USAR: Peach State: Race report

Gaita wins Miller Lite 250 Jefferson, Ga.--Full-moon fever. That would be the easiest way to sum up the Miller Lite 250 presented by Tucson at Peach State Speedway on Saturday night. Matt Carter, driver of the No. 22 HeavyTruckDealers.com...

Gaita wins Miller Lite 250

Jefferson, Ga.--Full-moon fever. That would be the easiest way to sum up the Miller Lite 250 presented by Tucson at Peach State Speedway on Saturday night.

Matt Carter, driver of the No. 22 HeavyTruckDealers.com Ford, led the field to a green-white-checkered finish, but the Denver, N.C., driver wound up fourth.

Shane Huffman, driver of the No. 84 XTRA Motorsports Ford, went side-by-side with Carter into the final turn, but Joe Gaita, driver of the No. 06 USG Sheetrock Brand Ford, beat both drivers to finish line--sideways. Huffman and Carter made contact in Turn 4, allowing Gaita slide to the inside for the second win of his career.

"I really thought we were going to have a second- or third-place car when Shane got by us," said Gaita. "They went into [Turn 3], got together and slid up the racetrack, and that was the opening we needed to get under them. We all got back in the gas and headed for the finish line."

They headed for the line three-wide and sideways.

Carter backed out after the contact, but Gaita and Huffman stayed in the throttle and crossed the line intertwined. Gaita beat Huffman by .476 seconds. Mart Nesbitt, driver of the No. 92 Blue Cross Blue Shield Chevy, was able to clip Carter at the line to take third. Carter held on to finish fourth.

"It was wild out there," said Carter, who picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race. "We had a good car, but we probably didn't have the best car. I don't know what happened at the finish, but [Huffman and Gaita] have some tore up racecars and we don't."

Gaita's car needed to be towed into victory lane, while Huffman's mangled machine made the trip back to garage area on a roll back.

Though the crescendo of the Miller 250 was exhilarating, the prologue was nearly just as exciting.

The top 16 cars qualified within a tenth of a second of each other, there were 13 lead changes among 9 different drivers during the race and the top-five finishers crossed the finish line within .963 seconds of each other.

Carter and Randy Gentry, driver of the No. 19 HarrisonsWorkwear.com Chevy, led a ProCup race for the first time in their careers. Gentry led 21 laps, while Carter led 19. David Pletcher, driver of the No. 51 RaceFansDating.com Ford, and Daniel Johnson, driver of the No. 56 Charlotte Check Cashers Chevy, led for the first time in 2004.

Pletcher, who started second in the 36-car field, swept around pole sitter Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 44 TOFF Sprayed-On Bedliners Ford, at the start of the race and led for 17 laps until Rogers made his way back where he started on the 18th circuit.

Rogers led until Lap 114 when Johnson, who stopped on Lap 84 for fresh BFGoodrich Traction T/A radial tires, blasted past to take the lead on Lap 115. Johnson's strategy to take tires changed the complexity of the race for many drivers, and it netted the Midland, N.C., driver and extra $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader.

With the added traction, Johnson mowed through the field, lapping all the way up to ninth place before a caution on Lap 127 saved many of the top runners from going a lap down. Huffman, Mike Laughlin Jr., driver of the No. 7 Home Zone Ford, and Billy Bigley Jr., driver of the No. 25 Peerless Woodworking Ford, were among the cars that were lapped before the caution.

Johnson and Gentry, who stopped for four tires on Lap 97, stayed on the track during the caution, but the remainder of the cars on the lead lap hit pit road for service.

Clay Rogers led the field down pit road, but the point leader wouldn't return to the track first. Nesbitt beat all the cars back to the track, while Rogers restarted sixth.

After the restart, Gentry was able to pass Johnson for the lead on Lap 139. Nesbitt pressured Gentry, but he was unable to move past for the top spot. Huffman, however, was able to make his way past both drivers to put himself back in the lead lap. Huffman caught a break when Brad Rogers spun and brought out the caution on Lap 153, allowing the 2003 champion to pull to the rear of the lead-lap cars for the restart.

Bobby Gill, driver of the No. 5 Hess Race Cars Inc. Ford, made his way out front on Lap 163 and brought Rogers with him around Gentry. Gill led for 12 laps before his car lost power coming off Turn 2 on Lap 174. Rogers eased to the outside Gill's dying machine and moved back to the top spot on Lap 175. Nesbitt shadowed Rogers for a few laps and moved out front on Lap 181. Rogers regrouped and his way past Nesbitt on Lap 189 and appeared to be en route to victory. But the race was far from over as Huffman was charging towards the front.

After getting his lap back, the Hickory, N.C., driver moved into fifth on Lap 202, third on Lap 205 and second on Lap 206.

"We made some major adjustments in the second half of the race, and the car was awesome," said Huffman. "We had the fastest car by far."

Huffman trimmed Rogers' lead down to car lengths by Lap 215. Rogers' lead over Huffman stabilized over the next few laps, but Mark Whitaker's spin at Lap 231 allowed Huffman move to the back bumper of Rogers for the restart at Lap 236. Huffman pressured Rogers for the lead over next four laps, and on Lap 240 the pair made contact for the second race in a row. The contact sent Rogers spinning and Huffman to pit road to serve a stop-and-go penalty for rough driving.

"I don't know if it's his spotter or what," Huffman said of the contact. "He did the same thing a New Smyrna. I nearly wrecked myself to keep from wrecking him [at New Smyrna], and I wasn't going to do it this time."

And just like New Smyrna, Rogers had a different version of the late-race contact.

"I'm can't believe he got me again," said Rogers. "I was glad that [the Hooter ProCup Series] did something about it; kudos to them. I guess [Huffman] wasn't finished and went up there and got him some more."

Carter inherited the lead after the contact between Huffman and Rogers. However, Huffman, as Rogers stated, wasn't finished.

Passing high and low, Huffman vaulted into contention as the race stretched out past the 250-lap mark. On the final restart on Lap 261, Huffman moved past Gaita on the high side on Lap 262 and tucked to the inside of Carter on the last lap, setting up one of the most exiting finishes in ProCup history.

Miller Lite 250 Notebook

First Top-Fives

Matt Carter's fourth-place finish in the Miller Lite 250 was the best finish of his short ProCup career, and it was good enough Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors. Carter's stellar run was also his first top-five finish, and he took over the Southern Division ROTY point lead with his career-best finish. Billy Bigley Jr. also posted his first top-five finish of his ProCup career, finishing fifth after starting 23rd. Bigley Jr. also picked up $500 for being the Hard Charger.

"To come out and start 23rd, stay out of trouble and run fifth, it was just a good night," said Bigley Jr. "I just have to thank all my guys, my wife, my parents and Peerless Woodworking for the amount of effort and time they put into this team."

Looking For No. 2

Mart Nesbitt has been snake bitten in the first two races of the Southern Division, but his third-place finish in the Miller Lite 250 brought a smile his face. More importantly, Nesbitt's car was virtually unscathed during the final-lap fiasco.

"We had a good car," said Nesbitt. "This isn't our best track, but to come out of here with a top-five finish is good for our guys. We're going to take this car to South Boston."

Nesbitt picked up his first win in the Hooters ProCup Series last year at SOBO.

Waiting For SPEED Channel

Mike Laughlin Jr. will wait until Thursday's broadcast on SPEED Channel to form his opinion of the late-race rubbing between himself and Jay Fogleman.

"I passed him clean," said Laughlin Jr. "I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until I see it on [SPEED Channel], but I think he just went down and turned me. I'd like to say he hit the apron and slid up, but I'm not very happy right now."

Gill Turns 100

Bobby Gill's 100th start in the Hooter ProCup Series ended on Lap 192 as the cagey veteran crept to a slow stop on the backstretch. Gill's car fell off the pace on Lap 174, but he returned to track on Lap 192 only to make it halfway around the half-mile oval before stopping on the apron and bringing out the caution. Gill finished 30th and dropped to fifth in the points.

Rookies Rebound

After suffering badly at New Smyrna, some the 2004 Rookie Class bounced back at Peach State. Jeremy Rice, driver of the No. 23 Midsouth Cage Equipment Chevy, posted his first top-10 finish in the Hooters ProCup Series.

Michael Ruttkamp, driver of the No. 81 Mercury Energy Drink Ford, narrowly missed his first top-10 finish in the Series, coming home 12th.

Chase Miller made a nice ProCup debut with his 14th-place finish. Miller ran as high as ninth during the night.

-usar-

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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Clay Rogers , Gil de Ferran , Billy Bigley , Chase Miller , Shane Huffman