USAR: Myrtle Beach: Race report

Rags to Ritch's Michael Ritch wins Greased Lightning 200, takes point lead Myrtle Beach, S.C. -- Michael Ritch has spent the last five years trying to get to the top. On Saturday, June 23, the Hooters Pro Cup veteran completed his...

Rags to Ritch's
Michael Ritch wins Greased Lightning 200, takes point lead

Myrtle Beach, S.C. -- Michael Ritch has spent the last five years trying to get to the top. On Saturday, June 23, the Hooters Pro Cup veteran completed his climb.

Ritch, driver of the No. 28 Naturally Fresh/Jackaroo Ford, took the lead for the final time on Lap 168 and held off Mark McFarland to win the Greased Lightning 200 presented by Black's Tire & Auto Service at Myrtle Beach Speedway.

While Ritch has 12 wins, his victory at Myrtle Beach was just his second since 1999, when he left the series to compete in the Busch Series for several years.

"It's taken me a while to get back here," said Ritch, who started second. "We kind of lucked into the win at Mansfield [in 2005]. We didn't luck into this one. We definitely had the fastest car here tonight."

There was no doubting Ritch's car was good, but it took a little searching to make it the best.

After leading the first lap, Ritch was passed by Billy Bigley Jr., driver of the No. 25 Peerless Woodworking Ford. Ritch eventually slipped to third in the first 25 laps, but he went line searching -- and it paid off.

"I jumped out there and led the first lap on the bottom of the track, and then I started getting tagged," said Ritch. "Everybody started going high, so I got kind of ill. I said, 'If ya'll want to go high, I can go higher than that.' When I did that, I picked up about a half second."

Using the cushion, Ritch moved back to the front, slipping past Caleb Holman on Lap 33. But even with his car hooked up, Ritch still needed the right pit strategy to prevail. Ritch gave up the lead and came to pit road on Lap 44, opting to take fuel only.

Mark McFarland, driver of the No. 81 Knight's Companies Chevrolet, stayed on the track and inherited the lead. Over the next 30 laps, McFarland and Mike Garvey, driver of the No. 17 Jani-King Ford, fought fiercely for the lead, exchanging the top spot three times.

McFarland and Garvey elected to pit on Lap 77, handing the lead to Brett Butler, driver of the No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine. Butler, Kirk Leone and Bigley exchanged the lead over the next 20 laps before Ritch came charging back to the front on Lap 98.

Ritch took the lead just in time to pick up five bonus points and $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader.

Shelby Howard, driver of the No. 22 Black's Tire & Auto Service Chevrolet, made a nice charge to the front on Lap 112, wrestling the lead away from Ritch. But seven laps later, Ritch reclaimed the lead. McFarland also climbed back into contention after his stop, moving to second on Lap 142.

A caution on Lap 150 brought Ritch, and most of the lead cars, to pit road for the final time.

"We could have lost the race on pit road," said Ritch. "The competition on pit road is just as tough as it is on the track, but my guys did a tremendous job. If we would have come out 10th, the race would have been over."

Ritch's crew sent him out second behind Shelby Howard, who won the race off pit road. Two quick cautions allowed Clay Jones, who pitted out of sequence with Ritch, to hold onto the lead, but only for 15 laps.

Ritch finally made his way back to the top spot on Lap 168, sweeping to the inside of Jones. McFarland followed him through and pulled up to Ritch's bumper. But as the laps wound down, Ritch pulled away from McFarland by 2.698 seconds.

"On the run before, our car was a little too free, so I told them to tighten it up," said McFarland, who has averaged a second-place finish in the last four races. "The car just stayed tight the whole last run; it just never came around. I thought we had a car that could run with him. But after 15 laps, he just started stretching it out. He had an awesome car tonight."

Caleb Holman's car wasn't too bad either. After he picked up the BFGoodrich Tires Pole Award, Holman led 24 laps during the event and charged to third at the finish.

"If we could have caught a caution with about 10 [laps] to go, I thought we could have given them a hard time," said Holman, who also picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race. "I don't know if we could have passed them, though. We had a killer car, and it was an excellent day for the Food Country race team."

Seemingly out of nowhere, Benny Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Samuel Metals Ford, charged into the top three with the laps winding down before slipping to fourth at the finish.

"That was a lot of racing for fourth place," said Gordon, the highest finishing Northern Division driver. "We were really coming all night, but we just couldn't get there for some reason. I guess there were a lot of fast cars here tonight. Finally, we got some track position on that last stop, but we just didn't have anything for the top two or three."

Unlike Gordon, Mike Garvey lost track position on his final stop of the evening, ending his shot at victory. After dropping back in the field, Garvey moved to fifth at the finish.

Brian Scott, driver of the No. 01 Scott Racing Ford, continued his recent upswing by coming home a season-best sixth.

Kirk Leone, driver of the No. 52 Awesome Awnings Chevrolet, also posted his best finish of the season by finishing in seventh.

Shelby Howard, Wade Day and Jody Lavender completed the top 10.

The Greased Lightning 200 featured 15 lead changes among nine drivers and was slowed 10 times for 60 laps of caution.

Greased Lightning 200 Notebook

Caleb Holman's strategy was to pit when the leader pitted. Well, he did it, but it nearly cost him when he followed Michael Ritch down pit road early in the event.

"We got behind on pit strategy," said Holman, driver of the No. 75 Food Country Chevrolet. "We came in with Ritch on Lap 44 and got four tires. He just got gas, and I thought we were screwed. But we came back and had a great night."

Not Too Hot
The last race at Myrtle Beach, a little altercation broke out after the checkered waved between Benny Gordon and another team's crewmember. There was plenty of side-by-side racing with a few minor skirmishes during the Greased Lightning 200, but nobody was too hot after the race to control their anger.

"It's boring down here tonight," joked Gordon. "There needs to be a fight or something."

Happy Homecoming
Jody Lavender, driver of the No. 4n Greased Lighting Ford, had a happy homecoming in the Greased Lightning 200 at Myrtle Beach Speedway, posting a top-10 finish. While it wasn't a win, Lavender, of nearby Hartsville, S.C., had a huge fan-base on hand at MBS and, more importantly, he wasn't knocked around like he had been in recent weeks.

Ohio to Myrtle Beach
Rookie Brian Scott was lightning fast at Mansfield, and he carried that momentum into the Greased Lightning 200 at Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Scott, driver of the No. 01 Scott Racing Ford, paced practice for Saturday's event and posted a season-best, sixth-place finish.

"We had a lot of confidence coming into this season with Freddie [Query, crew chief], the crew and myself after what we've done in late models," said Scott. "There has been a huge learning curve, but I think it's starting to come together."

-credit: usar

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Billy Bigley , Shelby Howard , Jody Lavender , Caleb Holman , Mark McFarland , Mike Garvey , Brian Scott , Brett Butler