USAR: Lakeland CS: Season finale race report

Huffman Wins the Hooters 300; Gordon, Howard Take Titles Lakeland, FL-Shane Huffman did what he needed to do to win the Hooters Pro Cup Series Championship, but Benny Gordon did what he needed to do to as well. Huffman, driver of the No. 81s...

Huffman Wins the Hooters 300; Gordon, Howard Take Titles

Lakeland, FL-Shane Huffman did what he needed to do to win the Hooters Pro Cup Series Championship, but Benny Gordon did what he needed to do to as well.

Huffman, driver of the No. 81s Knight's Companies Ford, picked up his series-high ninth win of the season in Hooters 300 presented by Lance Kelly Designs at USA Int'l Speedway on Saturday night, while Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Predator Performance Ford, finished fourth and captured the overall Hooters Pro Cup Series championship.

"We knew what was going on [in the points] during every lap of the race," said Gordon, who picked up his first title after finishing second the last two years. "I had a car that could have run second, but I backed off and didn't push it because I knew I had it won right there. I hated to do that, because that's the first time I've ever points raced. I didn't like it, but I did it, and we won the title."

Huffman was points racing, too, but his race was to get every point available. At the start of the night, Huffman looked like he just may do that.

Huffman took the lead from Mark McFarland, who started from the Advance Auto Parts Pole for the seventh time this season, on the first lap of the event and checked out on the field for the first 90 laps.

On Lap 91, Huffman brought the lead-lap cars to pit road, but his team made an uncharacteristic mistake on the stop and he lost seven spots during the cycle of stops.

Huffman, who dropped to 11th after the stop, marched to sixth by Lap 125, but he returned to pit road on Lap 129 for an unscheduled stop for loose lug nuts on the left side of his car.

While Huffman's team floundered on their pit stop, Gordon's team flourished.

The Predator Performance Crew sent Gordon out ahead of all the drivers pitting on Lap 91, and Gordon needed just 13 laps to take the lead for the first time of the night and pick up five-bonus points. But Gordon wasn't content with just five-bonus points.

The DuBois, Pa., driver held Mark McFarland at bay long enough to take the $1,000 prize for being the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader and add five more bonus points. McFarland continued to hound Gordon for the top spot over the next 50 laps, but Gordon wouldn't relinquish the lead until coming to pit road on Lap 230. By that time, Gordon had led a race-high 127, giving him five more bonus points and $500 for winning the Greased Lightning "Blast the Pack" Award.

With most of the frontrunners pitting on Lap 230, Mike Garvey, who pitted under an earlier caution, inherited the lead. Gordon and Huffman restarted ninth and 10th, respectively, on Lap 234.

Garvey, driver of the No. 17s Jani-King Ford, put a straightaway between himself and the field over the next 40 laps, but Huffman was beginning to charge through the field. Over the next 20 laps, Huffman went from 10th to second.

Garvey's lead would be completely erased on Lap 269 when Andrew Rogers' stalled car brought out the 11th caution of the night. Huffman swept past Garvey on the ensuing restart and began to pull away from the field, but Gordon, who entered the race with a 33-point lead over Huffman, was patiently putting himself in position to win the title.

Mardy Lindley's late-race crash bunched the field for a green-white-checkered finish, but nobody had anything for Huffman at the finish as he pulled away to win by 1.242 seconds. But it wasn't enough to take his second Pro Cup championship as Gordon finished just ahead of Huffman in the final standings.

"If I didn't say I was brokenhearted, I'd be lying," said an emotional Huffman in LK Designs Victory Lane. "It was a heck of a year, and I really wanted this championship for Pete and Bud Knight and all the guys on the team, but we came up a little short. I'm trying to smile a lot, but it's hard.

"Those last few laps were hard. I knew Benny was doing exactly what he needed to do to win the championship. My hat is off to [Predator Performance]; they've got an awesome race team. We had some bad luck in a few races, and that was the difference in the championship."

As Huffman pulled away in the final two laps, a slugfest broke out behind him.

Mark McFarland and Mike Garvey traded paint over the final circuit-and nearly the entire cool-down lap-while battling for second spot. McFarland nipped Garvey at the line to take the second.

Knowing the championship was locked up, Gordon eased back from the runner-up battle and safely crossed the line in fourth to take the $200,000 check for being the Hooters Pro Cup Series Champion.

"It means so much for this team to win the title," said Gordon, who finished the season with over $300,000 in winnings. "I've got the best car owners in the business and a group of guys that have worked on my crew for years and years, traveling all over the country to win something like this. We've won some Late Model championships, but we've never won something this big."

But Gordon wasn't the only one to win big in the Hooters 300.

Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55n Dean Motorsports Chevrolet, picked up the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year title and the $40,000 payout for being the top rookie in the Championship Series. In addition, Howard added another $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race, bringing his rookie-bonus money total to $59,000 for the season.

"Nobody knew who we were when the season started, but they all know who we are now," said Howard, who won three races in his rookie campaign. "I can't thank Jim Dean [car owner] enough. He really believed in me and took a lot of money out of his own pocket to do this deal. This whole team has put in a lot of hours to get here, and we've had a lot of fun doing it. But at the same time, we're glad the season is over."

Johnny Rumley, driver of the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet, rounded out the top five.

A.J. Frank advanced 21 spots during the Hooters 300 to pick up $500 for being the Mr. Gasket Hard Charger.

The Four Champions Memorial Hooters 300 featured six lead changes among five drivers and was slowed 13 times for 70 laps of caution.

Hooters 300 Notebook

Happy to be back, but...
Mike Garvey returned to action for the first time since early June and appeared not to miss a beat. Garvey, who has been running in Nextel Cup, led 44 laps and looked to be en route to his second victory of the season when Andrew Rogers, Huffman's teammate, stalled on the front stretch, erasing his four-second lead with 30 laps remaining. Then, on the final lap, Garvey tangled with Mark McFarland and dropped to third.

"It was good to be back and run competitively again," said Garvey, driver of the No. 17s Jani-King Ford. "I don't mind getting beat, but to have a teammate stop on the track to get a caution is Bush League. Shane [Huffman] wouldn't have caught me without that caution. It went downhill for us quick after that. Then, [McFarland] just flat ran over us in the last corner on the last lap. That's short-track racing I guess. We'll put it back together and come back."

Not so bad luck
Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73n NGA Hooters Golf Tour Ford, has seen his fair share of bad luck this season. And the Hooters 300 featured more of the same for Agnew.

Early in the race, Agnew radioed his crew that the engine had dropped a cylinder. But somehow Agnew soldiered to a 17th-place finish and held on to finish third in the points.

"We had a good car tonight," said Agnew. "Even after we had problems, the car was still pretty good. I feel like if our motor was right tonight that we had a good enough car to win. I guess it's one of those deals, kind of like the rest of the year went for us. But we'll take third in points, and we're looking forward to next year."

The North Wins
Benny Gordon's championship marked the first time a team from the Northern Division of the Hooters Pro Cup Series has won the overall title in the five-year history of the Championship Series.

"I've raced in the South for a long time, but I'm originally from Pennsylvania," said Gordon, who resides in DuBois, Pa. "It's awesome to be the first one to win the championship. This series is growing bigger and bigger every year, and it keeps getting more and more cars. The competition level is the highest it's ever been, and I love it."

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Series Stock car
Drivers Mark McFarland , Mike Garvey , Shane Huffman , A.J. Frank , Johnny R , Jeff Agnew