USAR: Lakeland II: Southern Division race report

Bobby Gill Wins Naturally Fresh 250 Lakeland, FL--For the third time this season, the 37th time in his career and the ninth time at USA Int'l Speedway, Bobby Gill took the checkered flag first in the Hooters ProCup Series. Bobby Gill made his...

Bobby Gill Wins Naturally Fresh 250

Lakeland, FL--For the third time this season, the 37th time in his career and the ninth time at USA Int'l Speedway, Bobby Gill took the checkered flag first in the Hooters ProCup Series.

Bobby Gill made his way around race leader and point leader Clay Rogers on Lap 168 and led to the finish of the Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Advance Discount Auto Parts at USA Int'l Speedway on Saturday night.

"I feel like we're getting back to where we were," said Gill in reference to his three championship seasons. "It's hard now because I'm basically doing this by myself. I've got some good help, like Mark Huff and the crew that helps at the race track, but that's about it."

Gill's help may have been the difference in the race.

Gill, driver of the No. 5 Tiger Rear Ends Ford, chased Shane Huffman for most of the first half of the race. But after the lead-lap cars came to pit road for service, Gill was able to beat Huffman back on the track. However, Clay Rogers was able to beat both drivers off pit road, went from third to first on the stop and led the field to green flag on Lap 125.

While Rogers used the stop to advance positions, Mike Laughlin Jr. wasn't as fortunate.

Laughlin Jr., who picked up $1,000 for winning the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award, ran in the top three for the entirety of the first half of the event, but he would restart 10th after the cycle of pit stops.

Once the green waved, the top three drivers, Rogers, Gill and Huffman, were able to break away from fourth-place running Danny O'Quinn Jr., driver of the No. 02 Homesteader Trailers Chevy, and battle among themselves for the lead. Rogers, who picked up $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader, was able to fend off Gill's bids for the lead on several occasions, but Gill wouldn't be denied.

Gill and Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Johnny's Suzuki Ford, traded the lead twice and bumped twice in the tense battle for the top spot.

On Lap 150, Gill nudged Rogers up the track at the exit of Turn 4, but Rogers was able to hang on to car and the lead. Six laps later, Gill was able to sweep under Rogers at the exit of Turn 2 and led Lap 157, but Rogers battled back on the outside and retook the lead on Lap 158.

Gill put the bumper to Rogers again on Lap 165, but he was unable to take the lead away from the point leader. On Lap 167, the inevitable happened.

Gill moved to the inside of Clay Rogers entering Turn 3 and used Clay's brother, Brad, as a moving pick to take the top spot. From there, all Gill had to do was hold off Shane Huffman, who led the first 112 laps of the event. And that wouldn't be easy.

Huffman, driver of the No. 84 Laughlin Racing Products Ford, dogged Gill for the final 75 laps of the event looking for away around. Huffman was able to pull to the rear bumper of Gill at will, but the 2003 Hooters ProCup Champion was unable to pull even and crossed the finish line .392 second behind the race winner.

"I know air isn't supposed to make a difference at a place like this, but it does," said Huffman. "I could close in on him, but when I got to within a car length, I would lose the front end."

That wasn't a problem in the first half of the race for Huffman as he quickly jumped into the lead as soon as the green flag dropped.

Sweeping around the high side of pole sitter Laughlin in Turn 1, Huffman took command of the race. Laughlin Jr. was able to keep up with Huffman, but he was unable to mount charge for the lead.

Jason Sarvis, driver of the No. 36 Bill Miller Equipment Sales Chevy, joined the lead duo in the first 10 laps, but his night ended shortly after. Sarvis stopped his car in Turn 1 to avoid an accident on Lap 17. Sarvis' car wouldn't restart and was pushed behind the wall.

After starting sixth, Gill moved into third after Sarvis retired and began to work on Laughlin Jr. for the second position.

Gill shadowed Laughlin Jr. before taking over second on Lap 96. After moving into second, Gill was nearly 3.5 seconds behind Huffman. Mother Nature would change that, however.

Rain began to fall on Lap 105 and the red flag was displayed on Lap 107 for 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Once the race was restarted, the lead-lap cars elected to pit on Lap 112. Huffman had problems on his stop and lost the lead, and eventually the race.

"We've obviously made some strides in the last two weeks," said Huffman. "I feel real good about the rest of the year. The pit crew always does a good job for us, but they we're little off tonight. All in all, it was a good night."

David Pletcher, driver of the No. 51 Ford, also had a good night.

After starting 16th, Pletcher notched his best finish of the season by coming home third.

"We've been doing our homework and minding our own business," said Pletcher, who picked up $500 for being the Hard Charger. "We we're turning about the same times as the leaders. I don't know if they were pushing it, but we would have liked to seen a caution to find out."

Clay Rogers dropped to fourth at the finish, while Mike Laughlin Jr. charged back to finish fifth after the pit miscue.

Matt Carter, driver of the No. 22 Ford, finished ninth and picked up his second Miller Lite Rookie of the Race award and a $1,000 check.

The race was slowed seven times for 52 laps of caution.

Lucky 3s

There were three generations of Gills on hand at USA Int'l Speedway. Billy Gill, Bobby's father, and Robby Lane, Bobby's son, watched Bobby win his third race of the season. Gill also became the third driver to win the "Team Hooters Challenge." Ron Barker correctly picked Gill to win the Naturally Fresh 250 and picked up a $500 check. Gill also received $500 for his part in the Challenge.

Getting Closer

Mike Laughlin Jr. is inching ever closer to his second win in the Hooters ProCup Series. Laughlin Jr. nabbed the second pole of his career in the Naturally Fresh 250. Although he never led a lap and finished fifth, Laughlin Jr. was still upbeat after race.

"I'm not disappointed," said Laughlin Jr. "We'll take a top-five finish. We had a better car than that. Hopefully our bad luck is behind us, and we can show them what we've got."

The Road to Recovery

Since being injured in a Craftsman Truck at Michigan last year, Michael Dokken has been on the road to recovery. Despite finishing 22nd in his second USAR start, Dokken appears to be on the right path.

Dokken qualified eighth and ran as high as fourth during the race before retiring on Lap 157.

Closing In

With his third win, Bobby Gill cut Clay Rogers point lead down to 38 points heading into Myrtle Beach. With his second-place finish, Shane Huffman trimmed Rogers lead down to 91 points.


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Series Stock car
Drivers Clay Rogers , Danny O'Quinn , Shane Huffman