Southbound Former Northern Division driver takes Naturally Fresh 250 Lakeland, FL-In the last few years, Mardy Lindley's only starts at Southern Division tracks have come in the Championship Series. But in his first start as a Southern Division...
Former Northern Division driver takes Naturally Fresh 250
Lakeland, FL-In the last few years, Mardy Lindley's only starts at Southern Division tracks have come in the Championship Series. But in his first start as a Southern Division driver since 2003, Mardy Lindley served notice that he can win in any division.
Lindley, driver of the No. 03 Titan Industrial Ford, took the lead after Shane Huffman was forced to make an unscheduled stop and led the final 85 laps of the Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Racing Electronics at USA (Fla.) Int'l Speedway en route to his first win since 2004 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
"I had a good year last season, but I haven't had a situation like this since I've been in Pro Cup," said Lindley, who finished second in Northern Division points last season but now drives for potent HWK Racing in the Southern Division. "[The Hawkins] have given me everything I need to build a winning racecar."
During the race, however, many others appeared to have winning racecars as well. And the most notable was Shane Huffman.
Huffman, making his first start for the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned JR Motorsports team, nabbed the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award and looked to have the car to beat before experiencing mechanical problems on the No. 88 Champion/US NAVY/ Snap On Chevy.
"The thought of losing [the race] never really crossed my mind," said Huffman, who won a series-high nine races in 2005, "but I had one of those feelings all day [that something could go wrong]. And usually my gut don't lie."
Huffman's gut instinct proved prophetic around Lap 161, when his competition started to report an oil leak from his No. 88 Chevy.
The defending Southern Division champion was called to pit road under caution to allow USAR officials to access the validity of the competitors' claim. And it turned out that Huffman did have an oil line loose.
The JR Motorsports team worked franticly to stop the leak, but Huffman, who picked up $1,000 and the Greased Lightning Super Strength Performer Award for leading a race-high 155 laps, rejoined the field a lap down.
"The only way we were going to lose was if we beat ourselves or if something freak happened," said Huffman, who finished 11th. "We just beat ourselves tonight. There's nobody to blame but ourselves. We'll win as a team, and we'll lose as a team."
Without Huffman in the fray, Lindley still had plenty of competition over the final 85 laps.
Bobby Gill, driver of the No. 06 Tidewater Interiors Ford, took the first shot at knocking Lindley from the point, but the 11-time USA Int'l Speedway winner faded as the laps wore down.
While Gill was fading, Clay Rogers began to flex his muscle over the final 50 laps.
Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Automotive Development Group Ford, slipped past Gill with 58 laps remaining in the event and chased down Lindley in a hurry.
At Lap 200, Rogers began to peek inside and out of Lindley's racer, trying to find a way to the point. Rogers' best run on Lindley came on Lap 205, when the 2004 Hooters Pro Cup Series Champion had a fender alongside Lindley diving off into Turn 1. Unfortunately for Rogers, Wayne Willard, driver of the No. 01 Bowen Family Homes Ford, was on the inside of the track and stalled his momentum.
After a series of cautions, Rogers never mounted a serious charge and came up .565 seconds behind Lindley at the checkered flag.
"Mardy was good on the short runs, and I really wasn't," said Rogers. "For some reason, every time I restart, my car wants to push for three or four laps. I felt like, if there was a long green-flag run at the end, we had the car to beat."
But in the end, Lindley had the winning car.
"Our car was as good as anyone's tonight," said Lindley, who notched his 10th Pro Cup win. "Shane was good in the first half, but we made our car better on the pit stop. Towards the end of the race, our times were nearly identical to his."
Huffman tried to slip past Lindley late in the race to get back on the lead lap, but Lindley was too strong and was able to keep the No. 88 Chevy behind him. Huffman did rebound to finish 11th.
Michael Ritch, driver of the No. 28 Jackaroo Ford, made a late-race charge to pass Bobby Gill for third.
"Bobby got hung up there in traffic, and I was able to get by him," said Ritch. "[Finishing third] is a good way to start the season, but we've still got 17 races. Billy Hess helped me out with this car. Hopefully, we'll run this strong all season."
Gill hung on to take fourth, and Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38 Shane Wallace Motorsports Ford, rounded out the top five.
Rookie Chase Austin, driver of the No. 50 Austin Racing Enterprises Ford, picked up the Aaron's Hard Charger Award for advancing 19 positions during the race.
Dange Hanniford, driver of the No. 22 BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors Ford, took home the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award for his eighth-place finish.
The Naturally Fresh 250 was slowed 15 times for 98 laps of caution and featured three lead changes among three drivers.
Naturally Fresh 250 Notebook
Joey Logano's debut in the Southern Division didn't last very long. Just 38 laps into the Naturally Fresh 250, Logano was involved in a scary accident in Turn 1.
After qualifying seventh in Naturally Fresh 250 at USA (Fla.) Int'l Speedway, Joey Logano, driver of the No. 51 Joe Gibbs Performance Racing Oil Chevy, broke a shock mount and pounded the Turn 1 wall. As Logano's car was sliding down the banking, Stacy Puryear, driver of the No. 01n Strutmasters.com Chevy, t-boned Logano's car in the door. Neither driver was injured.
"I felt something happen to the car the lap before; it felt like the car didn't have a sway bar," said Logano. "The first hit was the one that hurt the most, probably because I had a long time to think about it.I just hate it because I thought we had a car that could have won tonight."
Dange Hanniford, driver of the No. 22 BTS Tire & Wheel Distributor Ford, became the first rookie to pick up the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award in 2006 season. Hanniford, a veteran of the UARA-Stars Series, kept his nose clean and posted an impressive eighth-place finish in the Naturally Fresh 250 at USA (Fla.) Int'l Speedway.
"We weren't really that good when we tested down here," said Hanniford. "But I have to thank Ricky Benton for letting us come test, because we were able to make the changes we needed. We accomplished our goal of winning rookie of the race, and we didn't hurt the car any. Now we can work on making it better."
Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38 Shane Wallace Motorsports Ford, is known for being one of the fastest guys on the circuit, but he's making a conscious effort to become a driver that is fast at the right time. Wallace's new-found patience paid dividends with a fifth-place finish in the Naturally Fresh 250 at USA Int'l Speedway.
"We've talked about [being more patient]," said Wallace. "We had a lot of guys tell us how good our car was, and that felt great. We lost a bunch of positions on the pit stop, and we had to use the car up getting back to the front. We'll get it fixed up and go to South Georgia."