USAR: 2005 Rookie of the Year - Woody Howard

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself Miller Lite Rookie of the Year Revels in Spotlight Longs, SC-In the span of the year, Woody Howard has gone from relative obscurity in the Hooters Pro Cup Series to winning the Hooters Pro Cup Series Miller...

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself
Miller Lite Rookie of the Year Revels in Spotlight

Longs, SC-In the span of the year, Woody Howard has gone from relative obscurity in the Hooters Pro Cup Series to winning the Hooters Pro Cup Series Miller Lite Rookie of the Year Award and signing a deal with Joe Gibbs Racing.

"This year has been a blast," said Howard, driver of the No. 55n Dean Motorsports Chevrolet. "We didn't know we were even going to be running the whole season at first. It's been so fun driving for Jim Dean this year. He's the reason we are where we're at."

Dean is also the reason Howard is still driving. Prior to the start of the season, Howard's driving career was in limbo.

"I was looking for a real job," said Howard, who spent years competing in the Late Model Stock ranks at South Boston Speedway. "Jim Dean called up and asked if I'd be interested in running some Hooters Pro Cup races with him. It was getting to the point where we couldn't run our own team anymore in Late Models, and [Dean] wanted me to start running some Hooters Pro Cup races for him."

The Dean-Howard connection looked good on paper. After all, a seat in Dean's car has always been one of the most coveted in motorsports. Mark McFarland won the 2003 National Championship in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series driving Dean's car, while Denny Hamlin won countless races in the No. 99 Late Model around the Southeast. But the Hooters Pro Cup Series was new to Dean and Howard, and races are won on the track, not paper.

The potent pairing got a late start to the season, but it didn't show at first. Howard started on the outside of the front row in his first Pro Cup start at South Boston (Va.) Speedway and finished seventh. One race later, Howard brought the No. 55n Dean Motorsports Chevrolet in fifth at Lonesome Pine (Va.) Raceway. After two races, Howard was sitting fifth in points, and everything was going great. But that all changed at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

With the final practice coming to an end, Howard slammed the Turn 1 wall. Five minutes before qualifying for the Lucas Oil 200, Howard's car was still on jack stands. Without the luxury of a provisional, it was go fast or go home for Howard. The Miller Lite Rookie of the Year contender made it to the grid just in time and laid down the 19th-quickest time in qualifying. Despite making the show, Howard finished 12 laps down in 24th. Howard rebounded with an eighth-place finish at Jennerstown, but he finished 14th and ninth in the ensuing races.

"There was a point in the season that if we tore up another car, we were done," said Howard.

With Kil-Kare, a unique, .375-mile track, on the schedule next, Howard had reason to be worried. But Howard's concerns were quickly erased when he grabbed an upset win. The win was an upset at the time, but by the end of July, Howard had added two more wins and jumped to third in points.

"After the first race of the season, I felt like I could win some races," said Howard. "I didn't think we could win three, though. Our goal was to win the rookie of the year, but [after three wins] we we're thinking about the championship."

In the end, Howard came up short of the overall title, finishing fourth in the Championship Series, but he grabbed $59,000 in rookie bonuses and finished the season with $163,500 in winnings.

"This year was the most fun I've ever had driving a race car," said Howard. "We worked our butts off, but it was a blast. Next year, we're going to be more prepared at the start of the season, and I think we'll be title contenders."

Judging from what he accomplished this season, Howard's prognostication may not be too farfetched.

-usar-

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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Mark McFarland , Denny Hamlin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing