USAR: Lakeland: Southern Division race report

Shane Huffman Wins Naturally Fresh 250 Lakeland, FL--With so much focus on the "New Era of Pro Cup," Shane Huffman turned the spotlight back on the veterans on Saturday night. Huffman took the lead from Toby Porter on Lap 148 and pulled away...

Shane Huffman Wins Naturally Fresh 250

Lakeland, FL--With so much focus on the "New Era of Pro Cup," Shane Huffman turned the spotlight back on the veterans on Saturday night.

Huffman took the lead from Toby Porter on Lap 148 and pulled away from Mike Garvey down the stretch to win the Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Crane Cams at USA Int'l Speedway in Lakeland, Fla.

"It was great to win in a field like this," said Huffman. "This is just a sign of things to come for the [Hooters Pro Cup] Series. It's going to be tough out there this year."

In the first half of the race, Mike Garvey, driver of the No. 17 Jani-King Ford, looked to be the toughest.

Garvey, making his first Pro Cup start, made his way past pole-sitter Chase Pistone, who grabbed $1,000 for being the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award winner, on the 14th lap to take the top spot. Garvey had stretched his lead over McFarland to 1.5 sec. by Lap 52, before a caution flag erased his margin at Lap 60.

After another brief caution period, McFarland pressured Garvey unmercifully and made a power move around the outside of the veteran to take the lead on Lap 77. However, like any good heavyweight fight, Garvey refused to go away and slipped back around McFarland five circuits later. But losing the lead would be the least of McFarland's worries soon after the pass as his No. 32 WINFUEL Chevy lost power on Lap 91.

"I think we lost the motor," said McFarland after dropping from the event. "The car was pretty good. We were a little tight, but we were about to fix it during the next stop in about 20 laps. We had a car that could win here tonight, and that makes it tough. We'll pack everything up, go to [South Georgia Motorsports Park] and get them."

With McFarland no longer in the lead group, Garvey was joined by another candidate for the lead as Huffman started to creep his way into contention after starting ninth.

"We qualified a little bad," said Huffman. "We were the first car out in qualifying in the first race of the year, but I knew we had a good car in the long runs."

And it started to show as the race reached the midpoint.

On Lap 105, Huffman pulled to within five-car lengths of the race reader and was inching closer each lap. The caution flag waved on Lap 122 for the single-car spin of Chad Dokken and brought the lead-lap cars to pit road a lap later.

In their first under-pressure stop of the season, Huffman's crew sent him out well in front of the rest of the pitting cars.

"The guys made an awesome pit stop and hit the adjustment right on the head," said Huffman. "I don't think the car could have been any better after that."

Clay Rogers, Pistone and Garvey followed Huffman off pit road. However, Garvey returned to the service of his Jani-King team a lap later.

"We had a couple of lugs loose on the left rear, and we just couldn't take a chance," Garvey said of return trip to pit road.

Huffman, driver of the No. 81 Knight's Companies Ford, lined up behind a group of off-sequence cars for the restart on Lap 128. And 20 laps later, the 2003 HPC Series champ knifed his way past Toby Porter, who picked up $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Halfway Products Leader, for the top spot.

Although it was the last lead change of the evening, Garvey made the finish interesting.

After restarting 17th, Garvey made a mad dash towards the front, marching into third by Lap 175. It took Garvey until Lap 238 to make his way past Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Johnny's Suzuki/ Baird Transport Ford, for the second position. But Huffman turned up the wick down the stretch, beating Garvey to the line by 2.1 sec.

"There were so many cars that were so close; it was hard to get back to the front," said Garvey, who nabbed $500 via the Greased Lighting "Blast the Pack Award" for leading a race-high 106 laps. "I had to abuse the car to get back through the field. I wore the tires out. I wore the brakes out. I wore everything out. We were done when we got to second. It was time for the race to be over."

When it was over, Shane Huffman stood in victory lane for the 16th time in the HPC Series, moving the Hickory, N.C, driver to within three wins of Mario Gosselin for second all-time in the record books. The sight of Huffman celebrating in victory lane was made more impressive by the fact that Huffman didn't have a ride for this season until Christmas.

"This is such a good deal, I can't even explain it," said Huffman. "These guys, Pete and Bud Knight and everyone, have given me an opportunity of a lifetime here. They are behind this deal 110-percent. I couldn't ask for anyone any better. We have an awesome group of guys. A lot of them are the same that we had last year. There are some new ones, too. And they are gelling well, but nothing helps like a win."

Defending Pro Cup champion Clay Rogers finished third, Matt Carter, driver of the No. 22 Black's Tire Service Ford, finished fourth and Randy Gentry, driver of the No. 19 Harrison's Workwear/Georgia Boot Chevy, rounded out the top five.

Billy Bigley Jr., driver of the No. 25 Peerless Woodworking Ford, pocket $500 for being the Mr. Gasket Hard Charger of the night. Bigley moved from 26th to 10th by the end of the Naturally Fresh 250.

The race was slowed 12 times for 75 laps of caution.

There were six lead changes among five drivers.

Naturally Fresh 250 Notebook

Miller Lite Night for Wallace
Steve Wallace, son of NEXTEL Cup competitor Rusty Wallace, picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race. Wallace started 13th and finished seventh in his first start in the No. 66 Rusty's Last Call Dodge.

"That was a decent run for us. I'm a racer and I want to win, though," said Wallace. "I can't really say that I'm satisfied with a seventh, because I really thought that we would have a better handling car than that. It really flew in the afternoon practices; we were the fastest car in most of the sessions. As the night went on though, our car just kept getting tighter and tighter. We had a few problems on pit road that really hurt us too, but Barry [Dodson, crew chief] and the guys have been practicing hard and I know that we'll get things worked out on that end. The guys in this series are really tough, so there's something to be said for having a top-ten finish in our first race. We'll take that finish, move on to Valdosta and keep plugging away towards winning the rookie of the year title. This was definitely a good learning experience for all of us."

Jason Returns
Jason Sarvis, driver of the No. 16 Naturally Fresh Ford, is returning full-time to the Hooters Pro Cup Series this season for the first time since winning the championship in 2002.

And the former Myrtle Beach Speedway champion got to see all the newcomers up-close-and-personal during evening. Sarvis pitted before the race, started last and finished ninth.

"That was one of the wildest races I've ever been in," said Sarvis. "There are a lot of young guys out here that were driving a little crazy tonight, but I can handle what I need to handle on the race track. I just want to thank Haskell Willingham and the guys for sticking in there today. We had terrible car to start with. We worked on that thing all day and got into the top 10, and then we adjusted ourselves out of [the setup]. I'm just glad to be back, but I'll really be glad when I'm standing where Shane Huffman is."

Gill Breaks
No. 11 will have to wait. Bobby Gill, who has 10 wins at USA Int'l Speedway, will have to wait until July to try for his 11th win at the .75-mile track.

After charging from 22nd to fourth, Gill suffered a problem with the rear end of the No. 06 USG Sheetrock Brand Ford, on Lap 166. Gill returned on Lap 200, but the 3-time Pro Cup champ finished 22nd.

Clean Carter
Mike Hester, crew chief for Matt Carter, won't be beating out very much sheet metal during the next few weeks.

Carter, driver of the No. 22 Black's Tire Service Ford, was one of the few cars to show no signs of contact during the 250-lap race.

"I'm still learning, and I'm not going to go out there and set the world on fire," said Carter. "I just try to keep the car out of trouble until the end of the race and be in the top five. And that's been working out. We've had three top-5s in the last six races. If we can keep getting top-5s, hopefully the win will come."

Gentry Optimistic for July
Randy Gentry was a fixture in the top five all night during the Naturally Fresh 250. Gentry started fifth and finished fifth, giving the second-year driver an optimistic outlook about the July race at USA Int'l.

"We tried to make a lot of adjustments on the car during the night to run with the guys up front," said Gentry, driver of the No. 19 Chevy. "But when they were fueling the car, the catch can fell out and we couldn't get the fuel to go in, so we had to come back in. It cost us some spots, but we made back up to the front. We can't complain. Now, we've got a good place to start [our setup] when we come back."


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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Clay Rogers , Billy Bigley , Mario Gosselin , Mike Garvey , Shane Huffman , Steve Wallace