Mason Battles Adversity, Posts Top-15 Finish Lakeland, FL - Mike Mason displayed why he will be a top contender for the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Rookie of the Year title driving his No. 75 Team ASE sponsored Ford Taurus to a 14th-place finish in ...
Mason Battles Adversity, Posts Top-15 Finish
Lakeland, FL - Mike Mason displayed why he will be a top contender for the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Rookie of the Year title driving his No. 75 Team ASE sponsored Ford Taurus to a 14th-place finish in the season-opening Naturally Fresh 250 at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, FL Saturday night.
Mason, competing in just his second career Pro Cup event, shocked the field by qualifying sixth out of 41 entries with a lap of 22.07 seconds on the .075-mile Lakeland high banked oval.
Mason was the highest qualifying rookie in the race.
"Man, this is a great qualifying car," Mason radioed his crew after the lap. "It just stuck to the bottom all the way around the track."
At the drop of the green flag, Mason used the solid starting position to fall into line and run in the Top-10 throughout the early going. The 18-year-old driver narrowly missed a hard crash involving Joey Logano and Stacy Puryear in Turn 1 on Lap 38, but then had an incident of his own coming off Turn 4 just a few laps later.
"I started pushing up off the turn and just got into the wall," said Mason. "I bounced off and into Jody Lavender. Somehow, we didn't wreck and we both managed to save it. We were really lucky because that could have been pretty big."
Mason pancaked the right rear side of his Team ASE Ford in the incident, the force of the blow so significant that it moved the rear end housing over. It also damaged the fuel filler on the left side of the car forcing Mason to pit more than once during each caution to make sure the car was full of fuel.
Despite a now ill-handling racecar and multiple pit stops, Mason was able to stay on the lead lap until just under 50 circuits to go. Included in the run was a penalty to the end of the longest line after a run-in with car of Jay Fogleman.
"Jay was a lapped car and we got a good run coming off of Turn 2," said Mason. "I don't know if he got loose, but I definitely touched him and he spun around. There's no way it was intentional, but he spun and the Hooters Cup officials saw it as rough driving and sent us to the back. It's their call. Sometimes, things don't go your way. I felt bad about getting into Jay, and I hope he understands it wasn't intentional. We don't race that way - never have and never will.
Once a lap down in the late going, Mason did the best to keep his wounded racecar out of the way of the leaders over the final laps. Still turning competitive lap times, Mason was able to ride out the final circuits and score the quality finish.
"Our whole philosophy for the first half of the season is to qualify and complete as many laps as we can," said Mason, who prior to Saturday's race had just one previous USAR Hooters Pro Cup start - an 11th-place finish in the final regular season race at Lakeland last season. "It's all about getting experience in these cars for me right now. If we finish all or most of the laps, the finishes will take care of themselves.
"Fortunately, we've been able to put this Team ASE Ford in the Top-15 in both of our events and complete all but one of the 500 laps we've raced so far, so the strategy is paying off. I'm getting much more comfortable in the car and confident we can race with these guys. I think everyone is surprised at our results so far, but our best racing is yet to come. I can't wait to get the car home, fix it, and get back to the track for the next race."
Mason will get another chance for a top finish when the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Southern Division tour travels to South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta, GA on Saturday, March 11.