USAR: Hickory: Race report

Clay Rogers Wins Ingles 250 Hickory, NC - Clay Rogers wasn't on the track, or even in his car, when the checkered flag fell in the Ingles 250 on Saturday night. Nevertheless, the Southern Division point leader was able to pick up his third...

Clay Rogers Wins Ingles 250

Hickory, NC - Clay Rogers wasn't on the track, or even in his car, when the checkered flag fell in the Ingles 250 on Saturday night. Nevertheless, the Southern Division point leader was able to pick up his third win of 2004.

Rogers took the lead away from Greg Marlowe on Lap 130 and led until the rains came on Lap 193, forcing the conclusion of the Ingles 250 presented by Tucson at Hickory Motor Speedway 57 laps shy of the scheduled distance.

"It feels good to beat Shane at his home track, it's kind of like beating Jeff Gordon on a road course," said Rogers, who was nearly two seconds clear of Huffman when the caution flew. "Everybody knows he's got the car to beat when we come to [Hickory]...We lost some points in the last few races, but we got on the ball and found some things to make the car faster. I think this will get us back in the rhythm like we were in at the start of the year."

That rhythm had a double-time beat at Hickory.

And the rain didn't give Rogers the win; it merely shortened what seemed to be a forgone conclusion.

From the start, Rogers, who won $1,000 for being the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award winner, was able to break free of hometown favorite Shane Huffman and maintain comfortable leads over the pack in the first 50 laps.

Huffman closed on Rogers in heavy-traffic situations, but Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Johnny's Suzuki/Baird Auto Transport Ford, would ease away with clear racetrack as the race approached the 100-lap mark.

However, Huffman, driver of the No. 84 John Morrell Dinner Bell Ford and Bobby Gill, driver of the No. 5 U.S. Insurance Group Ford, started to close on Rogers by Lap 105. The three leaders were within car lengths of each other when caution waved on lap 117.

All of the lead-lap cars, with the exception of Marlowe and Jody Lavender, who both made earlier stops, came to pit road on Lap 119.

Joe Gaita won the race off pit road, and Rogers exited second. Huffman followed Rogers off pit road, but Gill was nowhere to be seen among the leaders. Gill dropped outside the top 10 after the stop. Matt Carter, driver of the No. 22 Ford, also had problems on the stop.

Carter exited the pits behind Rogers, but the Denver, N.C., driver had to return to the attention of his crew after making contact with Huffman while exiting his pit stall.

Once the green flag waved on Lap 123, Rogers needed just seven laps to bypass Gaita, Lavender and Marlowe. Huffman followed Rogers to the front, but the Hickory native wasn't able to pressure Rogers down the stretch.

"It was my fault," said Huffman. "I told the crew to take a spring rubber out, and the car just was too free after the pit stop. Track position was the key in the first part of the race. But after I got the car too free, Clay was better in the second half."

While Huffman struggled in the waning laps, Jay Fogleman, driver of the No. 4 Lucas Oil Ford, rumbled into contention.

Fogleman vaulted into third place after the halfway mark and stayed there until the race was called.

"We made a few little changes on the pit stop and were able to pick up some speed," said Fogleman. "We were just a little too tight to run with [Clay], but I think I could have done something with [Shane] if the rain didn't come."

The rain also thwarted the charge of several other drivers. After losing several positions in the pits, Gill and Carter tried to knife their way back toward the front before the deluge.

Carter went from 14th to fifth, while Gill made it from 13th to seventh in the final 50-lap run.

"We had a good car, but we fell back few positions at the start," said Carter. "We came in to pit, and when they dropped the jack, [Huffman] backed up. We knocked in the left front and had to come back in to fix the damage. We started at the tail end of the lead lap, and we made it back to fifth. The car was awesome. I thought I might have something for the leaders without the rain."

Carter's finish was good enough to move him back into the top 10 in points, but it was not good enough for Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors.

Brad Rogers was the highest finishing rookie in the field for the fourth time in nine races. Brad finished fourth and picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race.

"We're building up a lot of momentum at the right time of the year," said Rogers, driver of the No. 29 KellyCo Heavy Hauling Ford. "I'm extremely happy with the way things are going at the racetrack and in the shop. Hopefully, we've got all the bad luck out of the way."

The younger Rogers moved from 10th to eighth in points with his third top-five finish in the last four races.

Michael Ritch, driver of the No. 28 Jackaroo Pontiac, climbed from 20th to sixth at the finish and picked up $500 for being the Hard Charger.

Gill finished seventh and Mike Laughlin Jr., driver of the No. 7 Tucson Ford, came home eighth. Greg Marlowe, who picked up $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader, finished ninth in his No. 07 Sea Doo Chevrolet.

Danny O'Quinn Jr., driver of the No. 02 Homesteader Trailers Chevy, rounded out the top 10.

The race was slowed seven times for 61 laps of caution.

High-Line Harry

Harry Gant was on hand to watch the Ingles 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway. The former Winston Cup competitor undoubtedly saw a familiar line being used at his old stomping ground. Although it was only used by one driver, the high line still has some life.

Michael Ritch went to the high side of the track early in the event and made his way toward the front of the field.

"Our car was way too tight after practice," said Ritch. "Most of the time a push like that doesn't get better. About seven laps into the race, I said, 'Here we go, and we're going to the high line.' It took a while for it to come in. But once it did, we had a decent car."

Rookie Battle Getting Heated

While Clay Rogers is fighting to for the Southern Division title, his younger brother, Brad, is dueling with Matt Carter for the Southern Division rookie title.

With four races left in the Southern Division, Brad holds a six-point lead over Carter in the rookie race.

Baker Back

Scott Baker, driver of the No. 66 Firebonz Ford, made his first start of the season in the Hooters ProCup Series. Baker, who is currently third in ASA Late Model points, qualified 11th and finished 20th. Despite finishing 20th, Baker, as usual, was all smiles after the event.

"I miss the ProCup Series," said Baker. "We were looking to put something together this year, but it just didn't happen. We qualified well, but we were just way too tight during the race. When it cooled off, it felt like I was driving the car with the emergency brake on. I'm glad I came here tonight. If we come back next year, I'll know more about the racetrack. We're going to play it by ear the rest of the year, and we may make some more starts."

Pletcher's Problems

David Pletcher, driver of the No. 51 Ford, was one of the hottest drivers in the Series prior to the Ingles 250, posting back-to-back third-place finishes in the recent weeks.

Pletcher's string of strong runs, however, stopped on Lap 104 when he lost power in Turn 1 and coasted to pit road. Pletcher finished last and dropped out of the top 10 in the point standings.

Decent Debut

Daniel Johnson made his first start in the No. 16 Naturally Fresh/ Charlotte Checks Cashiers Ford owned by Haskell Willingham in the Ingles 250. Johnson was third quick in the final practice session.

Johnson qualified 17th and roared into the top 10 once the green waved. Unfortunately, Johnson lost a lap in the pits and never was able to make it up.

Johnson was the first car one-lap down and finished 14th.


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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Clay Rogers , Jody Lavender , Danny O'Quinn , Harry Gant , Shane Huffman