USAR: Iowa CS: Championship breakdown

The Championship Breakdown Myrtle Beach, S.C.-It's the time of year that Hooters Pro Cup Series fans live for: The Championship Series. Fifty-six drivers have qualified for the final six-race shootout to determine the 2006 Hooters Pro...

The Championship Breakdown

Myrtle Beach, S.C.-It's the time of year that Hooters Pro Cup Series fans live for: The Championship Series.

Fifty-six drivers have qualified for the final six-race shootout to determine the 2006 Hooters Pro Cup 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 Soy Biodiesel 250, at Iowa Speedway on Sept. 15.

Drivers who attempted to qualify for all of their division's races were awarded a 10-point bonus, and 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 an Iowa Speedway preview.

1. Benny Gordon (No. 66n Predator Performance Ford)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 190
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 5.2
Races Led: 11
Laps Led: 1243
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 10
Best Finish in 2005: 1st (Shenandoah, Mansfield, ORP, Lake Erie and Motor Mile)

Regular Season Review
To start the year, Benny Gordon was on pace to dismantle the Northern Division field, building nearly a 400-point lead over Jeff Agnew with three races remaining. But it turned out that Gordon would need nearly every bit of that lead as he stumbled down the stretch, posting finishes of 11th, 20th and 16th in the final three races. If you look at his season as whole, Gordon's season was still one of the best in Pro Cup history. His 5.2-average finish bested his 9.4-average finish during last year's championship season.

Iowa Preview
Iowa is big for Gordon and his Predator Performance teammates. While Gordon salvaged his late-season slump with a second-place run at Bristol, a bad finish, or a DNF, could send Gordon into a post-season spiral.

1. Clay Rogers (No. 44s Automotive Development Group Ford)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 190
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 7.69
Races Led: 12
Laps Led: 1078
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 10.1
Best Finish in 2005: 1st (South Boston, Peach State, Myrtle Beach and Hickory)

Regular Season Review
When Clay Rogers' Busch Series plans didn't pan out at the start of the year, many wondered what Clay Rogers would show up in 2006. Answer: The best one. In what could've been the most competitive Southern Division season in the Pro Cup annuals, Rogers took the point lead in the fourth race of the season and never looked back. The 25-year-old hotshoe had four mechanical failures during the season, but, in the other 11 events, he averaged a second-place finish.

Iowa Preview
Rogers will be a favorite for several reasons when the Pro Cup teams roll into the Iowa Speedway. First, he's been a force to reckon with every time he's been in competition all season. Second, Rogers' years as a part-time Busch and Craftsman Truck driver give him plenty of notes for a track like Iowa.

2. Jeff Agnew (No. 73n Mark IV Honda/Team 7 Ford)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 150
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 8.85
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 408
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 9.4
Best Finish in 2005: 1st (Lonesome Pine and Salem)

Regular Season Review
Like 2005, Agnew was fast every week in the Northern Division this year, but the inconsistency that plagued him last year carried over as well. Four or five times this season, Agnew had a car capable of winning only to have a pit miscue or accident cost him.

Iowa Preview
Most drivers say the one with the most gumption will walk away as the winner at Iowa. If that's the case, Agnew will be considered a favorite. With the multiple grooves featured at Iowa, Agnew could overcome a problem in the pits and still work his way back to the front.

2. Shane Huffman (No. 88s Champion Spark Plugs Chevrolet)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 140
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 9.75
Races Led: 10
Laps Led: 757
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 6.8
Best Finish in 2005: 1st (Montgomery, Concord, USA Int'l and Peach State)

Regular Season Review
Huffman's regular season wasn't as dominant as his nine-win season of a year ago, but it was still pretty good. Huffman won four times during the regular season and led 757 laps, second only to Rogers.

Iowa Preview
The best part of Huffman's season was his long-awaited promotion to Busch Series with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports team. Huffman's promotion was bittersweet for the Hooters Pro Cup Series fans. On one hand, after making 133 starts in the Hooters Pro Cup Series, it was odd not seeing Huffman in the starting lineup at USA Int'l Speedway. On the other, there's probably no other driver in the country more deserving of a shot at the big time. Good luck Shane!

3. Shelby Howard (No. 20n Speedco/Tony Stewart Racing Pontiac)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 145
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 10.36
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 302
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 8.4
Best Finish in 2005: 1st (Jennerstown, South Boston and Madison)

Regular Season Review
Shelby Howard was once a rising star in the world of racing. And after his three-win season this year, Howard proved he can still shine. In a championship-caliber field at Jennerstown, Howard picked up his first Hooters Pro Cup Series win. The 21-year-old driver added back-to-back wins to close the regular season, pushing him to third in final points.

Iowa Preview
Howard has plenty of big-track experience, so racing on the .875-mile layout in Iowa shouldn't be that much of a chore. The team added Chris Rice, former Kevin Harvick Inc. crew chief, to the fold late in the year, and it paid immediate dividends. This team is on a roll heading into Iowa.

3. Bobby Gill (No. 06s USG Sheetrock Ford)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 145
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 8.31
Races Led: 6
Laps Led: 397
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 7.4
Best Finish in 2005: 1st (Southern National)

Regular Season Review
It's hard to say that Gill's season was one of his best. After all, he's won 12 races in a season before. But Gill's '06 regular season put him back on the map as a legitimate title contender. He only picked up one win, but he finished every event and his 8.31-average finish is second only to Clay Rogers in the entire series.

Iowa Preview
Bobby Gill claims that he has no problem at any track, so he should be good at Iowa. Gill's also great at turning a fifth-place car into a second-place one. He might not win at Iowa, but he'll leave there in title contention.

4. Jack Bailey (No. 93n Ferguson Waterworks/RHR Ford)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 140
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 7.0
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 163
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 7.8
Best Finish in 2005: 2nd (Lonesome Pine)

Regular Season Review
Bailey was a pleasant surprise in the Northern Division. He went from a virtual unknown in the series to a frontrunner right off the bat. At season's end, Bailey posted five top-five finishes and eight top-10s in 12 starts. In the middle part of the season, Bailey had a car capable of winning a race, but circumstances didn't allow that to happen.

Iowa Preview
Bailey didn't limp across the finish line at the end of the season, but he wasn't as good as he was in the middle stages of the season. His team has had weeks to regroup for the Championship Series, and he feels like they're a championship-capable team. Iowa should be a good track for Bailey, due in part to his Craftsman Truck Series experience and his recent test at Iowa.

4. Shane Wallace (No. 38s EM Wallace Contractors Ford)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 140
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 9.83
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 221
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 5.8
Best Finish in 2005: 2nd (South Georgia Motorsports Park)

Regular Season Review
Shane Wallace showed this season that he's matured as a driver. He's still fiery, but he's learned how to harness that energy and turn it into a positive. Wallace nabbed seven top-five finishes in 12 starts and stayed in the top four in points all season. He's still seeking that elusive first win, but running in the top five each week greatly increases his chances of a breakout win.

Iowa Preview
Wallace is another driver that has Busch and Craftsman Truck experience to fall back on at Iowa. Wallace thinks it should race a lot like Richmond, but Jack Bailey says it's more like a small Michigan or California. If so, that should bode well for Wallace. In 2003, Wallace finished 18th at California in the Busch Series.

5. Woody Howard (No. 55n Dean Motorsports Chevrolet)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 135
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 8.46
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 250
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 7.8
Best Finish in 2005: 2nd (Salem Speedway)

Regular Season Review
If you compare Howard's rookie campaign to this year, it may seem he slipped a little during his sophomore season. In his rookie campaign, Howard went to victory lane on three occasions and finished third in points. This year, he didn't win and finish fifth in points. But if you take away the wins in his rookie season, Howard's regular season was nearly identical. He averaged an 8.3 finish in '05 to an 8.4 in '06. He led 293 laps in '05 and 250 in '06.

Iowa Preview
Last year, Howard checked out on the field in the opening Championship Series event at Jennerstown only to bounce off the wall after cutting a right front. If Howard can open the Championship Series with a top-five finish this year, he'd be ahead of last year when he finished fourth in overall points.

5. Joey Logano (No. 51s Joe Gibbs Racing Oil Chevrolet)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 135
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 11.62
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 145
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 8.6
Best Finish in 2005: 1st (South Georgia and USA Int'l)

Regular Season Review
Logano got his season started out with a bang with a win in the second event of the year at South Georgia, but several personnel changes slowed the team in the middle part of the year. In the last few races, however, Logano has been one of the fastest drivers on the track. If he can avoid trouble, Logano could realistically win the Hooters Pro Cup title at 16 years old.

Iowa Preview
Don't expect Iowa's size to scare Logano. The 16-year-old driver led ARCA testing at Michigan by touring the two-mile track at 181.818 mph. He should feel right at home and be a contender.

6. A.J. Frank (No. 11n QuarterMaster/J. Holden Pontiac)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 130
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 10.08
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 40
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 8.2
Best Finish in 2005: 3rd (Lake Erie and Salem)

Regular Season Review
Last year, Frank started out strong and faded at the finish of the regular season. This year, Frank reversed that trend, moving from 20th in points at the start of the season to sixth in the final Northern Division standings. Once Frank and Bullet Racing unveiled their Predator chassis, he knocked out four top-five finishes in the final six races.

Iowa Preview
Frank has seen tracks as large as Iowa during his time in the NASCAR's Elite Division and in the Busch Series. His team's peaking at the right time and should be good at Iowa.

6. Jay Fogleman (No. 4s Greased Lightning Ford)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 130
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 11.08
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 10.0
Best Finish in 2005: 3rd (South Boston)

Regular Season Review
Fogleman's regular season got off to a rocky start, but the veteran got things turned around in the middle part of the year by posting four top-five finishes in a six race span that pushed him from 10th to sixth in the standings. Fogleman ended the season with a strong run at USA Int'l Speedway and is poised to keep the momentum going.

Iowa Preview
Fogleman isn't likely to force the issue at Iowa. He's been around long enough to know that you can't win the title in the first race of the Championship Series, but you can certainly lose it. Expect him to be in the top 10.

7. Johnny Rumley (No. 80n Champion Chevrolet)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 126
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 9.92
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 31
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 12.6
Best Finish in 2005: 1st (Kil-Kare)

Regular Season Review
Johnny Rumley's regular season was great, considering the Mark Huff-owned team ran most of the season without a primary sponsor. Rumley's win at Kil-Kare was the feel-good story of the year. Although he didn't contend for another win, Rumley posted five top-five and nine top-10 finishes this year.

Iowa Preview
The thought of Johnny Rumley in the Dale Jr.-owned No. 80n Champion Chevrolet may be the most anticipated scenario of the Championship Series. Rumley is an old-school racer with a take-no-prisoners style of driving that should fit well with the JR Motorsports team. He's got the talent, now he's got the equipment as well. He should shine at Iowa.

7. Trevor Bayne (No. 29s McDonald's Ford)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 126
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 13.08
Race Led: 2
Laps Led: 35
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 13.2
Best Finish in 2005: 4th (USA Int'l and Myrtle Beach)

Regular Season Review
Just when everyone thought Joey Logano was the best 15-year-old driver ever, in steps Trevor Bayne. While Bayne didn't match Logano's success during his rookie season, he did gain the respect of his veteran competitors and grab the Southern Division Rookie of the Year. He only posted two top-five finishes, but he finished all but 54 laps during the regular season.

Iowa Preview
Like Logano, Bayne won't be intimidated by Iowa Speedway. The last time Bayne went to an intimidating track, Bristol, he paced practice, led 31 laps and had a shot to win the race.

8. Eric Corbett (No. 75n Larry & Sons Ford)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 122
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 10.42
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 11.4
Best Finish in 2005: 4th (Salem)

Regular Season Review
By all accounts, Corbett had a solid regular season. He started the season by posting four top-10 finishes in the first five races and then upped that production by finishing in the top-five three times. The only blemish on Corbett's late-season charge was his 28th-place finish at South Boston, but that finish is misleading. Corbett had a car capable of winning the race when his engine expired.

Iowa Preview
Corbett's knack for driving a car with the front end missing won't go over well at Iowa Speedway. While still a short track, Iowa Speedway will still be fast enough to make aero an issue.

8. Michael Ritch (No. 28s Jackaroo Sauces Ford)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 122
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 18.23
Races Led: 6
Laps Led: 122
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 9.4
Best Finish in 2005: 3rd (Hickory and USA Int'l)

Regular Season Review
Michael Ritch's regular season can best be described as schizophrenic. He started the season with a third-place run and promptly posted an average finish of 27 over the next seven events. At the end of the season, Ritch reeled off four top-10 finishes, including three top-5s, to move from 20th to eighth in the final standings.

Iowa Preview
Ritch's late-season surge has moved him into contender status. And he's got 35 starts in the Busch Series, which should help at Iowa. Look for him to be up front, unless the early-season Ritch shows up.

9. Gary St. Amant (No. 72n JEGS.com Chevrolet)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 118
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 13.25
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 20
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 5.4
Best Finish in 2005: 4th (Mansfield and Madison)

Regular Season Review
St. Amant got a late start with his new team, and it showed at the start of the year. In the first five races, St. Amant only had one top-10 finish and averaged a 19th-place finish. After that, St. Amant and his Tatman Motorsports team found their stride by knocking out five top-five finishes in the final seven races. In the final two races at South Boston and Madison, St. Amant had a car that could've won both events.

Iowa Preview
St. Amant had a chance to win the Pro Cup title last season by being consistent in the Championship Series and that should carry over into Iowa. He may not contend for the win, but he'd take a top-10 finish and head to Jennerstown a happy man.

9. Wayne Willard (No. 01s Bowen Family Homes Chevrolet)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 118
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 15
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 19
Best Finish in 2005: 2nd (USA Int'l)

Regular Season Review
When Wayne Willard skipped the Championship Series last year to get better prepared for '06, most people thought he was crazy. But in the end, Willard had the last laugh. His Bowen Family Homes team has emerged as a legitimate threat to win races and, possibly, a title. Willard's best finish of the season (2nd) came in the last regular-season race and pushed him to ninth in the final standings.

Iowa Preview
The addition of Keith Hinkein as a crew chief has been a blessing for Willard and will help at Iowa. Hinkein has been around along time and is meticulous in his preparation.

10. Lonnie Rush Jr. (No. 71n Ray Skillman Auto Pontiac)

Regular Season Division: North
Championship Series Points: 114
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 15.05
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 100
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 15.2
Best Finish in 2005: 6th (Salem)

Regular Season Review
Lonnie Rush Jr.'s season was a bit like Johnny Rumley's, except for winning a race. Rush's team doesn't have the biggest budget, but he gets the most out of his equipment. At times, he's been accused to trying to get too much and costing himself a top-10 finish. Overall, Rush posted four top-10 finishes en route to his top-10 finish in points.

Iowa Preview
Lonnie Rush Jr. has never been one to shy away from going fast, so Iowa may be just up his alley. However, he'll need to tone it down a touch to make it to the finish.

10. Jody Lavender (No. 84s H&R Block Ford)

Regular Season Division: South
Championship Series Points: 114
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 13.46
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 25
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 12.0
Best Finish in 2005: 4th (Peach State)

Regular Season Review
Lavender's season was solid, but it was a little less than what he probably expected. At times, Lavender showed he could run at the front, but those kinds of runs were few and far between. In the fourth race of the year, Lavender finished fourth. He backed it up with a fifth-place effort in the six race of the season. But after that, Lavender's best finish the remainder of the season was an eighth-place showing.

Iowa Preview
Lavender is going to need a spark to push him back into contention for the overall title. Iowa might not be the place he gets it going. But if he can leave there with a top-five finish, it would be a good start to the Championship Series.

-credit: usar

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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Clay Rogers , Trevor Bayne , Shelby Howard , Jody Lavender , Jack Bailey , Shane Huffman , Joey Logano , A.J. Frank , Johnny R , Jeff Agnew
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing , JR Motorsports