USAR: Lakeland: Southern round one preview

Sears Auto Center 200 to kick off promising season USA Int'l Speedway set for Hooters Pro Cup opener Myrtle Beach, S.C.-While it may be hard to pick a favorite for the season-opening Aaron's Southern Division event, one thing is for certain. The...

Sears Auto Center 200 to kick off promising season
USA Int'l Speedway set for Hooters Pro Cup opener

Myrtle Beach, S.C.-While it may be hard to pick a favorite for the season-opening Aaron's Southern Division event, one thing is for certain. The Sears Auto Center 200 presented by Handy Neighborhood Stores is a must-see event.

"I don't think I've ever seen an entry list this loaded for a regular season race," said Tony Cox, USAR Series Director. "I never thought we could top the competition level we had last season, but I might be wrong."

Though the competition is at a crescendo, one driver sticks out in everyone's mind when it comes to the .75-mile track in Lakeland, Fla. Bobby Gill has made USA Int'l Speedway his own personal playground. In 29 starts, Gill has racked up 12 wins, 22 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes. His 12 wins at the track alone would put him seventh on the all-time win list.

"I just like to go fast," Gill said of his dominance at USA Int'l Speedway. "I didn't get a chance to do it on the superspeedways, so I like it when we go to Lakeland."

But Gill will have to be on his game if he'd like to add to his stout stats. There will be no less than eight Pro Cup winners in the starting field and countless new faces vying for their first victory.

Mark McFarland, who spent much of last year in the Busch Series, has joined the potent Pete Knight Racing team and should be considered a threat right out of the box.

Mike Garvey, who spent the last few season at the NEXTEL Cup level, is slated for a full-time return to the Hooters Pro Cup Series. Two years ago, Garvey had one win in seven starts before moving up to NEXTEL Cup and should be just a strong this year.

Buckshot Jones, a former Busch Series winner, will pilot the No. 00s Bowen Family Homes ride during the 2007 season. If the chemistry is right, this paring could pay dividends.

Shelby Howard and Woody Howard, no relation, are making the jump to the Aaron's Southern Division this season and should be contenders for wins immediately.

Veteran drivers Michael Ritch and Jay Fogleman were shut out of the win column last season, but both drivers have the talent and potential to win any week.

Sophomore drivers Dange Hanniford, Trevor Bayne, Brett Butler, Jeff Fultz and Kirk Leone all led laps and posted top-five finishes during their rookie campaigns. Don't be surprised to see any of these drivers win early in the season.

While the veterans may have the upper hand to start the year, the bumper crop of Miller Lite Rookie of the Year contenders will make some noise this season.

Wade Day, Dusty Williams, Gary Helton, Richard Boswell, James Buesher, Matt Hawkins, Frank Deiny, Joey Coulter, Tom Hessert, Brian Scott, Justin Wakefield and Caleb Holman are all part of what could be the deepest and most-talented rookie class to ever hit the track in the Hooters Pro Cup Series.

Based on his track record, Gill is still the "King of USA Int'l," but the list of those ready to dethrone him is long, very long.

Sears Auto Center 200 Fast Facts

* This will mark the start of the 11th season of the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series (HPCS). USA International Speedway has hosted all eleven season openers.

* Aaron's Sales and Leasing will be the 2007 title sponsor of the HPCS Southern Division and is sponsoring the Aaron's Do the Math Award for each HPCS event.

* HPCS will see 15 rookie contenders attempting to make the field in the season opener. HPCS veterans like Bobby Gill, Jay Fogleman, Michael Ritch and 2006 Southern Division ROTY Trevor Bayne will do their best to see they don't.

* Former Nextel Cup competitors Mike Garvey and Buckshot Jones will also attempt to qualify for the Sears Auto Center 200 along with 2006 Busch Series competitor, Mark McFarland. All will hope to be on the grid when the 36 car field comes to the green.

* Florida Race fans will have a lot to cheer for as six Florida drivers look to make the field for the Sears Auto Center 200.

* Northern defectors include competitor Shelby Howard, who has joined RBR Enterprises to pilot the No. 22 Black's Tire Service machine as well as the No. 55 car of Dean Motorsports and 2005 ROTY driver Woody Howard, who have moved to the HPCS Aaron's Southern Division for 2007.

2007 USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series quick Facts for the Aaron's Southern Division

WHAT: Sears Auto Centers 200 presented by Handy Neighborhood Stores

WHERE: USA International Speedway, Lakeland, FL .75-mile, semi-banked asphalt oval

WHEN: Saturday March 10, 2007

DISTANCE: 200 Laps/ 150 Miles

POSTED AWARDS: $122,670 (Includes $37,000 Point Fund)

TELEVISION: SPEED Channel Wednesday, March 21, 2007 (4 p.m. ET)
Friday, March 23, 2007 (12 Noon ET)

WEEKEND SCHEDULE:

Friday March 9, 2007:
5:30 pm USAR HPCS practice opens

Saturday March 10, 2007:
10:30 a.m. USAR HPCS Practice Begin
4:30 pm Sears Auto Centers 200 Qualifying for the USAR HPCS
7:30 p.m. Sears Auto Center 200

-credit: usar

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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Buckshot Jones , Trevor Bayne , Shelby Howard , Tom Hessert , Caleb Holman , Mark McFarland , Mike Garvey , Brian Scott , Brett Butler , Joey Coulter , Richard Boswell
Teams Williams