picking Huffman as the man to beat. And why shouldn't they.

Huffman won an astounding seven times in the regular season last year en route to his second Southern Division title in three years. This season Huffman will move to the No. 88s Champion Spark Plugs Chevrolet owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose team finished second in the regular season in 2005 with Mark McFarland at the wheel.

"Our expectations are high for this season," said Huffman, who finished the 2005 with a series-high nine wins. "We've got a great team here and a great sponsor in Champion. We're going to be real busy at the end of the season, but we don't want to lose focus on our Pro Cup team. We're here to win the overall title. If we have to give up a few wins to win the championship, we will."

The Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Racing Electronics is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start time on Saturday night at USA Int'l Speedway in Lakeland, Fla.

The front gates open at 11:30 a.m. Fans are encouraged to come out early to watch Advance Auto Parts Pole Qualifying at 4:30 p.m. and take part in the on-track autograph session at 6:15 p.m.

For more information, call USA Int'l Speedway at (863) 984-3173 or visit www.usaspeedway.com.

2006 USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series quick Facts

WHAT: Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Racing Electronics
Race No. 1 of 30 (Southern Division Race 1 of 12)

WHERE:                       USA International Speedway - Lakeland, FL

.750-mile, high-banked asphalt oval

WHEN: Saturday, February 25, 2005 - 7:30 p.m. (ET)

DISTANCE: 250 Laps/188 Miles

POSTED AWARDS: $131,649 (Includes $36,400 Point Fund)

TELEVISION:               SPEED Channel, Wednesday, March 1, 2005 (5:00 p.m. ET)

SPEED Channel, Friday, March 3, 2005 (12 Noon ET)

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Series Stock car
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Trevor Bayne , Jeff Fultz , A.J. Fike , Mark McFarland , Shane Huffman