USAR: Mansfield CS: Pre-race championship breakdown

Championship Breakdown: Mansfield Motorsports Park Myrtle Beach, S.C.-It's the time of year Hooters Pro Cup fans live for: The Hooters Pro Cup Championship Series. Since its inception in 2001, the format has been mimicked, but it has never...

Championship Breakdown: Mansfield Motorsports Park

Myrtle Beach, S.C.-It's the time of year Hooters Pro Cup fans live for: The Hooters Pro Cup Championship Series.

Since its inception in 2001, the format has been mimicked, but it has never been duplicated. The four-race shootout will bring together the top 30 drivers in the Greased Lightning Southern Division against the top 30 drivers in the Sears Auto Center Northern Division to crown the overall Hooters Pro Cup National Champion and Miller Lite Rookie of the Year.

Nearly $100,000 in bonuses were determined in the regular season, but the real money is on the line now with nearly $1,000,000 in points fund and purses up for grabs over the final four races.

Below is a listing of the top-10 drivers from the Southern and Northern Divisions going into the Championship Series, a regular season review and a Mansfield preview.

No. 1 Seeds

1. Benny Gordon (No. 66n Samuel Metals Ford)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center Northern
Championship Series Points: 205
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 2.9
Races Led: 8
Laps Led: 622
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 1.25
Best Finish in 2008: 1st (USA Int'l, Motor Mile, Jennerstown, South Boston)

Regular Season Review
The only blight on Benny Gordon's season was an 11th-place finish at Milwaukee. Other than that, Gordon hasn't finished outside the top five. This might be the best season overall season anyone has had in Hooters Pro Cup history. Sure, some have won more races, but a 2.89 finishing average is pretty stout.

Mansfield Preview
Gordon gets around Mansfield as good as anyone, winning three races in nine starts at the half-mile track. And we doesn't win, he finishes near the front, picking up six top-five finishes and seven top-10s.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 1st (3 times)
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 6.33 (9 starts)

1. Mark McFarland (No. 81s Sears Auto Center Chevy)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 205
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 9.83
Races Led: 6
Laps Led: 400
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 13.0
Best Finish in 2008: 1st (Milwaukee, Myrtle Beach, Southern National)

Regular Season Review
Mark McFarland's season has been a little bumpy. After two bad breaks to start the year, he went on tear, racking up a three wins in six races and averaging a 1.83 finish. But to finish the season, McFarland had three finishes outside the top 10 in the final four races. The good news is that most of McFarland's struggles were bad luck. The bad news is he can ill-afford anymore stumbles in the Championship Series.

Mansfield Preview
McFarland has a win at Mansfield and is notoriously fast at the flat, half-mile layouts. He finished second here in the June event with a so-so car. If he improves at all, he should be a threat for the win.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 1st
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 10.2 (5 starts)

No. 2 Seeds

2. Gary St. Amant (No. 7n JEGS.com/Speedco Chevy)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 165
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 9.13
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 46
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 7.0
Best Finish in 2008: 3rd (Mansfield, Jennerstown)

Regular Season Review
It's hard to say St. Amant had lackluster season. But compared to Gordon's dominant campaign, he did. The bright spots for St. Amant were his runs at Jennerstown and Mansfield. Under the right circumstances on those nights, the veteran had cars that could win. The lowlights were a 26th-place finish at Milwaukee and a 17th-place effort at Bristol.

Mansfield Preview
St. Amant can win this race, but his team has to have a mistake-free evening to do it. His pit-late strategy almost paid off in the first race, but there's liable to be 20 cars on the lead lap well into the 250-lap event this time around. If he doesn't win, St. Amant should factor into the podium positions, considering he has six top-five finishes in nine starts at MMP.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 2nd
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 5.56 (9 starts)

2. Michael Ritch (No. 28s Support Our Troops Ford)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 165
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 12.63
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 285
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 14.2
Best Finish in 2008: 1st (South Georgia, Concord)

Regular Season Review
Ritch didn't back up his Southern Division title of a year ago, but he still had a pretty good regular season, grabbing two wins and finishing 35 points behind McFarland in the Southern standings. Had Ritch avoided an early incident at Bristol, he may have repeated as the Southern champion.

Mansfield Preview
Ritch can win races in bunches, and he's proven that in the last two seasons. Mansfield is the place where Ritch had a breakout win a few years ago, but it's also given him fits, too. In six starts, Ritch is averaging a 23.17 finish. Look for a hero-or-zero night.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 1st
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 23.17 (6 starts)

No. 3 Seeds

3. Mikey Kile (No. 65n VisViva Energy Drink Chevy)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 160
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 10.0
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 13
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 9.4
Best Finish in 2008: 1st (Salem)

Regular Season Review
Kile surprised everyone with a win at Salem, but the biggest surprise may have been the rookie's consistency during the regular season. Only two times all season did Kile finish outside the top 10-and one of those was due to a mechanical failure.

Mansfield Preview
Kile was decent at Mansfield back in June. He finished ninth, but he'll need to pick it up this time around. Fellow rookies Drew Herring, Hunter Robbins, Matt Merrell and Tyler Young have the potential to make this a heated rookie race over the next four events.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 9th
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 9.0 (1 start)

3. Caleb Holman (No. 75s Food Country Chevy)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 160
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 14.2
Races Led: 2
Laps Led: 179
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 13.8
Best Finish in 2008: 1st (Bristol)

Regular Season Review
In his second season, Caleb Holman needed a win to solidify his status as a top-tier driver in the Southern Division. After his dominating performance at Bristol, it's safe to say that Holman has reached that plateau. Now he needs to work on consistency. The Abingdon, Va., native posted four top-five finishes in the regular season, but he also finished outside the top 20 four times.

Mansfield Preview
Holman's only start at Mansfield came in last year's Championship Series event, where he finished 14th. It's hard to tell what the Bristol win will do momentum-wise, but Holman's believes that his first win was the toughest and there will be more to follow. He may be right.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 14th
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 14.0 (1 start)

No. 4 Seeds

4. Derek Kale (No. 22n Heritage Equipment Chevy)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 155
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 10.5
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 85
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 12.6
Best Finish in 2008: 1st (Mansfield)

Regular Season Review
If they gave an award for most improved, Kale would definitely be in contention. After two seasons of sporadic runs, Kale has been a fixture at the front all year. Sure, he wouldn't have won at Mansfield if Jeff Agnew didn't run out of gas, but you've got to be in position to capitalize when things like that happen. And Kale was in that position more than once this year.

Mansfield Preview
Kale needs to lead some laps and post a top-five finish to get the Championship Series started off on the right foot. That shouldn't be a big problem, though. After posting an average finish of 21st in his first three starts at Mansfield, Kale has a win and a ninth-place effort in his last two outings at MMP.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 1st
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 14.4 (5 starts)

4. Wade Day (No. 96s Lopez Wealth Management Ford)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 155
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 12.38
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 314
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 14.2
Best Finish in 2008: 2nd (Hickory)

Regular Season Review
After Mark McFarland and Michael Ritch, Day has to be placed next in line in the Southern Division hierarchy. He led 314 laps this year, which is second only to Gordon and McFarland. With a few good breaks, Day would've have captured that ever-elusive first victory. Unfortunately, most of Day's breaks were bad. If he pitted early at Concord, he probably wins. If he pits late at Hickory, he may have had something for Hunter Robbins. Hindsight always seems to be 20/20, but this team has nothing to hang their head over. They have become contenders in two short seasons.

Mansfield Preview
Day may not compete in the Championship Series due to budget constraints. But if he does show, watch out. He could win any event at anytime.

Best Finish at Mansfield: First Start
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: First Start

No. 5 Seeds

5. Jeff Agnew (No. 73n Mark IV Suzuki/Team 7 Ford)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 150
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 11.63
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 99
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 12.6
Best Finish in 2008: 2nd (South Boston)

Regular Season Review
Agnew got off to a slow start, moved to third in points after the third race and then slipped to fifth after a DNF at Bristol. He should've won at Mansfield and had a shot at South Boston. However, despite not winning a race, Agnew comes into the Championship Series with a higher seeding than he did last year when he started eighth. It wasn't a bad year, but it's not what we've grown accustomed to from Agnew, who has won a race in the last eight seasons.

Mansfield Preview
Nobody would be shocked if Agnew won this race, except Agnew. The shoulda, coulda, wouldas have taken a toll on the veteran over the last few years. But one win would be enough to erase most of the bad memories and thrust him into contention for his second title.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 3rd
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 11.3 (10 starts)

5. Billy Bigley Jr. (No. 82s Peerless Woodworking Ford)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 150
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 9.88
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 11.0
Best Finish in 2008: 3rd (Hickory)

Regular Season Review
Bigley had a solid regular season. He didn't lead any laps, but you didn't have to scroll very far down the scoring pylon to find him. After four years, Bigley picked up his first podium finish at Hickory and backed it up with a top-10 run at Bristol. The former All-Pro standout racked up six top-10 finishes in the regular season. Top-10s in the Championship Series won't win the overall title, but it'll make for a hefty point-fund check.

Mansfield Preview
Bigley's only start at Mansfield came in 2004 when he finished 10th in the Championship Series event. If he stays on his recent upswing, Bigley could better that this time around.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 10th
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 10.0

No. 6 Seeds

6. Jay Fogleman (No. 4n Speedco/The Works Ford)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 145
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 11.11
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 98
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 7.6
Best Finish in 2008: 3rd (Motor Mile)

Regular Season Review
Fogleman has had better years, but he's also had worse. Last year, Fogleman was outside the top 10 coming into the Championship Series. There's been moments this season where Fogleman had the fastest car on the track, unfortunately those moments didn't come at the end of the race. He ended the year with five top-10 finishes.

Mansfield Preview
If Fogleman can harness those "fast moments" at Mansfield, he can contend for the win. If not, he needs to finish inside the top five to keep the leaders in sight heading to Iowa Speedway. He's plenty capable of doing that-and more.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 3rd
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 12.2 (7 starts)

6. Trevor Bayne (No. 29s Chevy Racing Chevy)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 120
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 6.14
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 75
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 4.2
Best Finish in 2008: 2nd (Concord)

Regular Season Review
After a 19th-place finish in the season-opening event at USA Int'l Speedway, Bayne reeled off six top-five finishes in a row to close out the regular season. It was a great year by most people's standards, but Bayne wasn't able to win a race during the regular season and only led one race. Those are two things nobody thought that would happen after the way he ended last season.

Mansfield Preview
Unfortunately for Bayne, he had to miss the Southern National event due to scheduling commitments and lost his 25 point bonus for competing in every regular season race, leaving him 85 points behind Gordon and McFarland in the title chase. Fortunately for Bayne, that's 44 points closer than he was a season ago with four races remaining in the Championship Series. But if he hopes to threaten for the title, Bayne has to get better at Mansfield. He's has two DNFs in two starts.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 32nd (10/14/06)
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 33.0 (2 starts)

No. 7 Seeds

7. Allen Purkhiser (No. 68n Bill Ellis Barbeque Ford)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 141
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 14.89
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 168
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 13.0
Best Finish in 2008: 2nd (Salem)

Regular Season Review
Longtime Pro Cup fans were happy to see the reemergence of Premiere Motorsports this season. Purkhiser piloted the No. 68n Ford to four top-10 finishes and nearly picked up his first career win at Salem. Purkhiser also finished sixth in laps led during the regular season.

Mansfield Preview
A win would be the icing on the cake for this team, but flat tracks haven't been kind to them this season. Purkhiser finished 11th at Mansfield earlier this year and 14th at Jennerstown. They may win a race in the Championship Series, but Mansfield might not be the place. But getting out of Mansfield with a top-10 finish would be a morale victory.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 11th
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 11.0 (1 start)

7. Woody Howard (No. 55s Dean Motorsports Chevy)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 141
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 11.38
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 8.4
Best Finish in 2008: 2nd (Myrtle Beach)

Regular Season Review
In the first half of the year, Howard posted one top-five finish and two top-10s. But since acquiring Barry Elvis as a crew chief, Howard has posted two top-5s and three top-10s in the last four races. In doing so, Howard moved from 15th in points to seventh. This team is headed in the right direction at the right time.

Mansfield Preview
Howard's been pretty good at Mansfield, picking up a pole, one top-five and two top-10s in five starts. It's about time for "Hollywood" to break out-and it couldn't happen at a better time for Dean Motorsports.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 3rd (6/10/06)
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 20.0 (5 starts)

No. 8 Seeds

8. Sam Fullone (No. 48n KaneSterling.com Chevy)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 137
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 14.88
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 13.0
Best Finish in 2008: 5th (Mansfield)

Regular Season Review
Fullone has become a solid driver over the last few seasons, but this year he climbed even further up the Pro Cup ladder. Fullone finished inside the top 11 in six races during the 2008 regular season. The consistency helped him gain his highest seeding for the Championship Series in his four-year career.

Mansfield Preview
Fullone finished fifth in the June event at Mansfield, marking his best finish in nine races on the tight bullring. Matching that effort will be tough in this two-division field, but a top-10 finish isn't out of the question.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 5th (6/14/08)
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 21st (9 starts)

8. Hunter Robbins (No. 6s Goodson Consulting Ford)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 137
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 12.88
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 100
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 11.2
Best Finish in 2008: 1st (Hickory)

Regular Season Review
Robbins had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde season. He started off with a top-10 finish in his first Hooters Pro Cup start. Then he finished 20th and 19th in the next two events. After that, his team grabbed two top-five finishes, including a win, in the final five races. Their season was a bit inconsistent, but not bad overall for a first-year program with a first-year driver.

Mansfield Preview
Robbins is an "unofficial" teammate to Benny Gordon. So if he gets some good notes, he'll be as fast as anybody in time trials. But the trick at Mansfield is to keep all the fenders on the car in the first 200 laps. It's going to be tough for a rookie to do that, but Robbins has surprised us before.

Best Finish at Mansfield: First Start
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: First Start

No. 9 Seeds

9. Tim Bainey Jr. (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 133
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 14.63
Races Led: 1
Laps Led: 24
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 14.2
Best Finish in 2008: 7th (Mansfield)

Regular Season Review
Bainey is one of the "good guys" in the series. He might not have shot at winning every week, but you couldn't tell it after the race. His take-it-as-it-comes attitude is breath of fresh air. This team picked up three top-10 finishes and could've easily added several top-5s with a little luck.

Mansfield Preview
Bainey's best finish of the season came at Mansfield in June. This team has improved since then, so expect another solid effort in the Sears Auto Center 250 from Bainey. A top-five finish is not out of the question, either.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 7th
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 19.2 (7 starts)

9. Matt Hawkins (No. 22s JaniKing Ford)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 133
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 14.75
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 16.2
Best Finish in 2008: 2nd (USA Int'l)

Regular Season Review
After two races, Hawkins had two top-10 finishes. But since then, he's only finished inside the top 14 once. Hawkins has done well in the ARCA Series, grabbing a win, two top-five and three top-10 finishes in four races this season, but it hasn't translated into success in the Pro Cup ranks. Hawkins is good enough to compete for the title, but this team needs a shot in the arm.

Mansfield Preview
Hawkins struggled in his only event at Mansfield, finishing 24th in last year's Championship Series event. If there's a bright spot, Hawkins finished seventh at South Georgia earlier this year, and most drivers say the tracks are similar.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 24th
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 24.0 (1 start)

No. 10 Seeds

10. Derrick Kelley (No. 21n NGA Hooters Golf Tour Ford)
Regular Season Division: Sears Auto Center North
Championship Series Points: 129
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 18.56
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 16.2
Best Finish in 2008: 4th (Jennerstown)

Regular Season Review
Kelley and Comeback Motorsports came into the regular season with high hopes, but it hasn't panned out the way they envisioned. Mechanical failures and accidents sidelined Kelley in five events this season. The bright spots were a six-place showing at South Boston and a fourth-place effort at Jennerstown.

Mansfield Preview
The Championship Series gives Kelley new life, placing him just 76 points behind the leaders with four races remaining. Kelley will have to improve on his career-best, seventh-place effort at Mansfield if he wants to keep pace, however. Can he do it? Yes. Will he? If preparation and opportunity meet, yes.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 7th
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 22.4 (3 starts)

10. Kirk Leone (No. 52s Awesome Awnings Ford)
Regular Season Division: Greased Lightning South
Championship Series Points: 129
Regular Season Avg. Finish: 15.38
Races Led: 0
Laps Led: 0
Last Five Races Avg. Finish: 18.8
Best Finish in 2008: 7th (Hickory, USA Int'l)

Regular Season Review
Overall, the regular season was good for Leone. He moved as high as sixth in the standings and never fell below 12th. He had a chance to move up in the standings at Bristol, but a Lap 1 melee ended his night and dropped him to 10th in the final standings.

Mansfield Preview
Leone was fast at SGMP earlier this season, so that should help his confidence coming into Mansfield. If it does, Leone should pick up his first top-five finish in the Hooters Pro Cup Series.

Best Finish at Mansfield: 9th
Avg. Finish at Mansfield: 16.3 (3 starts)

-credit: usar

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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Billy Bigley , Trevor Bayne , Caleb Holman , Mark McFarland , Mikey Kile , Tim Bainey Jr. , Drew Herring , Matt Merrell , Jeff Agnew , Tyler Young