USAR: Lakeland CS: Race report, champion named

Gill Wins Four Champions Memorial Hooters 300, Rogers and Carter Take Titles Lakeland, FL-The Four Champions Memorial Hooters 300 presented by Advance Discount Auto Parts was everything that a season finale should be. The race, championship...

Gill Wins Four Champions Memorial Hooters 300, Rogers and Carter Take Titles

Lakeland, FL-The Four Champions Memorial Hooters 300 presented by Advance Discount Auto Parts was everything that a season finale should be.

The race, championship and rookie of the year battles went down to the last lap.

Bobby Gill and Jay Fogleman waged an epic battle for the win over the last 10 laps.

Officially, the veteran duo swapped the lead four times in the final laps, but those lead changes were measured at the start/finish line. Numerous times the two traded the lead-and paint-on each lap.

But as the intertwined pair throttled off of Turn 2 on the final lap, Fogleman, driver of the No. 4s Lucas Oil Ford, fell off the pace, and Gill cruised to his fifth win of the season and his 10th at USA Int'l Speedway.

"Those last 10 laps were hell," said Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Brand Ford. "I drove harder in those last 10 laps than I did all night long. We got into lapped traffic, and Jay hesitated. When he hesitated, I just filled the hole. Then, he rooted me out and got by me. Then, I rooted him out. He was trying to set me up for the last corner, but I guess he cut a tire down from banging on me so much."

Actually, Fogleman, who last pitted at Lap 190, ran out of gas.

"I had no idea we were that close [on fuel]," said Fogleman, who finished third after Shane Huffman slipped past on the last lap. "Man that was exciting. Bobby turned me sideways, and I knew it was time to play. Me and Bobby have raced long enough to know how to move you without wrecking you. He caught his car, and I caught mine a time or two. I'm just glad it wasn't a boring race for all the fans that stayed out here until [3 a.m.]."

After nearly a five-hour rain delay, the green flag waved at 12:15 a.m. on Sunday morning. And for the fans that stayed, it was well worth the wait.

Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 44s Ultra Comp Trailers Ford, took command of the race from the outset. Rogers, who needed to make up 39-points on Benny Gordon in the championship race, led 89 of the first 130 laps until coming to pit road for his first stop of the night. There was a problem, however. Rogers clutch went out at the start of the race.

As the jack dropped, Rogers' car didn't accelerate off of pit road. Rogers' crew tried to push start the No. 44s car, but their efforts were futile. Rogers lost a lap to the field and looked to be out of title contention as he dropped to 22nd in the running order, while Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Predator Performance Ford, was running second. But Rogers didn't throw in the towel.

"I knew we had a great race car, and I knew we had car capable of getting a lap back," said Rogers. "We almost had our lap back one time, but Brad [Rogers, Clay's brother] ran out of gas and the caution came out."

On the ensuing restart at Lap 162, Rogers made his way around Gordon, who led from Lap 137 to 198, to get back on the lead lap and keep his title hopes alive.

The race's sixth caution waved on Lap 186, bringing Rogers to the tail end of the lead-lap cars. Under the caution, Rogers made his final stop of the night and successfully rejoined the field without losing a lap.

Rogers charged back through the field, moving into 11th by Lap 200. Rogers made his way around Gordon, who picked up five points and $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader, on Lap 215 to take over eighth. Gordon, who last pitted on Lap 95, needed a caution to avoid a green-flag stop. Thirteen laps later, Gordon came to pit road under green, but it wasn't for fuel and tires.

The point leader had a broken alternator bracket that knocked all the belts off the engine.

Gordon rejoined the race on Lap 240, but only made a few circuits before his engine expired.

Though Gordon was done for the evening, Rogers wasn't a lock for the title. With high attrition during the race, Gordon could finish no worse than 27th, leaving Rogers needing a seventh-place finish to secure the title. With 15 cars on the lead lap, Rogers couldn't afford any problems. And he didn't have any.

Rogers' fourth-place finish was good enough to earn him the 2004 Hooters ProCup Championship Trophy by 18 points over Gordon.

"When the race was over, we didn't know if we had gained enough points to win it," said Rogers. "After the race, when I was going down the backstretch, the crew told me they thought we had won. I can't believe it. I just keep waiting for the axe to fall.

"If there was ever a championship that was a total team effort, it was this one," said Rogers, who finished the year with $325,700 in winnings. "I don't know what to say. I just have to thank everybody that has been associated with this race car. There are so many special people that have helped us out."

While the race for the win and championship were exciting, the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year battle was also a nail-biter.

Matt Carter, driver of the No. 22s HeavyTruckDealers.com Ford, and Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 11 JEGS.com Chevrolet, ran together for most of night. St. Amant made a charge in the last 50 laps to finish fifth, but Carter's seventh-place finish was good enough to earn him the overall ROTY title.

"We thought we had [St. Amant] beat in the race, but he took off at the end, and he was flying," said Carter, who pocketed $25,000 for winning the overall Miller Lite Rookie of the Year Award. "We were disappointed that we didn't win the Southern Division rookie title, and this takes some of the sting away. We wanted to win a race this year, but being the rookie of the year is better."

Carter bested St. Amant by 20 points in the final rookie standings.

"It's heartbreaking to give up the overall rookie title," said St. Amant. "But, then again, we kind of dug our own hole. Matt's a very smooth driver. I congratulated him and told him it was well deserved. It was pretty neat deal. I was standing by his car, and Travis Carter came over and said, 'I want to thank you for racing my boy clean.' That meant an awful lot to me. I just hope this is the last time I have to be a rookie again."

Hooters 300 Notebook

Hard Charger Award
Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73 NGA Hooters Golf Tour Chevrolet, finished eighth after starting shotgun on the field. Agnew, who had engine problems in qualifying, picked up $500 for advancing 28 positions.

Miller Lite Night
Gary St. Amant didn't win the overall Miller Lite Rookie of the Year Award, but he did pick up another $1,000 via the Milwaukee brewer. For the 10th time, St. Amant won the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award. If you add $10,000 for being the Northern Division Miller Lite Rookie of the Year, St. Amant took home $20,000 in beer money in 2004. Coupled with his five rookie of the race awards, Carter netted $30,000 of the rookie purse.

Team Hooters Challenge
For the second time of the year, Bobby Gill made a fan at USA Int'l Speedway $500 dollars richer.

Richard Patchin, from West Palm Beach, Fla., was randomly selected as the Team Hooters Challenge winner prior to the race. Patchin correctly picked Gill to win the race.

"I wasn't thinking about that fan," Gill joked. "I get $500 extra too."

XTRA Over?
During the Advance Auto Parts Pole qualifying session, Shane Huffman, who won $1,000 for being the fastest qualifier, announced that XTRA Motorsports may not be coming back in 2005.

"Carol Watts and Everett and Rhett Durham took a chance when they brought me into this deal," said Huffman. "We struggled mightily the first year, but the third year we won the championship. We were just little off season this year, but we made the best of it. We may go our separate ways next year, but it's been a great ride, and I wouldn't trade these guys for anything."

-usar-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Clay Rogers , Pat Richard , Shane Huffman , Jeff Agnew