Michael Ritch Wins Alan Kulwicki Memorial Lucas Oil 250 Mansfield, OH-After six years without a win, Michael Ritch proved he hasn't forgotten how to find victory lane. Ritch dove to bottom of the track when race-leader Shane Huffman and ...
Michael Ritch Wins Alan Kulwicki Memorial Lucas Oil 250
Mansfield, OH-After six years without a win, Michael Ritch proved he hasn't forgotten how to find victory lane.
Ritch dove to bottom of the track when race-leader Shane Huffman and second-place Jody Lavender made contact on Lap 227 to take the lead and survived a green-white-checkered finish en route to victory in the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Lucas Oil 250 presented by The Halloween Classic at Norwalk Raceway Park at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway on Sunday afternoon.
"I'm lost; I'm absolutely lost," said an expressive Ritch, who won for the first time since 1999. "The emotions are running high right now. I have to thank Jackaroo and Becky Cecil, Nu-Go, Stewart Development and my boy at Upchruch Engineering. They've all stuck with me, and they deserve this win.
"Those last 25 laps were tough, because I knew I had a pretty good car. We were just in the right place at the right time [when Huffman and Lavender] got together. Once I got in front, I felt like I could hold off Jody [Lavender]."
But it wouldn't be easy.
After the contact with Huffman, Lavender regrouped and chased down the leader by Lap 235. Each lap, Lavender searched for a way around the Ritch, driver of the No. 28s Jackaroo Ford. Lavender made a last-ditch effort after Eric Corbett's crash set up a green-white-checkered finish, but he fell .314 second at the finish line.
"I needed the race to stay green," said Lavender, driver of the No. 84s Heritage Bank Ford. "We weren't very good on the short runs. The car was too tight until we got some laps on it. Even if the race stayed green, I may not have been able to get around him. I just hate what happened with Shane [Huffman]. Turns 1 and 2 are tricky here. If you hit them right, you're fast. If you don't, you get loose, and that's what I did."
The contact with Lavender wasn't the culprit in Huffman, who led 56 of the final 75 laps, losing the race, however. Laps before Lavender went for the lead, Huffman's No. 81 Knight's Companies Ford began to come back to the pack.
"Something happened in the motor," said Huffman, who dropped to 14th at the finish. "We had a winning car tonight. We had the right pit strategy, and we made some wholesale changes on the car on the pit stop. The car was awesome after the stop. I felt like I had the race won. The motor breaking was the least of my worries. We've spotted the field 100 points now."
Huffman dropped to second in points and is 10 points behind Benny Gordon after his 14th-place finish, but his misfortunes could have been worse if Gordon's day had been better.
Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Predator Performance Ford, started the race from the second position and made his way out front on Lap 13, sweeping past pole-sitter Mark McFarland.
For the next 93 laps, Gordon held down the top spot before McFarland made his way back to the front on Lap 106. McFarland picked up $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Halfway Products Halfway Leader and paced the field until coming to pit road on Lap 136. Gordon, who faded to third before coming to pit road, beat all the drivers off pit road that took four tires, but a number of drivers, including Huffman, Ritch and Lavender, pitted on Lap 101, dropping Gordon to 13th for the restart.
Once the green unfurled, Gordon, with McFarland in tow, began to knife towards the front. By Lap 200, the two had made their way to fifth and sixth, respectively. But on Lap 207, McFarland bounced off Gordon in Turn 2. The contact sent Gordon up the track and McFarland to pit road with a cut tire. Gordon continued on after the contact, but the Northern Division champ made an unscheduled stop on Lap 216 and dropped to 12th at the finish, marking the second race in a row Huffman and Gordon failed to finish in the top 10.
While the divisional champions were faltering at the finish, several new faces crept in the point clash.
Matt Carter, driver of the No. 03s LCT/Atlantic Tools Ford, rumbled to a third-place finish after starting 13th in the 37-car field. Carter, who finished eighth at Jennerstown, jumped to fourth in points with his top-five run.
"We had a fast car all day," said Carter. "If [the late-race caution] wouldn't have come out, we wouldn't have caught up to [Ritch and Lavender]. We gambled and took two tires on that stop to try and stay in front of the other guys that pitted. We did that, but I think the tires were too worn out at the finish to race with the leaders."
Brad Rogers, driver of the No. 22s Black's Tire Service, followed Carter across the finish line to pick up just his second top-five finish of the season.
"I think me, Mike Hester [crew chief] and this whole team really got something going on here," said Rogers, who was making his third start for Ricky Benton Racing. "This is three races in a row that we had cars that were capable of finishing in the top five."
At the start of the race, Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73n NGA Hooters Golf Tour Ford, didn't look like he had a top-five car, but the Floyd, Va., driver was able to work his way from 27th to fifth at the finish and picked up the Mr. Gasket Hard Charger Award in the process.
Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55n Dean Motorsports Chevy, finished sixth and took home an extra $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race. In addition, Howard's sixth-place finish pushed him back into the ROTY point lead by 35 points over Michael Faulk, who finished 20th.
Though not flashy, Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 11 JEGS.com Chevy, remained consistent throughout the day and came home seventh.
Johnny Rumley, Clay Rogers and Shane Wallace rounded out the top 10.
The Alan Kulwicki Memorial Lucas Oil 250 was slowed 11 times for 56 laps of caution and featured six lead changes among four drivers.
Alan Kulwicki Memorial Lucas Oil 250 Notebook
The paring of Brad Rogers and Ricky Benton Racing is turning out to be a good match. In three races together, they've led laps and posted one top-five finish and two top-10 finishes. Now, the Championship Series churns towards Myrtle Beach Speedway, a place where Brad Rogers has had success, and a place Ricky Benton Racing calls home.
"We're headed to a track that I'm good at and they're good at too," said Rogers. "Hopefully, we can build on this. We're not out of this championship yet. We're going to keep digging and see what we can do."
Rogers jumped to 19th in points with his fourth-place finish.
Matt Carter had seven top-five finishes in his career before finishing third at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway. But his eighth top-five finish was the best, actually, a career-best. In his seven previous top-five finishes, Carter's career-best finish had been fourth.
Earlier this season, Mansfield Motorsports Speedway was where Joey Logano picked up his first Pro Cup win. This time around, Logano, driver of the No. 51n Joe Gibbs Racing Oil Ford, never got a chance to defend his win.
On Lap 88, Logano was checking up for a caution in Turn 2 when he was tagged from behind, ending his chances a victory.
"The caution came out right after a restart, and we were all tucked up underneath each other," said Logano. "I stuffed it down under [Johnny Rumley] and we all started to slow down. I think Steve Wallace got in the back of us. It wasn't his fault because we were all so close."
Logano's DNF dropped him to 20th in points and 78 points behind Woody Howard in the rookie race.
For the second race in a row, Gary St. Amant was the highest-finishing driver highest in points. St. Amant, driver of the No. 11 JEGS.com Chevy, finished sixth at Jennerstown and seventh at Mansfield. With Gordon and Huffman posting two finishes outside the top 10 in both events, St. Amant has moved into third in points and is 22 points behind Gordon with three races remaining.
Mark McFarland, who ripped of a lap of 16.466 seconds in practice, didn't back up his practice speed in qualifying, but it didn't matter.
McFarland's lap of 16.715 seconds at 107.688 mph was good enough to pick up his series-high sixth Advance Auto Parts Award of the season and an extra $1,000.
McFarland, driver of the No. 32s WINFUEL Chevy, also set a new-track record with his fast time, breaking Mart Nesbitt's record of 16.801 seconds at 107.136 mph set in last year's race.