Shane Huffman Wins Dan Duncan Memorial Kroger 250 Win No. 8 puts 2003 champ back in the chase Radford, VA-After winning a series-high seven times during the regular season, Shane Huffman had failed to post a top-10 finish in any of the three ...
Shane Huffman Wins Dan Duncan Memorial Kroger 250
Win No. 8 puts 2003 champ back in the chase
Radford, VA-After winning a series-high seven times during the regular season, Shane Huffman had failed to post a top-10 finish in any of the three previous Championship Series events before running of the Dan Duncan Memorial Kroger 250 at Motor Mile Speedway. More importantly, Huffman had dropped to fifth in points, 82 behind Benny Gordon.
But that all changed on Saturday night.
Huffman, driver of the No. 81s Knight's Companies Ford, led a race-high 125 laps en route to his eighth win of the season and jumped to second in the points behind Benny Gordon.
"This was an awesome event for us," said Huffman. "We wanted to be in striking distance heading into Lakeland [Fla.], and we are now."
His win, coupled with Gordon's seventh-place finish, moves Huffman to within 33 points of Gordon going in the season-finale Hooters 300 at USA Int'l Speedway on Nov. 26th. But for awhile, Huffman looked like he may make up more ground on Gordon.
Huffman, who picked up his fourth Advance Auto Parts Pole Award in qualifying, lost the lead on the first lap to fellow front-row starter Mark McFarland, but the 2003 champion chased down McFarland and led Lap 29 before clearing the JR Motorsports driver for good on Lap 35 for the lead. While Huffman was distancing himself from the field, Gordon was struggling to advance through the pack from his 15th-place qualifying effort.
On Lap 49, Gordon's rough start got even worse.
While fighting for position with Joe Gaita, Gordon went for a spin in Turn 4, bringing out the fourth caution of the night and dropping the point leader to 26th for the restart on Lap 54. With nearly the entire field on the lead lap, Gordon took the green a half lap behind Huffman.
That margin would grow even larger as the race ran green for the next 54 laps. Prior to Jason Mignogna's spin bringing out the caution on Lap 108, Gordon was only 1.2 seconds ahead of the race leader. And Gordon's team made the most of the opportune caution.
After entering the pits in 20th, Gordon's Predator Performance team sent their driver off of pit road in ninth place. While Gordon picked up 11 spots on pit road, Huffman's team made a rare mistake on their stop and Huffman dropped to fifth for the restart on Lap 116.
"I need to apologize to my crew. I was pretty hard on them over the radio after that stop," said Huffman. "They've been great all year, but we really needed to lead halfway and get those five bonus points."
Those points would go to Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55n Dean Motorsports Chevy.
Howard, who was running third at the time of the caution, left pit road ahead of all the lead-lap cars, but the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year point leader would still have to get past Sam Fullone, who stayed out under the caution, to lead the Lucas Oil Product Halfway Lap.
The Chesapeake, Va., driver slipped past Fullone two laps after the restart and picked up $1,000 and much-needed five bonus points.
But Howard wasn't satisfied with just leading a handful of laps.
Once out front, Howard took control of the second half of the race, leading the next 85 laps. But with each lap, Howard's car began to wash up in the corners and Huffman grew larger in his mirror.
"Our car was tight all night, and I had to use the brakes more than I wanted to," said Howard. "We just needed to get the car a little freer."
Huffman completed his fifth-to-first run on Lap 203 as he slid underneath Howard coming off Turn 4. But instead of pulling away, Huffman nearly saw his lead slip away.
"Somebody was putting down rear-end grease out there," said Huffman. "My car shot up the track in Turn 2, and then I bounced off the wall in Turn 4."
After the final restart on Lap 220, Huffman's car wouldn't bobble the rest of the night, but Jeff Agnew's No. 73n NGA Hooters Golf Tour Ford was on a rail as well.
Agnew, turning the quickest times on the track, moved past Howard for second on Lap 237, but the former MMS regular was still 1.5 seconds behind Huffman. After trimming the lead for a few laps, Agnew began to fall off over the final 20 laps and fell 2.269 seconds shy of picking up his first win at his home track.
"I guess the Motor Mile curse still exists," said Agnew, who, despite winning four track titles at MMS, remains winless in 10 Pro Cup starts. "We restarted 18th after pit stop, and we just didn't have enough time to get back to the front. We got to second, but we didn't have enough laps to catch Shane."
Although unhappy for not breaking the curse, Agnew did mange to pull within 34 points of Gordon in the title chase heading into the final race of the season.
"We'll take second, go to Lakeland and see what we can do there," said Agnew.
After his third-place finish, it appears all Woody Howard will have to do at Lakeland is start his engine to take the $40,000 prize for being the 2005 Hooters Pro Cup Series Miller Lite Rookie of the Year. Howard has a 111-point lead over Joey Logano with one race remaining.
Jody Lavender, driver of the No. 84s Heritage Bank Ford, continued his post-season surge at Motor Mile. Lavender finished fourth and jumped to seventh in points, just 24 points out of fourth.
Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 44s Johnny's Suzuki/Baird Transport Ford, ran as high as second during the evening, but the defending Pro Cup champ finished fifth.
After his disastrous start, Benny Gordon rallied to finish seventh and kept his point lead.
Daniel Johnson, driver of the No. 56s Charlotte Check Cashers Pontiac, picked up 15th positions and the Mr. Gasket Hard Charger Award.
The Dan Duncan Memorial Kroger 250 was slowed nine times for 53 laps of caution and featured seven lead changes among four drivers.
Dan Duncan Memorial Kroger 250 Notebook
A Year Removed
Last season, Jody Lavender came into the Hooters Pro Cup Series with high hopes. But in 19 races in 2004, Lavender posted just three top-10 finishes. In 2005, Lavender has one win, seven top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes in 17 starts.
"You can't even compare last year to the way we've run this season; it's like night and day," said Lavender. "We brought [Steve Bird] in, and we've got everything turned around on the team. The pit crew has done awesome this year. I couldn't do this without my sponsors, Heritage Community Bank and H&R Block, and we're going to go to Lakeland and finish in the top three in points."
Matt Carter, driver of the No. 03s LCT/Titan Industrial Ford, was able to keep his top-10 streak alive in the Championship Series with a six-place finish at Motor Mile. While Carter does take some pride in being the only driver in the series to post top-10 finishes in the first four Championship Series events, he knows that you need wins to win the title.
"Sixth ain't bad, but top-10 [finishes] aren't going to win the title," said Carter. "Hopefully, we can get a win at Lakeland."
Gary's Wild Ride
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 11n JEGS.com Chevy, had an eventful evening to say the least.
After qualifying 23rd, St. Amant's team found some problems under the hood of the JEGS.com car prior to the race, forcing them to work on the car and start shotgun on the field.
On Lap 42, St. Amant went for a spin and nearly lost a lap. On Lap 169, St. Amant narrowly missed being involved in a multi-car crash. Through it all, St. Amant managed to stay on the lead lap and finished 11th.
St. Amant dropped from second to fourth in points, but it could have been much worse.
Woody Howard could start and park at USA Int'l Speedway and still win the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year Award. Howard's 111-point lead over Joey Logano is insurmountable as long as he makes the field for the Hooters 300.
"That was our goal when we started the season," said Howard. "We wanted to win the overall title, but realistically we thought we could win rookie of the year."
If Howard, who won his eighth Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award in the Kroger 250, can pick up one more rookie of the race award, he'll finish the season with $59,000 in bonus money from the $90,000 Miller Lite Rookie of the Year program.
Shane Huffman, driver of the No. 81 Knight's Companies Ford, finished the night with $2,000 in bonus bucks.
Huffman won $1,000 for being the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award winner, $500 for being the Greased Lightning "Blast the Pack" Award recipient for leading a race-high 125 laps and $500 for being the Tucson "Win from the Pole" Award winner.
Sam Fullone, driver of the No. 46n Pero Vegetables Chevy, had a stellar run at Motor Mile, qualifying 19th, leading seven laps and finishing ninth. And he did so in a new car.
"We just got a new Predator [Performance] car and motor," said Fullone, who matched his best finish of the season. "On the first restart, we broke a shift lever, so we were in fourth gear the rest of the race. That's why we didn't come in on the first stop. But it worked out. We led some laps and finished in the top 10. That's all we could ask for."