USAR: Top 10 championship breakdown before round one

Championship Breakdown Longs, SC-It's the time of year that Hooters ProCup Series fans live for: The Championship Series. Fifty-five drivers have qualified for the final five-race shootout to determine the 2004 Hooters ProCup Series ...

Championship Breakdown

Longs, SC-It's the time of year that Hooters ProCup Series fans live for: The Championship Series. Fifty-five drivers have qualified for the final five-race shootout to determine the 2004 Hooters ProCup Series National Champion. Seedings are based upon drivers finishes in the final point standings in the Northern and Southern Divisions. Divisional winners from the North and South received a 25-point bonus going into the Championship Series opener, the BFGoodrich Tires 250, at Jennerstown Speedway on Sept. 25. Drivers who attempted to qualify for all of their division's races were awarded a 10-point bonus. Drivers who finished inside the top 15 in their divisions will be eligible for two provisional starting spots during the Championship Series. Below is a listing of the top 10 drivers from the Northern and Southern Divisions, a regular-season review and a Jennerstown preview.

No. 1 Seeds

1. Benny Gordon (No. 66 Predator Performance Ford)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-190
Regular Season Avg. Finish-5.5
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-2.6
Best Finish in 2004-1st (Myrtle Beach, Mansfield, Motor Mile, South Boston, and Adirondack)

Regular Season Review
Benny Gordon is the hottest driver in the HPC Series right now. Actually, he's been the hottest driver since June 26. At Myrtle Beach Speedway, Gordon became the first Northern Division driver to win in the Southern Division since the HPC Series split into two divisions in 2001. Since his win at MBS, Gordon averaged a 2.5 finish the remainder of the season. If you take away Illiana, where Gordon ran out of gas after leading the most laps and finished ninth, the DuBois, Pa., driver averaged a 1.2 finish in the other five events.

Jennerstown Preview
While five wins and the Northern Division title have solidified him as a championship contender this year, Gordon's win in the Championship Series last year at Jennerstown put him on the ProCup map. If he wins this time around, the rest of the Championship Series qualifiers could be in trouble. Why? Gordon has already won at Mansfield, Motor Mile and Myrtle Beach this season. And they are the next three tracks on the schedule after Jennerstown.
Best Finish at Jennerstown-1st (10/4/03)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-2.0 (2 starts)

1. Clay Rogers (No. 44 Johnny's Suzuki/Baird Transport Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-190
Regular Season Avg. Finish-7.6
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-13.4
Best Finish-1st (USA Int'l, Ace, and Hickory)

Regular Season Review
If you take away Rogers' DQ and accident in his only Northern Division race, he's averaging a 3.7 finish for the season. Rogers accomplished his goal of winning the Southern Division regular season, now he's looking towards his second goal: winning the overall title. Rogers wasn't as dominant late in the season as he was at the start of 2004, but he's learned how to nab top-five finishes on nights when his car isn't the best, and that will be crucial in the Championship Series.

Jennerstown Preview
Rogers needs to get off to a good start at Jennerstown if he wants to accomplish his final goal. That shouldn't be too hard, however. In three starts at Jennerstown, Rogers has two top-five finishes, a pole and led 293 laps.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-3rd (8/3/02)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-8.6 (3 starts)

No. 2 Seeds

2. Bobby Gill (No. 06 USG Sheetrock Brand Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-150
Regular Season Avg. Finish-9.8
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-15.2
Best Finish in 2004-1st (Concord, Music City, USA Int'l, and Peach State)

Regular Season Review
After suffering through his worst ProCup season last year, Gill bounced back with four wins this year. Gill had a chance to overtake Rogers in points at Bristol, but the 3-time champion suffered his third finish of 25th or worse and finished 82 points behind Rogers at season's end. Had Gill started the season with Lamb & Robinson Motorsports, the regular season may have had a different outcome.

Jennerstown Preview
Gill heads into the Championship Series with perhaps the strongest team he's had. The Dalton, Ga., driver united with Lamb & Robinson late in the year and won in his first start in the No. 06 and was leading Bristol when crashed in his second start with the team. Gill has finished in the top 10 in all four of his starts at Jennerstown and picked up one win.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-1st (8/3/02)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-4.25 (4 starts)

2. Johnny Rumley (No. 8 Lucas Oil Pontiac)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-150
Regular Season Avg. Finish-6.7
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-8.4
Best Finish in 2004-1st (Jennerstown)

Regular Season Review
If there were a two-lap dash for cash, Rumley would be the driver everybody picked. Rumley won eight poles in 12 races, tying the record set by Shane Huffman in 2003. Rumley still has five chances to break the record in the Championship Series, but he would gladly trade a few poles for a few wins. Rumley did pick up his first ProCup win earlier this year. But once Gordon got going, Rumley struggled to keep pace.

Jennerstown Preview
Rumley is perfect at Jennerstown, winning the pole, the race and leading the most laps in his only start. If he can repeat that feat, Rumley will put himself in position to close the gap on Gill and Rogers.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-1st (5/29/04)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-1.0 (1 starts)

No. 3 Seeds

3. Jeff Agnew (No. 73 NGA Hooters Golf Tour Chevrolet)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-145
Regular Season Avg. Finish-8.8
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-9.4
Best Finish in 2004-1st (Kil-Kare and Illiana)

Regular Season Review
Agnew was the class of the Northern Division field as many times as Gordon, but racing luck wasn't on his side during the regular season. In past seasons, Agnew's bad luck has come in the Championship Series. If that trend reverses this year, Agnew could make some noise in the final five races.

Jennerstown Preview
Agnew knows Jennerstown better than any driver in the Series, competing in all 10 USAR events held at the track, logging nine top-10 finishes and leading 373 laps. Agnew has also picked up two wins at the half-mile oval.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-1st (6/8/02 & 7/14/01)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-7.0 (10 starts)

3. Shane Huffman (No. 84 John Morrell Dinner Bell Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-145
Regular Season Avg. Finish-8.3
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-10.8
Best Finish in 2004-1st (New Smyrna & Bristol)

Regular Season Review
The regular season didn't go according to plan for Huffman. After winning at New Smyrna in the second race of the season, Huffman went nine races before winning his second race of the season. But his win at Bristol has the defending champion headed in the right direction at the right time.

Jennerstown Preview
Huffman doesn't have the 40-point advantage going into Jennerstown like he did last year, so he doesn't have the luxury of having a bad race-or two-like he did in the Championship Series a year ago. But if he can win three of the five races as he did last year, the Championship Trophy may spend another year in Hickory, N.C.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-1st (9/29/01)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-12.75 (4 starts)

No. 4 Seeds

4. Mardy Lindley (No. 16 Hooters Air Ford)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-140
Regular Season Avg. Finish-9.9
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-11.4
Best Finish in 2004-1st (South Boston & Indianapolis Raceway Park)

Regular Season Review
Good News: Lindley won two of the first three races of the year. Bad News: Lindley averaged a 10.7 finish the remainder of the year. Lindley finished the season with a second-place run at Adirondack, but he dropped from second to fourth in points in the final five races.

Jennerstown Preview
Lindley's record at Jennerstown bodes well for his chances to return to his early-season form. In nine starts, Lindley has racked up two wins and seven top-10 finishes. Not to mention, Lindley is the current leader in laps led at Jennerstown with 493. In last season's championship opener, Lindley led the most laps, 117, and had a car capable of winning before tangling with Shane Huffman.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-1st (4/13/02 & 6/8/02)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-5.7 (9 starts)

4. Brad Rogers (No. 29 KellyCo. Heavy Hauling Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-140
Regular Season Avg. Finish-10.3
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-3.0
Best Finish-1st (Southern National)

Regular Season Review
The younger Rogers posted five top-five finishes, including his first win, in the last five races of the season. During that time, Rogers went from 13th in points to fourth and locked up the regular season Miller Lite Rookie of the Year title for the Southern Division. It was a far cry from the previous six races when Rogers posted an average finish of 17.5. If he can avoid such a bad-luck streak in the Championship Series, two Rogers could be vying for the title.

Jennerstown Preview
It will be his first time at Jennerstown. Well, almost. The Boger Brigade recently went and tested at the track in preparation for the BFGoodrich Tires 250.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-First Start at Track
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-First Start at Track

No. 5 Seeds

5. Joe Gaita (No. 42 US Insurance/Speedco Truck Lubes Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-135
Regular Season Avg. Finish-9.5
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-9.6
Best Finish-1st (Peach State)

Regular Season Review
When Gaita's car was destroyed during his lone win of the year at Peach State, it was microcosm of his season. Even when things were good, they were still bad. He stood second in points after the win at Peach State, but he was literally standing after Hickory when Gaita parted ways with Lamb & Robinson Motorsports. Darin Odle, owner of Odle Motorsports, stepped in and gave Gaita a ride for the rest of the year. Gaita finished seventh at Bristol in new ride.

Jennerstown Preview
Giata's new car owner may be his biggest asset at Jennerstown. While Gaita only has one top-10 finish in two starts at the half-mile track, Odle's cars have posted an average finish of 5.75 at Jennerstown.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-7th (10/5/02)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-12.0 (2 starts)

5. Gary St. Amant (No. 11 JEGS.com Chevrolet)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-135
Regular Season Avg. Finish-8.4
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-12.4
Best Finish-1st (Lake Erie)

Regular Season Review
St. Amant's goals were to win the Northern Division Rookie of the Year and finish in the top five in points. Mission accomplished. But by winning at Lake Erie, St. Amant raised expectations on himself. He drives by the motto: To finish first, you first must finish. It's probably safe to say that St. Amant might be the only driver using that philosophy in the Championship Series.

Jennerstown Preview
St. Amant's only ProCup start at Jennerstown is one he'd like to forget. He started 17th and finished 18th earlier this season.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-18th (5/31/03)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-18.0 (1 start)

No. 6 Seeds

6. Jay Fogleman (No. 4 Lucas Oil Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-130
Regular Season Avg. Finish-9.4
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-12.8
Best Finish-2nd (Ace)

Regular Season Review
Fogleman moved back to the Southern Division this year, but he didn't return to the familiar setting of victory lane. Fogleman posted his first winless season since 2000, but 2004 wasn't without bright spots. Fogleman posted six top-five finishes during the season. More importantly, Fogleman finished second at Motor Mile, eighth at Myrtle Beach, sixth at Mansfield and fifth at USA Int'l. A record like that in the Championship Series will put Fogleman near the head of the class.

Jennerstown Preview
Fogleman has posted six top-10 finishes in eight starts at Jennerstown. Although Fogleman hasn't won at Jennerstown, the Durham, N.C., driver has finished second on two occasions. The Short Track Shark would undoubtedly be pleased with another second-place finish this time around.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-2nd (10/5/02)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-7.6 (8 starts)

6. Danny Sammons (No. 97 HeartAttack Inc. Ford)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-130
Regular Season Avg. Finish-11.8
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-14.2
Best Finish-2nd (Salem)

Regular Season Review
Sammons made great strides in his driving this season, but the 20-year-old driver was plagued by engine failures, recording four DNFs. In the events Sammons was around at the end, he averaged a fifth-place finish.

Jennerstown Preview
Sammons needs to rid his ride of gremlins before Jennerstown. A DNF in the Championship opener will kill his chances of contending for the title. Sammons, Jeff Agnew and Jason McLellan are the only drivers to have started 10 races at Jennerstown. Despite his knowledge of the layout, Sammons has only posted two top-10 finishes at Jennerstown. Sammons, however, posted his best finish at Jennerstown earlier this season by coming home sixth.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-6th (5/29/04)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-18.7 (10 starts)

No. 7 Seeds

7. Billy Bigley Jr. (No. 25 Peerless Woodworking Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-130
Regular Season Avg. Finish-8.8
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-8.8
Best Finish-4th (Music City and Southern National)

Regular Season Review
It was the tale of two seasons for Bigley. For most of the year, Bigley couldn't qualify, averaging a 20.4-qualifying position. In the final three races, however, Bigley averaged a 7.3-starting spot. Regardless of where he started, Bigley was around the front at the end of most events, finishing in the top 10 eight times.

Jennerstown Preview
Bigley has never raced at Jennerstown. But as long the track has corners and a straightaway, he should be just fine.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-First Start at Track
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-First Start at Track

7. Joel Kauffman (No. 44 LA West Chevrolet)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-126
Regular Season Avg. Finish-10.1
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-12.0
Best Finish-1st (Salem)

Regular Season Review
For those who don't believe in the sophomore slump, contact Joel Kauffman. With all the ingredients in place for a banner year, Kauffman has been unable to move into contender status each week. The Mooresville, N.C., driver did join Danny O'Quinn Jr. as the youngest drivers since Brian Vickers to win a ProCup event when he won at Salem at 19-years-old. But after his win, Kauffman didn't finish inside the top five in the remaining seven races. His struggles started in the Championship Series last year, so maybe he can right the ship in the Championship Series this season.

Jennerstown Preview
Kauffman was impressive in his first career start at Jennerstown in 2003, starting second and finishing eighth. He qualified for 11th for the Championship Series race last season, but the 19-year-old driver finished 18th. This year, Kauffman broke on Lap 118 and finished 20th.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-8th (4/12/03)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-15.3 (3 starts)

No. 8 Seeds

8. Glenn Gault (No. 32 American Title and Trust Chevrolet)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-122
Regular Season Avg. Finish-10.8
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-13.6
Best Finish-2nd (Mansfield)

Regular Season Review
Gault blistered through the middle portion of the season, recording two top-fives and four top 10s in five races and vaulting him to sixth in the Northern Division points. Unfortunately for Gault, he couldn't maintain the momentum in the final three races as he dropped to eighth in the final standings by posting three DNFs in a row.

Jennerstown Preview
Gault doesn't have the best record at Jennerstown. In seven starts, Gault's best finish is 10th, which came earlier this year. If he can return to his midseason form, Gault could better that finish.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-10th (15/29/04)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-19.2 (7 starts)

8. Danny O'Quinn Jr. (No. 02 Homesteader Trailer Chevrolet)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-122
Regular Season Avg. Finish-9.2
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-9.8
Best Finish-1st (Lonesome Pine)

Regular Season Review
O'Quinn Jr. had a storybook race at Lonesome Pine early in the year. In front of his hometown fans, O'Quinn Jr. picked up his first ever win in ProCup. Later in the year, O'Quinn put together dominating runs at Peach State and Southern National, but the 19-year-old was unable to get win No. 2. Although O'Quinn Jr. didn't get his second win, he showed that he can run with- and sometimes outrun- the best in the Southern Division.

Jennerstown Preview
After picking up his first pole, O'Quinn Jr. looked to be en route to his first win last year at Jennerstown in the Championship Series opener. But O'Quinn ran out of fuel and was swept up in an accident late in the race.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-36th (5/29/04)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-36.0 (1 start)

No. 9 Seeds

9. David Pletcher (No. 51 RaceFansDating.com Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-118
Regular Season Avg. Finish-14.8
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-13.8
Best Finish-2nd (Peach State)

Regular Season Review
Pletcher's season was a bit of a rollercoaster. He finished inside the top five more times this season than he did in the previous five seasons. But despite picking up five top-five finishes, Pletcher finished 29th or worse on four occasions during the regular season. If he can eliminate the problems, Pletcher can be a frontrunner at any track.

Jennerstown Preview
Pletcher won't have much to draw from at Jennerstown. He's made one start and finished last after making just 46 laps.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-40th (5/31/03)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-40.0 (1 start)

9. Brian Ross (No. 68 Nergy Drink Ford)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-108
Regular Season Avg. Finish-12.4
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-15.0
Best Finish-3rd (Lonesome Pine)

Regular Season Review
Before leaving Odle, Ross posted three top-five finishes. After leaving Odle, Ross' best finish was a sixth at Illiana. The paring with Premiere Motorsports has potential, but don't expect the other drivers to wait for the potential to bud in the Championship Series.

Jennerstown Preview
Ross' best chance at a win will be at Jennerstown. In seven starts, Ross has a win, six top-10 finishes and a pole.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-1st (4/12/03)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-5.75 (7 starts)

No. 10 Seeds

10. Matt Carter (No. 22 HeavyTruckDealers.com Ford)
Regular Season Division-South
Championship Series Points-114
Regular Season Avg. Finish-11.8
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-12.8
Best Finish-4th (Bristol and Peach State)

Regular Season Review
Carter didn't have a bad rookie season, but he was caught by Brad Rogers late in the season. After posting three finishes outside the top 15, Carter dropped from eighth to 11th in the points. Carter still can win the overall ROTY title, but he needs to knock out some top-five finishes in the Championship Series to do so.

Jennerstown Preview
Carter doesn't have any seat time under race conditions, but his team does. RBR won the first USAR race held at Jennerstown with Stacy Puryear behind the wheel. RBR tested at Jennerstown with Carter, and they will be ready to race.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-First Start at Track
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-First Start at Track

10. Joe Harrison Jr. (No. 57 KARNAC.com Chevrolet)
Regular Season Division-North
Championship Series Points-114
Regular Season Avg. Finish-16.5
Last Five Races Avg. Finish-19.4
Best Finish-7th (Salem)

Regular Season Review
Harrison Jr. does the most with the least out of any team in the HPC Series. He travels light and tight, but he makes it to all the races. The $300 per race bonus money next season for finishing in the top 10 in points will go a long way to helping Harrison Jr. keep going.

Jennerstown Preview
Harrison Jr. is going to have to pick up the pace in the Championship Series. He averaged a 17.5 starting position in the regular season, but that may not cut it in the final five races. With 55 cars qualified for the Championship Series, a poor qualifying effort will put him in provisional land. However, by virtue of his top-10 standing in the regular season, Harrison Jr. will have the benefit of two provisionals in the Championship Series.

Best Finish at Jennerstown-13th (5/29/04)
Avg. Finish at Jennerstown-13.0 (1 start)

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Series Stock car
Drivers Clay Rogers , Billy Bigley , Brian Vickers , Brian Ross , Joel Kauffman , Danny O'Quinn , Shane Huffman , Johnny R , Jeff Agnew