Move over Mario; Gordon takes over third in all-time wins Radford, Va.-Benny Gordon is on a hot streak right now, and it seems nobody can stop him. After leading the first 76 laps, Gordon gave up the lead to come to pit road, tracked down Clay...
Move over Mario; Gordon takes over third in all-time wins
Radford, Va.-Benny Gordon is on a hot streak right now, and it seems nobody can stop him.
After leading the first 76 laps, Gordon gave up the lead to come to pit road, tracked down Clay Rogers, who short-pitted, on Lap 155 and went unchallenged en route to victory in the Kroger 250 presented by Dominic's of New York at Motor Mile Speedway. It was Gordon's fifth win of the season, fourth in a row and his 20th Pro Cup victory, moving him past Mario Gosselin into third in career wins.
"It looks like this team can't do any wrong right now," said Gordon, driver of the No. 66 Predator Performance Ford. "The team's been working on pit stops, and the car has been perfect week in and week out. We're happy about how we're performing, but our main goal is the overall championship."
And one of Gordon's biggest obstacles for the overall championship was in the field for the Kroger 250.
Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 44s Automotive Development Group Ford and current Southern Division point leader, was making his fourth out-of- division start of the season, and Gordon knew it.
"Yeah, I heard he was up here for an easy $10,000," said Gordon. "The way I see it now, I'm one up on him."
While Rogers shrugged off Gordon's comments as Gordon "trying to get in peoples' heads," the rivalry heated up during a battle for the lead from Lap 150 to 155.
Rogers, who was forced to start shotgun on the field after working on his car after qualifying, elected to short-pit early in the race to regain his lost track position.
It worked for Rogers in the short-term as he took the lead on Lap 77 when the rest of the lead-lap cars cycled through the pits.
But as the race wore on, Gordon, who restarted fourth after the cycle of stops, began to inch closer to the No. 44 Ford after the halfway point. By Lap 149, Gordon had trimmed Rogers' lead down to inches. Rogers moved up the track, trying to take Gordon's line away, but on Lap 155 Gordon dove underneath to reclaim the top spot for good.
Laps later, Rogers fell from the race with mechanical failure.
"When he was out there in the lead, I was getting after it," said Gordon. "It's fun to race him. I ran him down and we were getting after it. We were racing hard and that is what this is all about. It is a lot of fun to race that way. I was worried about catching him because he's a tough customer."
At the start of the race, Clay's younger brother, Brad, also had a battle for the lead with Gordon in the first half of the event cut short by a mechanical failure.
Brad, driver of the No. 81 Knight's Companies Chevrolet, started from the second position and gouged Gordon a few times for the top spot before eventually breaking a distributor and retiring on Lap 91.
"It was pretty apparent that we had a better car than Benny," said Brad Rogers. "I did everything but wreck the guy to get around him. It was early in the race, so I didn't want to force the issue. We had a little piece of the distributor break off, and that was it. I know I was better than him tonight, and we'll get him."
Without the Rogers brothers around, Gordon's nearest competitor was Shelby Howard, driver of the No. 20 Speedco/Tony Stewart Racing Pontiac. At the start of the run, Gordon was able to ease away from Howard, but the Indiana driver would mirror Gordon's lap times after several laps of green-flag racing.
"We were about the same as Benny there at the end," said Howard. "I don't know if I had enough to get by him, but we could pressure him a little bit. We need to work on our stuff a little more and we'll be there with him."
Howard finished 1.070 seconds behind Gordon at the end of the night.
Behind Gordon and Howard, Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55 Dean Motorsports Chevrolet, and Jack Bailey, driver of the No. 93 Downtown Martin's Ford, waged a fierce battle for the final podium position over the last 30 laps.
After bouncing off each other nearly every lap, Woody Howard was able to fend off Bailey to take third.
"I was giving it everything I had in those last 30 laps," said Howard. "I'm just excited our car is getting better each week."
Despite battling strep throat, Bailey finished fourth.
Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73 Mark IV Honda/Clouds Clothing Ford, battled back from a lengthy pit stop to complete the top five.
Eric Corbett, driver of the No. 75 Larry & Sons Ford, came across the finish line in sixth; Cameron Dodson, driver of the No. 14 Elite Auto Collision Chevrolet, picked up his best finish of the season and his first Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award by coming home seventh; Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 72 JEGS.com Chevrolet, finished eighth. A.J. Frank, driver of the No. 11 LightninFast.com Chevrolet, finished ninth; and Tim Bainey Jr., driver of the No. 15 Greased Lightning Ford, completed the top 10.
The Kroger 250 was slowed eight times for 51 laps of caution and featured two lead changes among two drivers.
Kroger 250 Notebook
Cameron Dodson sat on pit wall after the Kroger 250 and watched the Benny Gordon's victory celebration with a smile. Yes, Dodson was elated by his seventh-place finish, but he was thoroughly enjoying Gordon's victory lane celebration.
"Benny Gordon is a mentor and a hero to me," said Dodson, driver of the No. 14 Elite Auto Collision Chevrolet. "He did a great job tonight."
But it wasn't all about his admiration of the defending Pro Cup champ.
"The car was good and we got up front in the first half," said Dodson, who ran second behind Clay Rogers for nearly 30 laps. "For some reason when we put new tires on, the car got loose. We just hung on and came out of here with a good finish. I just want to thank May's Motorsports, my crew chief, Lee McCallister, and my pit crew. We're getting better each week and I think we can win one of these races this season."
Dodson's seventh-place finish garnered him Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors and pushed him into the rookie point lead by 15 points over Derek Kale.
Needing a Mulligan
After notching two third-place finishes in the last two races, A.J. Frank appeared to be on the cusp of a breakout win in the Kroger 250. Instead, Frank had to breakout the backup car on Saturday morning.
"The team asked me what I'd do different today if I could," said Frank. "I guess the answer would be to wake up again and start all over."
It wasn't all gloomy for Frank, however. Frank drove his back up car to a ninth-place finish.
"It was a frustrating night, but we made the best of it," said Frank, who is seventh in Northern Division points. "We'll get the other car fixed and go to Salem."
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Brad Rogers, driver of the No. 81 Knight's Companies Chevrolet, had posted back-to-back, second-place finishes coming into the Kroger 250. After qualifying second and pressuring Benny Gordon for the lead early in the race, Rogers appeared to have a car capable of going to victory lane. But a failed distributor dropped him from contention on Lap 91.
"This was the best car I've had in a long, long time," said a dejected Rogers. "The son of a gun would turn on a dime and give you nine cents change. It was just tiny plastic cap on the distributor the cost us the win, but they know the [No.] 81 is here now."
The Big Picture
Barring a monumental meltdown, Benny Gordon is a lock for the Northern Division Championship. But Jack Bailey and the rest Gordon's pursuers know the Championship Series is the great equalizer.
"We just need to be there in the Championship Series," said Bailey, driver of the No. 93 Downtown Martin's Ford. "You can will all the races you want in the regular season, but that doesn't mean you will win the championship.
"We're getting better, but everybody else is getting better as well. But as long as we keep finishing in the top five, what else can we ask for."