Rogers Wins Alan Kulwicki Memorial Sears Auto Center 250 Southern Champ Fends Off Last-Lap Charge Mansfield, Ohio-In the most competitive fields ever, Clay Rogers is doing what nobody thought was possible in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. He's...
Rogers Wins Alan Kulwicki Memorial Sears Auto Center 250
Southern Champ Fends Off Last-Lap Charge
Mansfield, Ohio-In the most competitive fields ever, Clay Rogers is doing what nobody thought was possible in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. He's dominating.
Rogers took the lead from Woody Howard on Lap 128 and led the final 133 laps of the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Sears Auto Center 250 presented by the IHRA Nitro Jam at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway on Saturday night. The win was Rogers' series-leading six win of the year and his second in a row in the Championship Series.
"Blake Bainbridge [Rogers' crew chief] means so much to this team the way he leads them," said Rogers, driver of the No. 44s Automotive Development Group Ford. "He's carried this team a long way this year. I've got a lot of faith in him, and he has a lot of faith in me."
And Bainbridge would need that faith on the final lap.
After late caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, Shelby Howard, who led 59 laps early in the event, was able to get underneath Rogers coming to take the white flag.
"Our tires were so cold on the restart, when I jumped on the gas, I just spun them," said Rogers. "Before I even got to Turn 1, I thought I might be in trouble. I needed that car length and a half buffer zone to get some heat in my tires, but he was all over us."
Howard pulled alongside of Rogers coming to take the white flag, but he was unable to complete the pass when his car broke loose in the middle of Turn 2.
"With the progressive banking, you can't really drive underneath somebody real hard; you almost have to have them cleared," said Howard, driver of the No. 20n Speedco/Tony Stewart Racing Pontiac. "I got real loose getting in there and had to get out of the throttle."
Howard's slip allowed Rogers to pull away by .472 seconds at the finish.
"We got together a little bit, but he could have let go of the steering wheel, knocked me out of the way and went on and won the race," said Rogers, who led a race-high 133 laps to pick up the Greased Lightning Super Strength Performer Award. "It was his decision to make, and I'm glad he chose to race us clean. I thanked him for that after the race."
Despite finishing second for the second week in a row and moving into second in the points, the Indiana driver had to feel like he let one slip away.
After starting second, Howard moved past pole-sitter Woody Howard on Lap 6 and checked out on the field. At one point, Howard was nearly two seconds ahead of the field. But on Lap 64, that would all change.
As Howard began to lap his way through the pack, he tangled with Eric Corbett. The contact sent Corbett for a spin and cost Howard the lead.
"I got the right-front fender tore up getting through lapped traffic. I don't know; it was probably my fault," said Howard, who came to pit road after the contact. "We got behind on the pit stop because we had to pull the fender out."
Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55n Dean Motorsports Chevrolet, stayed on the track while most of the lead-lap cars came to pit road on Lap 70. With the lengthy pit stop, Shelby Howard restarted 11th, but he began to claw his way back into contention, moving inside the top five by Lap 120.
Woody Howard finally came to pit road after leading the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Lap, giving the lead to Rogers on Lap 128.
Shelby Howard completed his climb back to the front on Lap 142 when he moved into second place. Howard made his first attempt to take the lead from Rogers on Lap 152, but a caution for Trevor Bayne's smoking machine thwarted the pass. Cautions would be a common theme over the next 50 laps as the race was slowed four times.
"Every time I had a run on him, the caution would come out," said Howard. "If we were up beside him, the caution would come out. Then we would run him back down and the caution would come out. We just got behind him on that pit stop, and that was it. I really felt like we had the best car tonight."
While the leaders waged war near the end of the race, Jay Fogleman and Jody Lavender were in a skirmish of their on. The two veterans battled for third position over the final 50 laps before Fogleman, driver of the No. 4s Greased Lightning Ford, slipped past to take his first podium finish of the Championship Series.
"If I could have gotten by Jody a little bit earlier, I think I could have run with [the leaders]," said Fogleman. "I don't know if I could have beaten them, but we're so much better than we've been. We're really building for next year."
Lavender, driver of the No. 84s Sears Auto Center Ford, also had a finish he could build on. After three races of misfortune, Lavender brought his car home unscathed and in fourth position.
"I have to thank my pit crew. They are the reason we were up there," said Lavender. "We were at best a top-10 car early in the race, and I think we beat everybody off pit road. This is a place where you can get ahead of people you can hold them off."
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 72n JEGS.com Chevrolet, also used his pit stop to gain positions. St. Amant came in early in the race for tires then took fuel only on his last stop to gain track position. The strategy worked as the short-track veteran finished fifth.
On the other hand, Woody Howard's decision to pit late in the event backfired. After leading 68 laps, Howard restarted 24th after making his stop and was involved in an accident, dropping him to 25th at the finish.
Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38s Sears Auto Center Ford, finished sixth; A.J. Frank, driver of the No. 11n Ohio Technical College Pontiac, finished seventh; Justin Hobgood, driver of the No. 16s Naturally Fresh Ford, finished eighth and picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race; Kirk Leone, driver of the No. 52s Percy Johnson Grading Ford, picked up his best finish of the Championship Series by coming home ninth; and Matt Carter, driver of the No. 26s Travis Carter Motorsports Ford, rounded out the top 10.
The Alan Kulwicki Memorial Sears Auto Center 250 was slowed 16 times for 119 laps of caution and featured three lead changes among three drivers.
Sears Auto Center 250 Notebook
Whatever bond Haskell Willingham and driver Justin Hobgood have formed, it's made up of the right stuff. Hobgood picked up his third Miller Lite Rookie of the Race, jumped to fifth in points and stretched his lead in the rookie points to 25 over Derek Kale with his eighth-place finish at Mansfield.
"I don't know what it is, what the chemistry is or why it works," said Hobgood. "These guys just don't quit. We do whatever it takes to get the car here and do well for Naturally Fresh. It's a team deal. And for whatever reason, me and Haskell get along, we click."
Clay Rogers has a prime opportunity to be only the second driver to win a Pro Cup title more than once. His sixth victory of the year gave the 25-year-old driver a 103-point lead over Shelby Howard with three races remaining in the Championship Series. Bobby Gill is the only multiple champion in the 10-year history of the Hooters Pro Cup Series.
Benny Gordon's title hopes slipped away at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway. After running near the front of the field before the pit stop, Gordon was blocked in during the pit cycle and emerged from pit road 12th. But his problems were just getting started.
During the confusion of the pit stop, the left-front tire was accidentally put on the right front. With low pressure, the tire separated from the bead and Gordon was forced to pit under green and lost four laps.
Gordon was later involved in an accident and finished 35th. The defending Pro Cup champion is now 203 points behind Rogers.
The Right Stuff
Kirk Leone isn't setting the world on fire in qualifying, but he's doing a lot of stuff right during the race.
For the third race in a row, Leone, driver of the No. 52s Percy Johnson Grading Ford, started outside the top 30 and came home with a top-15 finish. Leone started 36th at Mansfield and rumbled to ninth at the finish. He picked up $500 for being the Aaron's Hard Charger and moved up to 10th in the point standings.
While the majority of Northern Division competitors would like to hold onto the home-field advantage, Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 72n JEGS.com Chevrolet, can't wait to get to Myrtle Beach.
"Myrtle Beach is the track we've had circled on the schedule all year long," said St. Amant. "I love going down there, not just for the race, but just to be in the home of the Hooters Pro Cup Series. Right now our team is really on a roll. Hopefully, we can put it all together at the beach."