Rogers Goes Back-to-Back, Wins Naturally Fresh 250 2004 Champion Comes Out Swinging to Start 2006 Jefferson, GA-Clay Rogers won just one race in 2005. But after Saturday night's Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Greased Lightning at Peach...
Rogers Goes Back-to-Back, Wins Naturally Fresh 250
2004 Champion Comes Out Swinging to Start 2006
Jefferson, GA-Clay Rogers won just one race in 2005. But after Saturday night's Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Greased Lightning at Peach State Speedway, Rogers has doubled his 2005 total in his first five races of the 2006 season.
Rogers slid underneath Mike Herman Jr. with four laps to go and staved off Shane Huffman to win the Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Greased Lightning at Peach State Speedway.
"Two out of five isn't bad," said Rogers, who picked up a win last week in the Northern Division at South Boston Speedway. "Man, this feels great; I guess I need to thank Johnny Dangerfield [Rogers' co-owner] for telling us to go up to South Boston last weekend. That's what we needed. We went up there and raced against Benny [Gordon] and those guys and really found what we needed in the car."
But as the race neared its conclusion, it looked like Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Automotive Development Group Ford, may need a few more laps to get to the front.
Mike Herman Jr., driver of the No. 34 Fireside Hearth & Home Chevy, held a commanding lead as Rogers and Shane Huffman navigated their way toward the front after pitting with 41 laps remaining. However, a late race caution gave Rogers a chance to pounce on Herman.
"I knew I was a sitting duck," said Herman, who came home fifth. "I was going to race them clean, but I wasn't going to roll over for them. We still came out of here with a good run, though."
As Herman dropped through the top five in the waning laps, Wayne Willard, driver of the No. 01 Bowen Family Homes Ford, was rocketing through the pack. Willard hounded Huffman, but he was unable to make his way around the No. 88 Champion Chevy at the finish, coming home third and posting his career-best Pro Cup finish.
"We've had a lot of bad luck, but this team has stuck together," said Willard, who qualified a career-best second. "We've had some good cars this year, but not good finishes-and I take the blame for that. If I can do what I'm supposed to in qualifying and get out of the back of the pack, we can have a car to run with at the end. It showed tonight."
Jody Lavender, driver of the No. 84 Lavender Racing/Heritage Community Bank Ford, had an eventful night. After starting sixth, Lavender went a lap down, got spun and fought an ill-handling car all night before rebounding to post a top-five finish.
"It wasn't a fourth-place car," said Lavender, standing beside his battered machine. "This car is good for about 50 laps, and then it just dies for some reason. Luckily, we worked it out that we were able to have good tires at the end and get our lap back. Everybody on this team worked hard and showed a lot of determination tonight. We put ourselves in position to get a good finish."
Jeff Fultz did the same.
Fultz, driver of the No. 54 C&C Boiler Sale & Service Pontiac, methodically picked his way from his 14th-place starting spot to finish sixth and claim the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award.
While Lavender and Fultz posted solid finishes, many other early frontrunners weren't so fortunate.
Shane Wallace, who held the point lead heading into Peach State, led four laps in the early stages of the Naturally Fresh 250, but his No. 38 Shane Wallace Motorsports Ford faded and eventually went a lap down. Later, Wallace was hit with a rough-driving penalty after an altercation with Jody Lavender and retired on Lap 173 in 27th position.
Bobby Gill, driver of the No. 06 Tidewater Interiors Ford, picked his way to the front from his ninth-place starting spot and led 28 laps, including the Lucas Oil Halfway Lap. But on Lap 130, Gill's machine began to slow and the 3-time Pro Cup champ went behind the wall for repairs. Gill returned to the track, but he finished 39 laps down in 26th position.
Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 29 McDonalds Ford, also led the Naturally Fresh 250, but he, too, was nowhere near the front of the field when the checkered waved.
Bayne took over the lead from Gill and paced the field from Lap 131 to 145. Eventually, Bayne, a Miller Lite Rookie of the Year contender, was involved in an incident, lost a lap and finished 16th.
Fellow rookie contender Dange Hanniford, driver of the No. 22 BTS Tire & Wheel Distributor Ford, also saw his strong run go awry in the final stages of the Naturally Fresh 250.
Hanniford wrestled the lead away from Herman with 31 laps remaining, but the Darlington, S.C., native spun late in the race and fell to 18th at the finish.
Chase Pistone, driver of the No. 83 SpeedVue Window TearOffs Ford, continued his string of top-10 finishes by coming home seventh. Joey Logano, driver of the No. 51 Joe Gibbs Performance Racing Oil Chevy, led 10 laps during the race and finished eighth. Matt Carter and Mike Mason rounded out the top 10.
The Naturally Fresh 250 was slowed 15 times for 74 laps of caution and featured 17 lead changes among eight drivers.
Naturally Fresh 250 Notebook
In My Backyard
Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Automotive Development Group Ford, has won two races in a row, and his next race will be at his home track-Concord Motorsport Park, giving him a chance to notch a hat trick.
"This season, our car is fast off the truck, fast in qualifying and fast for 250 laps," said Rogers. "Blake Bainbridge coming on board has really helped this team out. He's just so smart on these chassis, and that lets me go back to being a driver and analyzing what the car is doing. We've got really good communication going on right now, and I'm definitely looking forward to going to Concord."
Jeff Fultz may be a rookie in the Hooters Pro Cup Series, but he's not your typical run-of-the-mill greenhorn. Fultz has won in ARCA and NASCAR Elite Division competition before moving into Pro Cup this season. Futlz's veteran approach to his rookie season paid dividends in the Naturally Fresh 250 as he picked up an extra $1,000 for his first Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award.
"It was the same as Montgomery out there, we just tried to be patient," said Fultz, who finished sixth. "We're just trying not to make any enemies out there. Our car was good, but we needed about three more laps to get a few more positions. All and all, this I great series to race in, and we're really looking forward to the next stretch of races."
Mike Herman, driver of the No. 34 Fireside Hearth & Home Chevy, had a nice contingent of Fireside representatives on hand for the Naturally Fresh 250, and he didn't disappoint them.
"This only the second time I've had people from the Fireside corporate office here, so it was great to get out there and charge," said Herman Jr. "They like it when I qualify bad because they know I'm going to put on a show for them."
Jody Lavender, driver of the No. 84 Lavender Racing/Heritage Community Bank Ford, didn't get the finishes he deserved at South Georgia and Montgomery, but Karma was on his side at Peach State.
"That's what's so ironic about this deal," said Lavender, who finished fourth. "We had a great car a South Georgia and had problems late in the race, and then the same thing happened at Montgomery. We had two good race cars and finished bad, and we took our worst race car and finished good. It's just real ironic. We're not even yet, but we're happy and I'll take it."
Mike Mason, driver of the No. 75 Watkins Engine Development Ford, had finished in the top 15 in all four of his Hooters Pro Cup Series starts prior to the Naturally Fresh 250, but his fifth start gave him his best-career finish. Mason finished 10th on Saturday night.
"We're doing what we need to be doing," said Mason. "We're getting experience - quality lap experience - at every race. I've got a lot of good people around me and we're doing what we need to do at the shop and at the track to earn good finishes. It's the kind of thing you hope for when you're planning your season and feels really good that we've been able to accomplish our goals so far this year."
Mason has now completed all but one of the 1,267 laps contested in his five USAR Hooters Pro Cup outings dating back to the final South Division regular season event at Lakeland in 2005 and the first four races of the 2006 South Division campaign.