USAR: Hickory: Race report

Rogers Calls Shot, Wins Lowes Foods 250 Rogers holds off Huffman at Historic Hickory Motor Speedway Hickory, N.C.-In stature, Clay Rogers and Babe Ruth have little in common. But as for "calling shots," the two seem to be equals. After being...

Rogers Calls Shot, Wins Lowes Foods 250

Rogers holds off Huffman at Historic Hickory Motor Speedway

Hickory, N.C.-In stature, Clay Rogers and Babe Ruth have little in common. But as for "calling shots," the two seem to be equals.

After being upstaged by Shane Huffman at Concord Motorsports Park earlier this year, Clay Rogers wanted to return the favor at Huffman's home track. And he did just that in the Lowes Foods 250 presented by Crane Cams on Saturday night.

Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Automotive Development Group Ford, took the lead on the round of pit stops and led all but one lap over the final 121 circuits en route to his fourth win of the season.

"Our car was little bit off in the first half, but we made some swings at it on the pit stop and got it better," said Rogers, who beat a hard- charging Huffman checkered flag by .380 seconds. "I went up [to the high groove] in the second half of the race. And once I got up there, I wasn't coming down."

It was the second time in as many races that Rogers had made good on a vow to get even. At Myrtle Beach Speedway on June 24, Rogers got the best of Benny Gordon, who had roughed Rogers up at Mansfield.

"I don't know what to say; Blake Bainbridge [crew chief] is making great calls and putting great cars under me," said Rogers, who extended his point lead over Huffman to 92 points with four race remaining in the regular season. "The guys are working well together. They still fuss, fight, argue and want to kill each other all the time, which means they are all getting along great."

Rogers' crew would showcase their peculiar companionship later in the race.

After starting seventh, Rogers spent most of the first half of the event chasing Huffman, who took the lead from Shane Wallace on Lap 54.

While Huffman, who started 10th, took command of the lead, the former HMS regular had his mirror full of Rogers for nearly 50 laps. Rogers nipped Huffman at the line on Lap 82 to pick up five bonus points, but Huffman eased back ahead on the next lap. As the lead duo fought hard for the top spot, Michael Ritch, who started 23rd, tracked down and blasted past both drivers in lapped traffic to take the lead on Lap 104.

Once Huffman, driver of the No. 88 Champion Spark Plugs Chevrolet, lost the top spot, he began to fall back through the field.

"I really lost a lot of forward bite in the first half," said Huffman, who dropped to seventh by Lap 135.

Ritch was having no such trouble.

Riding the rim of HMS, Ritch, driver of the No. 28 Jackaroo Sauces Ford, pulled away from Rogers until running into lapped traffic. Rogers and Ritch went three-wide around the lapped cars on numerous occasions and swapped the lead three times during a five-lap stretch. Ritch used a pick to slip by Rogers to lead the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Lap and held the lead until the field came to pit road under caution on Lap 135.

But that's when Rogers teammates took over, sending the '04 Pro Cup champ back on the track with the lead.

"Those guys have been practicing pit stops," said Rogers, "and it showed tonight."

Although Rogers didn't relinquish the lead down the stretch, he did have to keep Michael Ritch at bay.

Ritch, who exited pit road second, pressured Rogers on numerous occasions, but a rash of late-race cautions hurt the High Point, N.C., driver's chances in the final 100 laps.

"The cautions just ruined our chances," said Ritch. "The car just wouldn't run on green tires. It just took 10 or 11 laps before this car would actually start to come back in."

While Ritch waited for his car to come in, Huffman wasn't.

Huffman, who dropped outside the top 10 with just 100 laps remaining, blasted towards the front of the field and slipped past Ritch for second place at the finish line.

"I don't think anybody passed anymore cars than we did tonight," said Huffman, who led 49 lap of the first 105 laps. "We lost some spots on pit road, and then I got in the marbles and lost a few more spots.

"It's a shame. I think we had the best car in the second half of the race. I just wish we would have given ourselves a better shot."

Despite matching his season-best finish, Huffman's last-lap pass soured Ritch's mood.

"[Finishing third] was a shot in the arm for this team, but I'm just disappointed in myself for letting the [No.] 88 get by me," said Ritch, who broke a string of seven finishes outside the top-15. "I'm not complaining; I'm just down on myself."

However, Ritch's hard-charging effort allowed him to take home an extra $500 for being the Aaron's Hard Charger for advancing 20 positions.

Rogers led a race-high 122 laps to take the Greased Lightning Super Strength Performer Award and a $500 bonus.

Shane Wallace, who started from the Advance Auto Parts Pole, stayed steady all night and brought his No. 38 EM Wallace Construction Ford home in fourth.

Caleb Holman, driver of the No. 77 Food Country Chevrolet, rounded out the top five and picked up an extra $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race.

Joey Logano, driver of the No. 51 Joe Gibbs Racing Oil Chevrolet, finished sixth; Justin Hobgood, driver of the No. 16 Naturally Fresh Ford, finished seventh; Jody Lavender, driver of the No. 84 H&R Block Ford, came home eighth; Jeff Fultz, driver of the No. 54 C&C Boiler Pontiac, rebounded from and unscheduled stop to finish ninth; and Justin Wakefield, driver of the No. 89 Bandwagon Printing Ford, completed the top 10 in his Pro Cup debut.

The Lowes Foods 250 featured nine lead changes among five drivers and was slowed 13 times for 65 laps of caution.

Lowes Foods 250 Notebook

Perfect Match
Caleb Holman and his team believe they've found what they've been looking for. After years of one-off Busch starts, Holman, driver of the No. 77 Food Country Chevrolet, feels his team is finally on equal footing, and he's making the most of it. Holman finished sixth at Myrtle Beach and picked up his first top-five finish at Hickory.

"This whole team feels like we can run well here," said Holman. "I feel like we're on even ground. Charlie Henderson owns this car and he's been racing in the Busch Series for 30 years, but it's gotten where we can't compete there. Our equipment matches these guys.

"We've got a new Laughlin car ordered, and we're going to keep going until we win one of these things."

Seesaw Night
Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 29 McDonalds Ford, had his fair share of ups and downs during the Lowes Foods 250. Bayne qualified ninth and ran in the top five before backsliding and losing a lap. Undeterred, Bayne passed Clay Rogers later in the race to get back on the lead lap, but his chances at his third top-five finish in as many races went away during a late-race incident.

"It was kind of crazy out there," said Bayne, a 15-year-old rookie. "We were just going to ride around and let everyone use their stuff up and then try to charge to the front, but it didn't work out that way. On our pit stop, the jack fell and we lost a lap in the pits.

"We passed Clay Rogers and got our lap back, and I was pretty excited after that. We just started coming back through the field, trying to follow Shane Huffman, and I got bonsai-ed by somebody and it got me around. We were over from then on."

Despite his 14th-place showing, Bayne still leads the Southern Division Miller Lite Rookie of the Year standings by 66 points over Mike Mason.

After starting the season with three consecutive top-five finishes, Shane Wallace went into a tailspin, tallying finishes of ninth, 27th, 14th and 28th in the past four races. Wallace finally got back to his early-season form in the Lowes Foods 250, starting from the pole, leading 53 laps and coming home fourth.

"We stayed on the lead lap and got the car in one piece. Now we can just go back, clean it and get it ready, instead of stripping it and taking it to the paint shop," joked Wallace. "We had a good car tonight. I set the car up loose so I could go for the pole, and luckily we got it.

"I thought we'd have a lot of cautions, but we ran about 100 laps with one, and my car got real loose. We went too far with the adjustment and the car just wouldn't turn in the center, but we're learning. We've got a clean car, and I'm pretty proud of this team."

Sidelined Again
Mike Mason, driver of the No. 75 Watkins Engine Development Ford, has experienced a string of mechanical failures in recent weeks, and his bad luck continued in the Lowes Foods 250.

Mason qualified third and ran in the top-10 during the first half of the event. But on Lap 157, Mason's car limped to pit road after losing a transmission.

"The worst part of this is that we are running well and in position for a great finish when these things are happening to us," said Mason, who also fell out of the past two races at Lakeland, Fla. and Myrtle Beach, S.C. with mechanical problems while running in the Top-10. "This kind of stuff is hard to take, but I know we'll pull things back together and show up for the next race at Southern National. Hopefully, our luck will turn around there and we'll get the kind of finish this team should have earned in the last few of races."


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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Clay Rogers , Trevor Bayne , Jeff Fultz , Jody Lavender , Caleb Holman , Justin Hobgood , Shane Huffman , Joey Logano
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing