USAR: Lakeland: Season opener summary

Gaita visits victory lane. Lakeland, FL -- Although his team had to wait three months to return to the track, Joe Gaita made the wait worthwhile. The Yorktown, VA driver followed up his second-place finish last November with his first career...

Gaita visits victory lane.

Lakeland, FL -- Although his team had to wait three months to return to the track, Joe Gaita made the wait worthwhile.

The Yorktown, VA driver followed up his second-place finish last November with his first career USAR Hooters ProCup Series win Saturday night at USA International Speedway. Gaita took his ACS Systems & Engineering Ford to victory lane ahead of a hard-charging Toby Porter. Steven Christian was third, with Stacy Puryear and Shane Huffman completing the top-five.

"What a great feeling," said an ecstatic Gaita in victory lane. "It has been a long day with the rain but we felt, after our strong finish here last November, we could have a chance tonight and it worked out for us."

The start time of the race was delayed nearly three hours due to rain. The field started the race with a green/yellow flag start to finish drying the track and a green flag was given to the field on lap 16 with Puryear leading the field.

Gaita felt the strongest part of the race for him was a pit strategy to save his tires for late in the race.

"We waited as late we could to pit for tires," Gaita said. "I was glad to see the caution [flag] come out on lap 135 so we could come in to pit."

Gaita, Shane Wallace, Porter, and Mike Laughlin, Jr. were the lead lap cars to pit under the caution giving, the lead to Michael Ritch on lap 139. Wallace, who ran up front all night and led a total of 60 laps, had a mechanical problem in the pits and was forced to park one lap after making his pit stop.

Gosselin, the 1997 USAR Hooters ProCup Series National Champion, took the lead from Ritch on lap 145 and remained out front until Danny Sammons passed for the lead on lap 153.

Sammons, who will compete full-time in the Northern Division in 2003, took his Ford Taurus to the front and held the lead until lap 160 when Gosselin edged by for one lap. Sammons regained the top spot and stayed there until lap 191.

After debris on the backstretch brought out the caution flag on lap 186 the field was given a restart on lap 191. On the restart, as Sammons led the field down the backstretch, Christian went to the outside of Sammons and Sean Studer dove to the inside to attempt a pass to regain a lap.

All three cars made contact and sent Studer into the inside retaining wall and knocked Sammons out of the lead as Christian passed on the outside. Christian held the top spot before Gaita passed for the final time on lap 219.

Puryear won the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award in his first start as owner-driver of his team. The South Boston, VA driver was happy with his finish.

"I am tickled to death with our performance today," said Puryear. "To come down here with a new team and win the pole and run strong all night long gives us a lot of confidence heading to Pensacola. I am happy we could give our sponsors such a good showing tonight."

Gaita led the race at lap 125 to win the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader Award while Matt Carter used his top-10 finish to win the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award. Mikie Stafford made his first career start in the Series a success winning the Hard Charger of the Race Award, advancing 16 positions in the race.

-usar-

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Drivers Shane Huffman