USAR: Salem: Race report

Woody Howard Wins Lucas Oil 250 Salem, IN-Many suspected that Woody Howard would be good at the Virginia tracks on the Northern Division schedule. But the Chesapeake, Va., driver is quickly showing that he's got a knack for the tougher tracks...

Woody Howard Wins Lucas Oil 250

Salem, IN-Many suspected that Woody Howard would be good at the Virginia tracks on the Northern Division schedule. But the Chesapeake, Va., driver is quickly showing that he's got a knack for the tougher tracks on the Northern tour.

Woody Howard, who went to victory lane earlier this season at the complicated Kil-Kare Speedway, took the lead from Joel Kauffman on Lap 199 and led the final 51 circuits of the Lucas Oil 250 presented by Holley Performance at the ultra-fast Salem Speedway on Saturday en route to his second win of the season.

"I don't even know what to say," said Howard, driver of the No. 55 Dean Motorsports Chevy. "We didn't even know we'd be running the [Hooters Pro Cup] Series until about a month before the season. I can't thank Jim Dean [Howard's car owner] enough for this opportunity."

Like he did with Dean's offer, Howard pounced when the opportunity to take the lead arose at the high-banked track.

After several attempts to bypass Kauffman were snuffed out by lapped traffic, Howard blasted into the lead when Kauffman checked up for a split second. From there, Howard pulled away from the field.

"I really wasn't that good on the short runs," said Howard. "We really worked on our car for the long runs in practice, and it paid off. I could cut down in the corner and not slip the tires off of [Turn] 2, and the other guys couldn't."

Kauffman was one of those guys who couldn't.

After building leads of nearly six seconds, Kauffman's No. 44 Super Cuts Pontiac came back to the field around Lap 175.

"We were a little tight on the first run," said Kauffman, who picked up the Greased Lightning "Blast the Pack" Award for leading a race-high 142 laps and the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader Award. "We added a couple of pounds of air pressure to the right-side tires on the stop. It worked well for a while, but the car got too free towards the end."

While Kauffman was fading, Mardy Lindley jumped into the fray, moving from ninth to second over the final 100 laps. Lindley closed down Howard's lead over the final laps, but he finished 2.712 seconds behind at the finish.

"I tried to make a run, but I couldn't catch [Howard]," said Lindley, driver of the No. 16 Hooters Air Ford. "I thought we may run out of fuel, because we all pitted on Lap 90. About five laps to go, I started running about half-throttle. We had a good hot rod, but I lost a few spots on our pit stop, and it was hard to get back to the front."

Joe Gaita used a late-stop pit strategy to his benefit. Gaita pitted on Lap 158, when most of the leaders pitted on Lap 91.

Gaita, who led six laps with his out-of-sequence pit strategy, moved from 10th to third over the final 100 laps to notch his first podium finish of the season.

"I thought the strategy was going to work, but everybody was still good after we took our tires," said Gaita, who picked up $500 for winning the Mr. Gasket Hard Charger Award. "It took a while for the tires to make a difference. We only had about 50-lap fresher tires, and it took until the end of the race to show that we had better rubber."

Joey Logano continued his string of top-five finishes by coming home fourth. However, Logano's night wasn't without problems. Logano qualified 15th and struggled for the first 50 laps before coming to pit row for numerous unscheduled stops during the first 75 laps.

Logano's crew made the right adjustments and put the rookie on the track in seventh spot after the round of pit stops. Logano raced into the top five after his stop, But on Lap 228, while trying to wrestle third from Joel Kauffman, the 15-year-old rookie's car broke loose in Turn 4, slid down the track and was rear-ended by Joe Harrison Jr.

Logano grabbed a gear and never lost a spot during the incident and went on to finish fourth.

"We came in early to take a spring rubber out, then my air hose came loose," said Logano. "We came back in to duct tape it on, and it fell off again with about 100 laps to go.

"I don't know what happened with Kauffman. The car was super loose after that accident. I was just giving it all I had after that, and I was able to get Benny Gordon there at the end. Overall, it was a good night, and I'm happy with another top five."

After fading during the late stages of the race, Kauffman returned to pit row late in the event to tighten his car and rallied to finish fifth.

Shelby Howard, who started from the Advance Auto Parts Pole, led the first 51 laps until he was swept into an accident triggered by the spinning car of Mike Hampton.

"There was no way to miss that one," said Howard, driver of the No. 20 Tony Stewart's Smoke Bar-B-Que Sauce Pontiac. "If [Hampton] would have kept his foot on the brake, he wouldn't have slid back in front of us. I had the machine to win here tonight. The car wasn't falling off at all after 50 laps."

The accident also wiped out Jeff Agnew, Brian Ross and Johnny Rumley, running second, third and fourth, respectively.

The Lucas Oil 250 presented by Holley Performance was slowed nine times for 55 laps of caution and featured four lead changes among four drivers.

Lucas Oil 250 Notebook

First Timers
With its high banks and unique groove, Salem Speedway can intimidate many a driver. Sixteen drivers made their Salem debut in the Lucas Oil 250, and many of the first timers faired well.

Woody Howard won, Joe Gaita finished third, Mart Nesbitt finished ninth and Sam Fullone finished 10th.

Rookie Race Heating Up
Going into the Lucas Oil 250, A.J. Frank held an 82-point lead over Woody Howard in the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year race. But that all changed with Howard's win and Frank's DNF.

Frank is still the leading rookie, but Howard trimmed the margin down to eight points.

Ride Then Race
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 11 Chevy, said during the prerace festivities that his plans were to ride around for 200 laps and race the final 50.

St. Amant's plan worked well. He found a gap behind the top 10, missed the "Big One" and went on to finish sixth.

Rushing Forward
Lonnie Rush Jr. has become a fixture in the top 10 in recent weeks. One race after posting a career-best, sixth-place finish at Motor Mile, Rush finished eighth in the Lucas Oil 250 at Salem Speedway in his No. 71 Ray Skillman Auto Chevy.

Best Finishes
Robby Marhefka and Greg Van Alst grabbed their best finishes of the season in Lucas Oil 250 at Salem Speedway.

Marhefka, driver of the No. 12 The Clarks Chevy, finished 11th. Prior to the race, Marhefka's best finish was 17th at Jennerstown.

Van Alst, driver of the No. 35 Pontiac, finished 12th. His previous best finish was 26th at Lonesome Pine.


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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Shelby Howard , Brian Ross , Joel Kauffman , Joey Logano , A.J. Frank , Johnny R , Jeff Agnew