Clay Rogers Wins Rain-Delayed Charlie Campbell Memorial Miller Lite 250 Southern Champ Conquers Track, Competition with Victory Jennerstown, Pa.-Inevitably, when a driver climbs out of the car in Victory Lane, they're going to thank their...
Clay Rogers Wins Rain-Delayed Charlie Campbell Memorial Miller Lite 250
Southern Champ Conquers Track, Competition with Victory
Jennerstown, Pa.-Inevitably, when a driver climbs out of the car in Victory Lane, they're going to thank their team. For some, it's a stock statement without much thought behind it. But as tears welled up in Clay Rogers' eyes, the statement never seemed more poignant.
"I'm just happy to be with the race team that I'm with; I can't thank them enough," said Rogers, driver of the No. 44s Automotive Development Group Ford. "We've won races at probably two of my worst racetracks, Myrtle Beach and Jennerstown, this year, and that's just a testament to them."
After battling Benny Gordon, the Northern Division champion, for the lead in the middle stages of the race, Rogers slipped around the high side of Gordon on Lap 153 and led to the finish of the Charlie Campbell Memorial Miller Lite 250 presented by Predator Performance at Jennerstown Speedway, which concluded Sunday afternoon after persistent rain showers forced the postponement on Saturday night.
The victory was Rogers' first win at the .522-mile track and his fifth win of the season. More importantly, Rogers, who won the Southern Division title, pushed his point lead from 18 to 81 with four races remaining in the Championship Series.
"I told the team if we could get out of Jennerstown with the points lead, we'd just have to run smart the rest of the year," said Rogers, who climbed to fifth in all-time wins with his 13th Pro Cup victory. "You don't want [to win the title] through other people's misfortune, but due to these other people having problems this weekend, it looks good for us."
And it wasn't just one of Rogers' competition for the title that had problems at Jennerstown. Five of the top 10 runners were involved in an accident on Lap 22.
After Dange Hanniford lost an engine going into Turn 3 and dropped oil in the groove, race-leader Benny Gordon ducked low to avoid the oil, but Johnny Rumley, Jody Lavender, Matt Carter, Lonnie Rush Jr. and Joey Logano all piled into the wall, ending their chances at a win.
"I saw Benny dart to the left at place that he usually wouldn't make that move," said Rogers, who was right behind the melee. "It immediately made me think that something was happening. When Benny jerked left to get out of the oil, Johnny was already in it. I saw them all start spinning, and it gave me the opportunity to see the oil and go straight across it without turning the wheel or using any brakes or gas. I slid through it, but I was able to maintain the car."
Gordon was also able to keep his car underneath him and held the lead until rain showers forced the postponement of the race on Lap 49 until Sunday afternoon.
Once the race restarted at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Gordon and Rogers continued their season-long battle at the front of the field. Rogers pressured Gordon for the lead before both came to pit road on Lap 78.
Gordon won the race off pit road, but Rogers was right behind the No. 66n Predator Performance Ford as they climbed back to the front of the field. After several attempts to slip past Gordon for the lead, Rogers finally used the high line to sweep around the Northern Division Champion on Lap 153. But Gordon didn't go quietly.
The DuBois, Pa., driver tucked in behind Rogers and waited for a mistake by the race leader. Rogers didn't make a mistake, but Gordon was taken out by one.
After a restart on Lap 167, Trevor Bayne, trying to get back on the lead lap, slipped up the track and clipped Gordon going into Turn 1. The contact sent Gordon's car hard into the outside wall, ending his day and possibly his title chances.
Even with many of the heavy hitters on the sideline, Rogers couldn't just cruise to victory as his former teammate, A.J. Frank, began to turn up the wick. Running the quickest times in the field, Frank climbed to second place on Lap 218 and pulled to the bumper of Rogers. But as the race was about to restart on Lap 235, Frank's car ran out of fuel and came to a stop on the backstretch.
"I really don't understand how we could all pit at the same time and I ran out with 18 laps to go and they made it the whole way. That just blows my mind." said a disappointed Frank, driver of the No. 11n J. Holden Construction Pontiac. "That's racing, I guess. But it feels good to be back up front and challenging for the win against a class act like Clay Rogers. We've got a bunch volunteer help on our team, and we were able to compete, and actually have the best car there at the end, against these teams that get to do this for a living. This is a major accomplishment for Bullet Racing."
Just finishing was a major accomplishment for Shelby Howard.
Howard, driver of the No. 20n Speedco/Tony Stewart Racing Pontiac, moved to second place with Frank out of the fray. And while he didn't have anything for Rogers over final laps and finished .736 seconds behind, Howard was happy that he even crossed the finish line.
"The car got a vibration so bad I couldn't even see," said Howard, who jumped to third in the standings, 83 behind Rogers. "Right at the end of the race, we were having problems with the ignition. I was cutting back and forth between the boxes and it would kick back on. We only had about 30 laps of practice, and all these guys came here and tested. We got the car pretty darn good, and I'm happy to come out of here with second place."
Mart Nesbitt was another driver ecstatic about his podium finish. Nesbitt, who hadn't posted a top five all season, came from 20th to finish third at Jennerstown.
"We got strung out trying to do two deals this season," said Nesbitt, who also fields a car for Michelle Theriault. "We elected to miss some races and get our act together, and it's worked out for us. I don't know if we're a title contender yet, but I think we're a top-10 team."
Nesibtt's run pushed him to ninth in the point standings, 146 behind Rogers.
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 72n JEGS.com Chevrolet, rebounded from a mechanical failure at Iowa Speedway to post a fourth-place finish at Jennerstown.
Michael Ritch, who finished 20th in the championship-opener at Iowa, brought his No. 28s Jackaroo Sauces Ford home in fifth place at Jennerstown.
Gordon finished 32nd after leading a 108 laps, but he did pick up five bonus points for being the Greased Lightning Super Strength Performer for leading the most laps and five more points for leading the Lucas Oil Halfway Lap. With the bonus points, Gordon only fell to fourth in the standings with the 32nd-place finish.
Jack Bailey, driver of the No. 93n Ferguson Waterworks Ford, started 37th at Jennerstown, but he marched to sixth at the finish and picked up the Aaron's Hard Charger Award.
Justin Hobgood, driver of the No. 16s Naturally Fresh Ford, came home seventh and grabbed the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award for the second straight race.
Fellow rookie Derek Kale, driver of the No. 22n Heritage Equipment Pontiac, followed Hobgood across the finish line in eighth.
Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38 E.M. Wallace Contractors, finished ninth, and Frank rallied to finish 10th after running out of fuel.
The Miller Lite 250 featured five lead changes among five drivers and was slowed 13 times for 87 laps of caution.
Miller Lite 250 Notebook
With nearly 30 teams testing on Thursday and Friday at Jennerstown, coupled with the rain-delayed race, some teams were feeling the effects of the long weekend after Miller Lite 250.
"It feels like a [Nextel] Cup weekend," said Blake Bainbridge, crew chief for Clay Rogers. "But we don't get to fly home on a jet and eat dinner at our house tonight."
Resolve a Must
On Lap 41, Woody Howard's title hopes appeared to have gone up in a shower of sparks. Howard, who came in second in points, was forced to pit road after he bounced his No. 55 Dean Motorsports Chevrolet off the wall. Howard only lost one lap while his team repaired the damage, and he was able to get that lap back on Sunday and came back to finish 13th in the Miller Lite 250.
"The guys worked as hard as they could," said Howard. "After the way things started, we'll take [13th]. I don't think that puts us too far out of the point lead. It could have been worse."
Howard maintained second in points, 81 behind Gordon.
In the racing world, excuses are often more common than Klingons at a Trekkie convention. But every now and then, the truth flows freely, especially when it's coming from Justin Hobgood.
When asked about a bent ball joint on his No. 16 Naturally Fresh Ford, Hobgood replied: "It was the driver's fault. I got on the outside of somebody and I couldn't judge the wall. I hit the wall and bent ball joint, so we had to race with it like that."
Hobgood was able wrangle the ill-tempered machine to a seventh-place finish and Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors. The former Goody's Dash competitor also took over the lead in the rookie points by 11 markers over Derek Kale.
Benny Gordon's lap of 19.047 seconds at 98.661 mph was good enough for the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award in the Miller Lite 250 and the fast lap also gave him nine poles for the season, breaking the single-season record of eight held by Jason Sarvis (2002), Johnny Rumley (2004) and Shane Huffman (2003).