USAR: Series 2007 top stories

Hooters Pro Cup Stories of the Year Myrtle Beach, S.C.-A horde of storylines played out during the 2007 Hooters Pro Cup season, and even the best analyst wouldn't have been able to pick some of the things that transpired during the year. There...

Hooters Pro Cup Stories of the Year

Myrtle Beach, S.C.-A horde of storylines played out during the 2007 Hooters Pro Cup season, and even the best analyst wouldn't have been able to pick some of the things that transpired during the year. There were a slew of new faces in Victory Lane, 29 rookies and a bunch of veterans showing the way in the point races.

Below is a listing of some of the top stories that played out during the season.

Gill Returns to Top: While nobody would ever say it to his face, many thought that Bobby Gill's best years may have been behind him. Coming into the 2007 season, it had been five years since Gill, 49, had hoisted the Hooters Pro Cup Championship Trophy.

"I wasn't sure if I was ever going to win another title," said Gill, who will turn 50 in June. "The series has gotten so competitive and, with all the kids coming in, it's tough for somebody like me to keep a ride."

Gill won't have to worry about keeping a ride after returning to Pro Cup prominence in 2007. Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Ford, finished the season with three wins, seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 14 starts en route to his series-high fourth title.

And his climb back to the top of the Hooters Pro Cup Series didn't go unnoticed in the national media. The American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association named the 4-time Pro Cup champion Second Team All- American in the Touring Series category.

Gill's fourth title nearly pushed him over $2 million in career earnings. In 165 starts, Gill is averaging over $12,000 per start.

"This title was the toughest one to win, because I had all the other ones wrapped up before the final race," said Gill.

Hawkins Wins First Start: Coming into 2007, Matt Hawkins was supposed to be a pretty good little racer. The 19-year-old driver had won in various series in 2006 and grabbed the Snowflake 100 title. But there have been plenty of good shoes that have struggled in their rookie season in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. Matt Hawkins was not one of those.

Hawkins put a bump-and-run move on fellow rookie Frank Deiny Jr. in the waning laps of the season-opening race and won his first Pro Cup race in his first start, a feat that had never been accomplished in the Hooters Pro Cup Series.

Though bad breaks derailed his rookie hopes, Hawkins finished the season with two wins and sixth in points, serving notice that he belongs in the upper echelon of Pro Cup drivers.

Bayne Breaks Out: Before this season, when people talked about Trevor Bayne, they usually said he was very "marketable" or "good for his age." But after his sophomore season, Bayne, 16, showed that he's just plain "good," regardless of age.

After going winless in his rookie campaign, Bayne dominated at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway in the regular season to take his first Hooters Pro Cup win. In the final races of the Aaron's Southern Division season, Bayne jumped from 14th to second in regular season points.

After a DNF in the Championship Series opener, Bayne finished second at Iowa Speedway and won the following race at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway. Though a transmission problem derailed his title hopes at South Georgia Motorsports Park, Bayne finish second at USA Int'l (Fla.) Speedway and finished second in the point standings.

13 Winners, 21 Races: Much has been said about the level of competition in the Hooters Pro Cup Series during the 2007 season. The one stat that sums it up best is the percentage of different winners during the campaign.

The all-time record for the percentage of different winners had been 50% during the 2003 season, when 15 different drivers visited Victory Lane during the 30-race. With 13 different winners in 21 races, the new record stands at 61%.

Five First-Time Winners: Oft times, having five different winners would be a claim of parity in a series. But in the Hooters Pro Cup Series, that was just the number of drivers that christened Victory Lane for the first time during the 2007 season.

Matt Hawkins won in his first start at USA Int'l (Fla.) Speedway; Matt Carter broke out with his first win at Iowa Speedway; Brandon Ward grabbed his first win at Motor (Va.) Mile Speedway; Trevor Bayne picked up his first win at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway; and Chase Pistone took his first win at Concord (N.C.) Motorsport Park.

29 Rookies: The rookie classes in the Hooters Pro Cup Series have a long- standing tradition of one-upping their predecessors. It will take years to see whether Brandon Ward, Matt Hawkins, Richard Boswell, James Buescher and Ben Stancill surpass the accolades of the 2001 rookie class of Shane Huffman, Clay Rogers, Brian Vickers and Jon Wood, the 2005 class of Joey Logano, Woody Howard and Chase Pistone or the 2006 class of Derek Kale, Dange Hanniford and Trevor Bayne.

But where they do already have an advantage is in bulk. Twenty-nine rookies- a new record-grabbed points in the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year program in 2007. In addition, two went to Victory Lane and three finished inside the top 10 in points.

Ward's Rookie Run: Brandon Ward was involved in a crash during his first Hooters Pro Cup race of the season, and his last. But in the middle, the rookie strung together one win, three top-five and seven top-10 finishes to edge Matt Hawkins by one point in the overall Miller Lite Rookie of the Year battle.

It was a stellar campaign, and one that wasn't even supposed to happen.

Two weeks before the Hooters Pro Cup season started, Ward was competing in the Whelen Modified Tour, where he was leading the rookie points. But a call from an old friend, and competitor, two days before the season-opening race changed that.

"We won the UARA title in '06, but we were unsure what we were going to do this year," said Ward, driver of the No. 93n SupplyOne Ford. "We got an opportunity to run the Whelen Modified Tour at the start of this season. We ran three races there and had some good runs when this opportunity came up at [Randy Humphrey Racing]. I don't think anybody out there at the short- track level could turn down a good Hooters Pro Cup ride."

Ward finished the season with $40,000 in bonuses from Miller Lite for his rookie campaign.

Old School: Michael Ritch and Gary St. Amant are great drivers, no doubt. But if anybody, outside of family and team members, picked them to win their respective divisions this season, they're lying.

Well, both drivers proved everyone wrong.

After starting the Aaron's Southern Division season with a mechanical failure at USA Int'l, Ritch reeled off finishes of second, eighth, second, first and first over the next five races to take an insurmountable lead in the points. But the scary thing is that it could have been better.

"It's not like we lucked into the Southern title; we dominated a lot of the year," said Ritch. "There are several races where I made a couple of mistakes and got black flagged while I was leading when we pretty much had the race won. It happened at Concord and South Georgia."

The only blemishes on Ritch's season came in the final two races. Ritch finished 28th at Hickory and 19th at Bristol.

Known as one of the most consistent racers in history, St. Amant showed why during the Sears Auto Center Northern Division season.

The Delaware, Ohio, driver reeled off seven top-five finishes, picked up his first win since 2004 and averaged an astonishing 4.38 finish during the regular season. His outstanding season was rewarded with a $20,000 bonus for being the Sears Auto Center Northern Division Champion. But even more impressive was the fact that St. Amant broke Benny Gordon's three-year stranglehold on the Northern Division title.

"I don't think it has sunk in yet," said St. Amant, after clinching the title at South Boston. "To hold off Benny Gordon, one of the best short- track racers in the country, down the stretch of the regular season was a real test."

Though Gordon, driver of the No. 66 Samuel Metals Ford, was unable to repeat as the Northern Division champ, he was exactly disappointed to give up his title to St. Amant.

"He's a great guy," said Gordon. "I have to congratulate him on a great regular season. We had a couple of DNFs that cost us, but Gary had a great year."

Don't Blink: During the 2007 season, the average separation between the pole winner and the last driver in on time was .485 seconds. The closest field separation was at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, where .232 seconds was all that distanced the pole-sitter from the first provisional starter.

Although HMS is the smallest track that the series competes on, the field separation at tracks three-quarters of a mile or longer was only .54 seconds.

"When you get to the track, the first thing you need to do is make the field," said rookie standout James Buescher. "Then, once you're in the race, you have to worry about beating 20 to 25 other guys."

Field Separation for 2007 Season
1. USA Int. Speedway- 0.448 sec
2. So. Georgia Mtsp. Park- 0.633 sec
3. South Boston Speedway- 0.438 sec
4. Concord Mtsp. Park- 0.422 sec
5. Shenandoah Speedway- 0.549 sec
6. Madison Intl. Speedway- NT (Rain)
7. Peach State Speedway- 0.272 sec
8. Mansfield Mtsp. Speedway- 0.564 sec
9. Myrtle Beach Speedway- 0.463 sec
10. Salem Speedway- 1.483 sec (High)
11. Motor Mile Speedway- 0.356 sec
12. Southern Natl. Raceway Pk- 0.356 sec
13. Lake Erie Speedway- 0.66 sec
14. Hickory Motor Speedway- 0.232 sec (Low)
15. South Boston Speedway- 0.65 sec
16. Bristol Motor Speedway- 0.407 sec
17. Mansfield Mtsp. Speedway- 0.36 sec
18. Iowa Speedway- 0.76 sec
19. Myrtle Beach Speedway- 0.485 sec
20. So. Georgia Mtsp. Park- 0.488 sec
21. USA Int. Speedway- 0.412 sec

Average Field Separation: .485 sec

Car Counts: During the 2007 season, an average of 40.14 cars showed up for each event, which was a 10% increase over the record-setting numbers of 2006. The highest car count of the season came at Peach State (Ga.) Speedway, where 49 drivers attempted to make the 32-car starting field.

"We felt like the changes made to the schedule last season would help, but we never expected the turnouts we had this season," said Gene Cox, USAR President. "Racers like to race where the competition is, and we're just happy that so many chose the Hooters Pro Cup Series to test themselves."

By the end of the regular season, 111 teams had competed in the HPCS. Sure, some were one-hit wonders, but nearly half of the teams competed on a full- time basis. A new record was also set for the number of drivers to qualify for the year-end Championship Series. Fifty-nine drivers ran at least half their regular-season races and finished inside the top 30 in points, breaking the record of 58 set in 2005.

-credit: usar

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Series Stock car
Drivers Clay Rogers , Jon Wood , Trevor Bayne , Brian Vickers , James Buescher , Ben Stancill , Richard Boswell