McFarland Conquers Nemesis, Howard Myrtle Beach, S.C.-Mark McFarland still won't say he likes Myrtle Beach Speedway. But after his win Myrtle Beach Speedway on Saturday night, the temperamental track along the Grand Strand could be moving up on...
McFarland Conquers Nemesis, Howard
Myrtle Beach, S.C.-Mark McFarland still won't say he likes Myrtle Beach Speedway. But after his win Myrtle Beach Speedway on Saturday night, the temperamental track along the Grand Strand could be moving up on his favorites list.
McFarland led early and often in the Greased Lightning 250 presented by Black's Tire and Auto Service on Saturday, June 21 and inched away from Woody Howard in the final laps to conquer a track that's given him-and most everyone-fits in the past.
"This still isn't my favorite track, but it's getting better," said McFarland, driver of the No. 81s Sears Auto Center Chevrolet. "We worked on a lot of things in practice and it paid off in the race."
McFarland's line during the two-hour practice session prompted the wholesale changes.
"I jumped to the high side and it felt like it had a lot of grip, so I kept practicing up there," said McFarland. "If you're going to run the high line at Myrtle Beach, you have to commit to it."
The commitment paid off. McFarland, who started fourth, used the high line on Lap 29 to take lead from pole-sitter Dange Hanniford. But as the race neared the halfway mark, Hanniford made his way back around McFarland.
"I got too loose on that long first run," said McFarland.
As McFarland began to fade just after the 100-lap mark, Hanniford eased his No. 92s Black's Tire and Auto Service Ford back to the lead on Lap 109.
"I've never had a car that was that fun to drive at Myrtle Beach," said Hanniford, who led 58 of the first 129 laps. "I could go high or low and it was fast."
Hanniford's pace-and the lack of a caution-allowed the former MBS competitor to lap his way up to 13th by the halfway mark. But Hanniford wasn't alone at the front once he took the lead. The top six cars after 125 laps of green-flag racing were nose to tail, until Dusty Williams, seemingly, came out of nowhere and blasted past the top five and took the lead on Lap 130.
Williams, driver of the No. 40s Dustcom LTD Ford, picked up where Hanniford left off, lapping up to ninth before the race's first caution flag waved on Lap 147.
With the cycle of stops complete, a sense of urgency overtook the leaders once the green waved. During a 12-lap span, the lead changed hands six times between Hanniford, Williams, McFarland, Clay Rogers and rookie Scotty Crockett. McFarland restored order at the front when he moved back out front on Lap 170.
"We tightened the car up on our stop and I was good to go," said McFarland.
But knowing when to "go" at Myrtle Beach Speedway is a riddle in itself, especially with 80 laps left at the tire-eating, half-mile track.
"I had Wes [Ward] spotting for me tonight, so that helped out a lot," said McFarland, who took home $10,600 for his second win of the season. "He calmed be down and kept telling me to think about what I wanted out of the car at the end of the race."
But McFarland's serenity would be tested by a pair of drivers down the stretch.
Matt Hawkins, driver of the No. 2s Jani-King Ford, poked his nose out front for four circuits (187-190).
"After that last restart on [Lap 186], I really thought I was better than McFarland," said Hawkins. "But the longer we ran, the freer we got. I think we were all pretty close, but I couldn't do anything with him towards the end."
After retaking the lead on Lap 191, McFarland would be faced with another foe in the final laps as Woody Howard pulled his No. 55s Dean Motorsports into second place.
Howard peeked under McFarland for the lead several times, but, like McFarland, he knew it was too early to show his hand.
"I was telling myself, 'Don't even try it yet. Don't even try it yet,'" said Howard. "I made that mistake in '02 or '03 in the Late Model race here and it cost me."
But .625 seconds is as close as Howard would get as the checkered waved.
"The end of the race came to quick for us," said Howard, who matched his best finish at MBS. "I felt like if the race went longer, we could have caught him."
"If there would have been 20 more laps, I couldn't have held them off," said McFarland. "The car was really starting to dance around all over the place. It just worked out for us tonight."
Hawkins held on for third at the finish, followed by Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 54s C&C Boiler Chevrolet, and Trevor Bayne.
The Greased Lightning 250 was slowed four times for 31 laps of caution and featured 11 lead changes among six drivers.
Greased Lightning 250 Notebook
Even short-track drivers are prone to jumping out of the car and complaining about "aero-issues" at the conclusion of a race. But Trevor Bayne's performance in the Greased Lightning 250 may have disproved the theory. Well, at least at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
After contact with Clay Rogers while battling for third, Bayne was left without half of his rear spoiler for nearly 40 laps before the caution waved. Not only did Bayne stay in the top five, he actually moved up a position.
"We had saved enough that the car was still good enough to stay in third until the caution came out," said Bayne, driver of the No. 29s Chevy Racing Chevrolet. "I was sideways about half the time. It was a handful, but the car was so good."
Dakoda Armstrong, driver of the No. 93n Super Clean/Fatheadz.com Ford, made the trek from New Castle, Ind., to the South Carolina coast to compete in the Greased Lightning 250. That might not sound too impressive, but the fact that Armstrong, a 16-year-old USAC standout, had never been in a 3,300- lb stock car was.
But Armstrong's acclimation seemed instant as he posted a top-10 finish and took home Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors. So what was the biggest challenge?
"Shifting," said Armstrong. "I've never had to do anything like that. I was getting killed on the restarts. I think if I get that down and we get little better on new tires, I think we can get some top fives."
While shifting proved the most problematic, Armstrong was feeling the wear of wrestling a heavy car on a slick track for 250 laps afterwards.
"My back hurts, and I can't feel my legs or my hands, but it's the most fun I've ever had in racing," said Armstrong. "I think I passed more cars tonight than I have in my career. The car was just great on the long run, and I had great coaches with Robert Huffman and Brandon Ward. I really hope we get to do some more races together. This was so much fun."
Armstrong also picked up at Aaron's "Do the Math" Hard Charger Award for advancing 18 positions.
Wade Day has been known to excel on fast tracks that have plenty of grip. Myrtle Beach Speedway has neither, but Day was able to finish seventh on the tricky layout.
"This is like a win for us," said Day, driver of the No. 96s Lopez Wealth Management Ford. "It's a dang challenge for me to back off and ride around. It's tough, but it paid off for us tonight. All my guys worked so hard here, and if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have finished where we did." Hanniford Happy, Baffled Dange Hanniford, driver of the No. 92s Black's Tire and Auto Service Ford, was ecstatic to be back behind the wheel of a Hooters Pro Cup car for the running of the Greased Lightning 250 at Myrtle Beach Speedway. And Hanniford's return to Ricky Benton Racing and his old stomping ground got off to a great start with him picking up his first career pole.
"I've got to thank Ricky Benton, Mike Hester and all the Black's Tire guys for giving me this chance," said Hanniford. "I was sitting on the couch a month ago pouting because I didn't have a ride. Then to come down here, win the pole and have the best car I've ever been in, it was great to be back."
But after leading 58 laps in the early going, Hanniford slipped to sixth at the finish.
"I don't know if something broke on the car or what, but it wasn't the same after the pit stop," said Hanniford. "I couldn't run high, low or anywhere. It was tight and it was loose. We've got to go back to the shop and do some investigating."