Gill Wins Aaron's 250, Overall Title; Ward Edges Hawkins from Miller Lite ROTY
Wins are all that matter for veteran driver
Lakeland, Fla. -- As Gary St. Amant and Mike Garvey, arguably two of the best short-track racers of all-time, made there way into Victory Lane to congratulate Bobby Gill on his race win and fourth Hooters Pro Cup title, it was evident that Gill has the respect of his competitors.
On Saturday, Nov. 3, Gill showed why he commands such reverence. Needing a 15th-place finish to clinch his fourth title, Gill went door-to-door with Trevor Bayne in the final five laps before inching away to win the Robert H. Brooks Memorial Aaron's 250 presented by NGA Hooters Pro Golf Tour at USA Int'l Speedway.
One bobble and Gill could have lost the title, but that didn't matter to him.
"When I was leading, all I was thinking about was winning the race," said Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Ford. "Trevor got underneath me there and we banged and rubbed, but we were racing clean. In the end, I came out on top."
With laps winding down, Gill, who took the lead on Lap 161, didn't look like he'd have to fight so hard for his series-high 46th win. But a few late-race cautions allowed Bayne to put the pressure on.
"We were terrible on restarts," said Gill. "It took my car two or three laps to get the push out of it."
When Gill pushed high on the final restart, Bayne stuffed his No. 29s Strutmasters.com/DEI Chevrolet under Gill for the lead. Bayne actually led Laps 247 and 248 while underneath Gill, but the 16-year-old driver came up .292 seconds shy of his third win of the year.
"We were pretty horrible on restarts, but I felt like if I could get under him that I could kind of use him as a hold to turn my car ," said Bayne, who finished second in the race and points to Gill. "We had a clean race there at the end. I guess that's the guy to lose to. If you're going to lose to him in the points, you may as well lose to him in the race. I figured Bob would come in here and try to finish in the top 15, but he came down here and won the thing. He made a statement."
Gill's season-ending win was a statement, but it wasn't one that he was be willing to make early in the event.
"If you asked me 80 laps into the race if we were going to win the race I would have said, 'No,'" said Gill. "Our car wasn't that good during the first run."
Gill, who was forced to start 33rd after losing a transmission during qualifying, moved into the top 20 by Lap 75, but he wasn't keeping pace with race-leader Matt Carter, who led the first 81 laps after starting from the Awesome Awnings Pole. A smart call by Gill's team changed that.
When the caution waved at Lap 89, Gill's team brought him to pit road to top off with fuel.
"We knew we could make it 160 laps on fuel," said Gill. "I didn't want to come in on the caution [on Lap 75] because we couldn't make it."
With Gill still deep in the field, Mark McFarland, driver of the No. 81s Chevrolet, took control of the event, building a comfortable lead over Carter and leading 49 laps during the middle stages of the race. After leading the Lucas Oil Halfway Lap to pick up $1,000 and five bonus points, McFarland brought his car to pit road on Lap 130.
While most of the leaders needed fuel and BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radials, Gill only needed tires and cycled past much of the field during the stop.
Once the green waved on Lap 133, Wade Day and Ben Stancill, who both pitted under an earlier caution, swapped the lead before Gill rumbled past Stancill's No. 9n Stancill Farms Ford on Lap 161 to take the lead.
"I knew after our stop that we had something," said Gill. "After three laps, our car would hug the bottom of the track. Clay [Rogers] kept telling me to save some fuel. I was running about ¾ throttle after I got the lead, and I was putting the car in third gear under caution."
In the end, Gill had enough fuel and talent to hold off a hard-charging Trevor Bayne to win the race and Hooters Pro Cup National Championship.
"I'm not sure which one was sweeter because this one hasn't sunk in yet," said Gill. "This one was harder, though. We had the other ones wrapped up before we got to the final race."
James Buescher, driver of the No. 84s Mercedes Homes Chevrolet, nipped Mark McFarland at the line to finish third at take home Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors.
Matt Hawkins finished fifth and nearly pulled off an amazing comeback in the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year standings. Hawkins, driver of the No. 2 H&H Electric Ford, came up one point shy of Brandon Ward's winning point tally.
With 10 to go, Ward had the rookie title in hand, but contact with Kirk Leone sent Ward spinning into the wall. Ward limped home 21st to claim the closest rookie battle in Pro Cup history.
"Without the incident on the backstretch, we were in good shape," said Ward, who took home a $25,000 bonus for being the top rookie. "That was just a racing deal. We got tight off the corner late in the race and he got into us. It made it close, but that's what the Hooters Pro Cup Series is about. Matt is a tough competitor. And if we couldn't win it, I can't think of anybody else more deserving."
Dange Hanniford, Mike Garvey, Billy Bigley, Matt Carter and Jody Lavender completed the top 10.
Aaron's 250 Notebook
Another Record Falls to the Force
Matt Carter, driver of the No. 26n Travis Carter Motorsports Ford, set a new track record and picked up his second Awesome Awnings Pole Award of the season during qualifying for the Aaron's 250 at USA Int'l Speedway.
Carter lapped USA Int'l in 21.409 seconds at 126.115 mph to pace the 39 cars in attendance. There have been 12 track records set this season on the BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radials.
They're not officially under the JR Motorsports banner anymore, but it didn't stop Richard Boswell and Co. from taking the BFGoodrich Tires Pit Crew Challenge at USA Int'l Speedway.
Boswell's crew ripped off a 25.068-second stop to claim the $2,000 bonus. In addition, the team became the first repeat winners of the competition.
"They [JR Motorsports] closed the doors on early, but these guys never gave up and stood by me," said Boswell. "I can't thank them enough for what they do. They don't make many mistakes and stick together as a team."
The Greased Lightning Team of Jody Lavender, which turned in a time of 26.389 seconds, finished second.
Brandon Ward's SupplyOne teammates completed the top three with a time of 27.961 seconds.
Turner Turns Corner
Turner Motorsports came into the Hooters Pro Cup Series this season expecting big things. It took some time, but the team has put itself in the upper-echelon of Pro Cup teams at the end of the year.
Rookie pilot James Buescher grabbed back-to-back, third-place finishes to end the year and finished the season 10th in points.
"We've really turned this thing around since Iowa," said Buescher, who hadn't posted a top-five finish all season until the final two races. "We got this new Leavitt car, and we've really been on every race since then. The off-season is going to be easier now. Finishing the season like this makes the whole team want to work harder and harder. I hope we can come back and win a few races next year."
Mark McFarland's strategy to stay out and lead the race while some of the other competitors came in to pit may have been questioned after he couldn't make it back to the front. But plenty of thought went into the decision to lead the halfway lap.
"We knew coming in that we needed to lead laps and at halfway to help us out in the points," said McFarland, who was sixth in points coming into the Aaron's 250. "By us staying out, it probably gained us more spots than finishing second would have."
Indeed. McFarland's bonus points pushed him to third in the final point standings.