USAR: South Boston II: Race report

Season Finale Full of Drama Agnew Wins Miller Lite 250; St. Amant, Ward Take Titles South Boston, Va.-Jeff Agnew picked up a long-overdue win at South Boston Speedway on Saturday night. The Virginia native wrestled the lead away from Benny...

Season Finale Full of Drama
Agnew Wins Miller Lite 250; St. Amant, Ward Take Titles

South Boston, Va.-Jeff Agnew picked up a long-overdue win at South Boston Speedway on Saturday night. The Virginia native wrestled the lead away from Benny Gordon on Lap 147 of the Miller Lite 250 and never looked back en route to his first win of the season.

"It seemed like we had a monkey on our back all year. Every time it looked like we were going to win, something would happen," said Agnew, driver of the No. 73 Mark IV Suzuki/Team 7 Ford. "Tonight we got out front early, so it was up to us to make a mistake or not."

Agnew didn't make any and cruised to a 1.2-second win over Gordon.

"This is an important win for us," said Agnew, who took home $11,500 for the victory. "Heck, when you go from qualifying 25th and crashing out every week, this means everything."

With Agnew in control of the race, the attention shifted to Gary St. Amant, who was trying to wrap up the Sears Auto Center Northern Division title. Needing to finish eighth or better, St. Amant, driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet, followed Benny Gordon all the way to the finish, even when he didn't need to.

"I was in his tire tracks all night," said St. Amant, who finished third. "He got loose one time and nearly hit the wall, and I about drove into the wall because I was following him."

In the end, St. Amant steered clear of trouble, finished third and took home a $20,000 bonus for winning the Northern Division title.

"I was scared [that something might happen] tonight, because we haven't had to replace a body part all year," said St. Amant. "Then, I was little worried about Benny when he took the lead. He had a chance to lead halfway and all the laps while I was back there running sixth. I knew that I had to get a few more spots to feel safe."

St. Amant grabbed those positions when Brandon Ward tangled with Sam Fullone while battling for fourth. Fullone went for a spin in Turn 2 and Ward was hit with a rough-driving penalty, allowing St. Amant some breathing room.

But for Ward, the incident nearly cost him the rookie title.

Ward, who had a 65-point lead over Ben Stancill, was forced to restart 20th with less than 100 laps to go. However, Stancill's car stalled under the same caution, dropping him from the lead lap. Eventually, Ward climbed back to 11th at the finish, while Stancill fell to 17th, giving Ward the Northern Division Miller Lite Rookie of the Year title.

"I've got to thank Randy Humphrey [Ward's car owner] and SupplyOne for giving me this chance," said Ward, driver of the No. 93 SupplyOne Ford. "This was a last-minute deal at the start of the season. This team worked so hard to get us to this point. It was kind of a rough night for us tonight, though. We got into [Fullone] there and got penalized. We didn't mean to, but Jimmy [Wilson, USAR Race Director] is consistent with those calls. I thought we had a top-five car tonight, but I'm just happy we won the rookie title."

Derek Kale, driver of the No. 22 Heritage Equipment Ford, made up three laps during the event and came back to finish fourth.

Matt Carter, driver of the No. 26 Travis Carter Motorsports Ford, rounded out the top five.

The Miller Lite 250 featured four lead changes among four drivers and was slowed 12 times for 66 laps of caution.

The Champion

Gary St. Amant has been good since joining the Hooters Pro Cup Series in 2004, but he never had the kind of success that guided him to multiple ASA National Tour titles during his first three seasons in Pro Cup.

Last year, things got so bad at the start of the season that St. Amant quipped, "I used to go to breakfast on race mornings and think about how I was going to kick their butts that day. Now, I go to breakfast and wonder if the hauler's going to make it to the track. If it does, I wonder if the lift gate will open. After that, I wonder what will be the first thing that will fall off of my car in practice."

But those thoughts are mere memories now. This season, St. Amant rekindled the spirit that made him one the most recognized-and talented-drivers in the country over the last 25 years.

The Delaware, Ohio driver reeled off seven top-five finishes, picked up his first win since 2004 and averaged an astonishing 4.38 finish during the regular season. His stellar season was rewarded with a $20,000 bonus for being the Sears Auto Center Northern Division Champion.

"I don't think it has sunk in yet," said St. Amant. "To hold off Benny Gordon, one of the best short-track racers in the country, down the stretch of the regular season was a real test."

Though Gordon, driver of the No. 66 Samuel Metals Ford, was unable to repeat as the Northern Division champ, he was exactly disappointed to give up his title to St. Amant.

"He's a great guy," said Gordon. "I have to congratulate him on a great regular season. We had a couple of DNFs that cost us, but Gary had a great year."

Now, St. Amant faces his toughest challenge: The Hooters Pro Cup Championship Series.

"It's a thrill and an honor to present my great friends at JEGS and Speedco with this Northern Division title but the real goal in the championship," St. Amant said. "The season is already a big success, but we've still got some racing left to do."

St. Amant will carry the No. 1 seed into the first round of the five-race Championship Series that starts at Mansfield Motorsports Park on Sept. 1.

The Rookie

As Brandon Ward celebrated the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year title at South Boston Speedway, thoughts of how he got there had to run through his mind.

Less than a week before the first race, Ward didn't have a Hooters Pro Cup ride. He was running modifieds before being tabbed to pilot the No. 93 SupplyOne/Randy Humphrey Racing Ford just before the season-opener on April 14. After finishes of 17th and 32nd in his first two starts, Ward was still trying to fit in to his new surroundings.

"We had a rough start, no doubt," said Ward. "We just kept fighting hard."

And running fast.

After the lackluster start, Ward finished second at Madison (Wis.) Int'l Speedway and at Mansfield (Ohio) Motorsports Park in the next two races. In doing so, Ward jumped from 16th to second in points.

The rookie added his first win at Motor Mile Speedway on July 14 and, despite a couple of hiccups down the stretch, cruised to an 80-point win over Ben Stancill in the rookie race.

"We had a couple of problems, or else, I think we could have challenged for the overall title," said Ward. "But for our rookie season, we accomplished the goals we wanted to get."

Ward's next goal will be to capture $25,000 for being the overall Miller Lite Rookie of the Year at the end of the Championship Series.

Miller Lite 250 Notebook

Old Friend, New Friend
Gary St. Amant broke out a new car at Salem earlier this year and won. But with the title on the line, St. Amant went back to an old friend for the final race.

"We knew we were going to bring out 'Old Faithful' for the race," said St. Amant. "We ran awful good here the first race and used the same exact setup. Once again tonight, it proved it's a good car."

Don't Forget About Me.
Benny Gordon wasn't spraying champagne, hugging Hooters Girls or mugging for the cameras at the end of the Miller Lite 250, but don't overlook him in the Championship Series.

"Yeah, I would have liked to win the title, but I was more worried about getting this team ready for the Championship Series," said Gordon. "The car is working good, and the team's working good. We've got the Championship Series coming up, and that's where they pay all the big money."

Happy Birthday
South Boston Speedway turned 50-years-old the day before the Miller Lite 250. Junior Johnson won the first event at South Boston Speedway and his relative, Ray Love Jr., competed in the Hooters Pro Cup event 50 years later.

Love, co-sponsored by Junior Johnson Hams, finished 15th at SoBo.

-credit: usar

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Series Stock car
Drivers Junior Johnson , Ben Stancill , Jeff Agnew