Benny Gordon Wins Hooters Air 250 Myrtle Beach, SC-If the Hooters Air 250 presented by Black's Tire Service was any indication of the how the Championship Series will play out, Benny Gordon threw his name in the hat of contenders. Gordon,...
Benny Gordon Wins Hooters Air 250
Myrtle Beach, SC-If the Hooters Air 250 presented by Black's Tire Service was any indication of the how the Championship Series will play out, Benny Gordon threw his name in the hat of contenders.
Gordon, interloping from the Northern Division, took the lead from rookie driver Stuart Ricks with 38 laps remaining and cruised to an 11.786-second win over Brad Rogers, driver of the No. 29 KellyCo. Heavy Hauling Ford, at Myrtle Beach Speedway on Saturday night.
"The car was good and then it was bad," said Benny Gordon, a former Ladson, S.C., native.
"We went from the front to the back a couples times tonight, but the team just kept making the car better during the pit stops. The car was the best it had been all night on the last run."
Prior to the final 50-lap run to the checkered, it was Stuart Ricks that looked to have the best car.
Ricks, driver of the No. 70 Bell & Bell Pontiac, tracked down and passed Gordon on Lap 174 and took command of the race. It was the first time Ricks, who has 29 wins in the Late Model Stock Division at MBS, had led a lap in the ProCup competition.
But Ricks didn't just lead the race, he nearly ran off with it.
After taking the lead, the rookie driver checked out on the field, building leads of nearly eight seconds of Joe Gaita and Gordon.
Ricks kept the comfortable lead until caution waved on Lap 193 for the spinning car of Jake Hobgood. With 55 laps remaining, Ricks led the lead- lap cars to pit road for service. Ricks was able to keep the lead after the pit stop, beating Brad Rogers, David Pletcher and Benny Gordon off of pit road. Ricks was able to keep a Rogers and Gordon at bay after the restart, but another caution would cut his lead again just 13 laps later.
Anxious to break free of the competition once the green waved with 39 laps remaining, Ricks accelerated before the restart line and received a black flag.
"I don't know what happened," said Ricks. "I'm not real sure what the rules are here. I thought the leader was supposed to start the race, and [Gordon and Rogers] were pushing me. If I hadn't started when I did, they would have lifted my back tires off the ground. The only thing I could do was go. If I started before the [restart] line, it may have been by five feet."
Gordon believed it may have been more than five feet.
"I figured they'd penalize him because he started in the middle of the corner," said Gordon. "[ProCup officials] are pretty strict on that. But I think I could have held him off even if didn't have the penalty."
After serving a stop-and-go penalty, Ricks rejoined the race one lap down in fifth. The Myrtle Beach driver tracked Gordon down and was trying to get back on the lead lap, but he ran out of time.
Ricks' misfortune was just the last of in a series of mishaps for the frontrunners in the Hooters Air 250.
Michael Ritch, driver of the No. 28 Jackaroo Pontiac, blasted by Gordon on Lap 21 to take over the lead. Ritch set a blistering pace and began to lap his way through the field after taking the lead. Ritch started to slip off the pace and his night ended on Lap 99 with mechanical failure.
Bobby Gill, driver of the No. 5 Tiger Rear Ends Ford, took the lead on Lap 69 as Ritch faded from contention. But he, too, would suffer from mechanical failure on Lap 79.
Joe Gatia, driver of the No. 06 USG Sheetrock Brand Ford, rocketed into the lead after Gill retired from the race. Gaita led 43 laps and picked up $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Products Halfway leader. Gaita was running third as the teams made their final pit stop, but the Yorktown, Va., driver left the pits without lugs on his left-rear tire. The tire came off as Gaita left pit road, ending his chances at victory.
Shane Huffman, who won his second Advance Auto Parts Pole Award of the season, and Matt Carter tangled on Lap 114 and made contact with the outside wall. Both drivers ended the night behind the wall. After running in the top five for the first 75 laps, Mike Laughlin Jr. suffered a mechanical failure and retired on Lap 100.
While many of the frontrunners fail from contention, several drivers charged from the back of the pack to get into contention late in the race.
David Pletcher, driver of the No. 51 RaceFansDating.com Ford, rumbled into the top five by Lap 200 after starting 26th. Pletcher finished the night in third and picked up $500 for his second consecutive Hard Charger Award.
"I feel good," said Pletcher. "We didn't qualify well, so I had to start way back. I used my stuff up getting to the front, but we got another top five."
With his charge from 26th to third, Pletcher tied Billy Bigley Jr. for the Most Hard Charger Awards this season with three.
Bigley Jr., driver of the No. 25 Peerless Woodworking Ford, advanced 15 spots during the race to finish fifth.
Mart Nesbitt, Jason Sarvis, Jay Fogleman, Jason Patison and Joe Gaita rounded out the top 10.
The race was slowed 7 times for 38 laps of caution.
Hooters Air 250 Notebook
It wasn't an F-18, but the effect was the same. Prior to the start of the Hooters Air 250, a 727 Hooters Air Jet brought the fans to their feet with a flyby and wing wave at low altitude.
There were two Lucas Oil Products car on hand at Myrtle Beach Speedway. Of course, the familiar No. 4 of Jay Fogleman was in the event, but Jason Patison, of Corona, California made his first start of 2004 in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Ford, normally driven by Johnny Rumley in the Northern Division. And both drivers posted top-10 finishes.
It was the first top-10 finish by Patison in his career.
Heading Home Early
Forty-Six cars showed up for 36 spots in the Hooters Air 250 presented by Black's Tire Service, meaning 10 drivers failed to qualify.
Chad Mullis, Vince Fanello, Mikie Stafford, Scott Seither, Larry Barrett, Michelle Theriault, Mark Whitaker, Randy Humphrey, Free Pennington and Bill Manfull were unable to make the starting field due to the largest turnout of the season.
In addition to the largest car count of the season, the Hooters Air 250 also had the largest turnout for fans in 2004. Nearly 9,000 fans attended the event.
With his second-place finish, Miller Lite Rookie of the Year contender Brad Rogers took over the lead in the Southern Division ROTY standings.
"I think we would have been better if we only had eight tires," said Rogers. "My car was good on new tires, but so was everybody else. Our car was good on the long runs."
Rogers' second-place finish was the highest finish by a rookie this season in the Southern Division. Rogers now holds a one-point lead over Matt Carter, driver of the No. 22 HeavyTruckDealers.com Ford in the ROTY race.
With teams able to use 10 BFGoodrich Tires Traction T/A radials, tire strategy played an important role in the Hooters Air 250. Benny Gordon decided to change three tires on both stops during the night. Most teams changed four on the first stop and two on the final stop.