Rogers Moonlights Right, Crashes SoBo Party Southern Division Regular Wins Northern Division Opener South Boston, Va.-The Northern Division of the Hooters Pro Cup Series opened its regular season on Saturday night at South (Va.) Boston ...
Rogers Moonlights Right, Crashes SoBo Party
Southern Division Regular Wins Northern Division Opener
South Boston, Va.-The Northern Division of the Hooters Pro Cup Series opened its regular season on Saturday night at South (Va.) Boston Speedway, but it may take a few more weeks before a Northern Division competitor visits LK Victory Lane.
Clay Rogers, a Southern Division regular, crashed the Northern Division regulars' party by dominating the Aaron's 250 presented by Lance Kelly Designs. Rogers, driver of the No. 44s Automotive Group/Johnny's Suzuki/Baird Transport Ford, led a race-high 197 laps and out-dueled Benny Gordon, the two-time defending Northern Division champion, down the stretch en route to his ninth Pro Cup win.
"I really thought Benny had a better car in the first half of the race," said Rogers, who qualified second but bypassed pole-sitter Gordon to lead the first 34 laps. "When he got to me, I moved up the track to take his line away. I could get a great run off the corner and keep him down there."
Gordon, driver of the No. 66 Predator Performance Ford, was able to use the low line to lead laps 35 to 38, but Rogers' high-line approach proved to be too much for Gordon to overcome in the first 100 laps.
While the lead duo stayed glued together for the first 100 laps, Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55 Dean Motorsports Chevy, joined the battle for the lead. Jack Bailey, driver of the No. 93 Ferguson Waterworks Ford, also tracked the leaders down.
For much of the first 100 laps, the top four ran separate grooves and side-by-side. Rogers and Howard were content with the high line, while Gordon and Bailey hugged the apron.
The top four separated themselves from the pack, but their biggest scare was in front of them. On Lap 107, Cameron Dodson, driver of the No. 14 Elite Auto Collision Center Chevy, went for a spin right in front of the leaders. The foursome made it through unscathed, however. Most of the lead-lap cars, including the leaders, took the opportunity to come to pit road under caution.
Gordon managed to beat Rogers off pit road on Lap 108, but five cars elected to stay on the track and lined up ahead of Gordon, Rogers, Howard and Bailey.
The group would have another fright as the green waved when Derek Kale sent Joe Harrison Jr. spinning in front of the leaders. Gordon and Rogers navigated their way past, but Howard bounced off the wall trying to avoid the carnage.
Howard's car received little damage from the incident, but Brad Rogers, driver of the No. 81 PKR/Aaron's Chevy, and Johnny Rumley, driver of the No. 8 Bob Huff Chevrolet, were swept up in the melee and retired for the night.
After a restart, Gordon, Rogers and Howard continued to march toward the front again.
Lonnie Rush Jr., driver of the No. 71 Ray Skillman Auto Chevy, pitted early in the event and led the Lucas Oil Products Halfway lap to pick up a $1,000 bonus, but Gordon and Rogers were charging.
On Lap 156, they caught Rush, who was battling with the lapped car of Derek Kale, and a move-for-the ages took place.
The lapped car of Derek Kale, who was pressuring Rush to get a lap back, forced Rush high, and Rogers pounced, ducking down on the apron and going from third to first at the exit of Turn 2.
"That was cool," said Rogers. "I'd better get the 'Cool Move of the Race' Award for that. I was just hanging out on the bottom and Benny went to the top, so I just drove down on the apron. I mean, we weren't going anywhere and I had plenty of room behind me. I figured that if I was down there and something happened, I was down there where no one could get under me. That is what happened, too. Those guys all got together and I was able to squeak by and no one was able to do anything about it."
Gordon wasn't quite as lucky.
Kale hooked Rush and forced him into the path of Gordon, sending the DuBois, Pa., driver into the backstretch wall.
"We got out in front of the lead-lap cars that had pitted," said Gordon, who picked up $1,000 for being the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award winner. "That made a huge difference. When the 22 [Kale] was trying to get his lap back, he ran the leader [Rush] over and ended up hooking him toward the outside wall. I was on the outside and when he hooked the leader, they took us up into the wall. That was it right there. I needed that lead. If we could have gotten the lead, I don't think [Clay] would have gotten around us at all."
Gordon made a spirited run at Rogers around Lap 200, but Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55 Dean Motorsports Chevy, moved up to the high side of the track and began to clog Gordon's mirror.
"That's the one thing I really like about South Boston," said Howard. "From week to week, the line changes around here."
Howard pulled alongside Gordon, but was unable to complete the pass and had to settle for third.
"When he saw me coming, he moved up," said Howard. "I really couldn't do anything at the bottom anymore. Everything was running good tonight, but we were just a little bit off on the set up."
While the duo was battling, Clay Rogers checked out and went on to win by 2.7 seconds.
After being involved in an early-race accident, Jeff Agnew, driver of the Mark IV Honda Ford, rallied to finish fourth.
Eric Sartin, driver of the No. 5 Sartin Enterprises Chevy, picked up Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors for his fifth-place finish.
The Aaron's 250 was slowed 14 times for 81 laps of caution and featured five lead changes among three drivers.
Aaron's 250 Notebook
We Race in Their Memory
On April 1, 1993, a plane carrying defending NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki, along with Hooters of America representatives Mark Brooks, Dan Duncan and Charlie Campbell went down outside of Bristol, Tenn. All four perished in a plane crash, but the Hooters Pro Cup Series was started in their memory.
Thirteen years later, to the day, Clay Rogers still knows that.
"Those four guys that died on that airplane are why we are racing today here and now in their honor and in their memory. What Hooters has done in light of that tragic accident allows me and Benny Gordon, Jeff Agnew, Woody Howard and everyone else out here to do what we want to do, and that is very special. So I'm just happy to get the win on the anniversary of that bad day."
Communication Breakdown Pays Off
Eric Sartin, driver of the No. 5 Sartin Enterprises Chevy, wasn't sure about coming to South Boston, but it paid dividends for the rookie driver.
"My crew chief wanted to come here, but I've never had any luck at South Boston in the past, so I wasn't too sure," said Sartin, who finished fifth and took home an extra $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race. "We had great car tonight, and if we had the money to run the whole season, we'd give them a run for the rookie title."
Do Not Disturb
After having his car demolished in the last event at South Boston Speedway, Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73 Mark IV Honda Ford, was hoping for a quiet night in the Aaron's 250. But that didn't happen.
"We got spun out and had to go the rear," said Agnew, who rallied to finish fourth. "I have to thank my guys for getting us back in there and giving us a shot to win. Our car was just skating around on the track. We can't complain, the cars in one piece, and we'll go home and work on it a little bit."
The pairing of legendary driver Gary St. Amant and fellow Ohioan Dwayne Tatman, owner of Tatman Motorsports, got off to a pretty good start in the Aaron's 250.
St. Amant, driver of the No. 72 JEGS.com/HTS Mulch Chevy, qualified seventh and ran in the top five for much of the first half of the event. Although mechanical problems relegated St. Amant to eighth at the finish, the debut wasn't a bad start.
"About 20 laps into the race, the car got stuck in high gear," said St. Amant. "We still ran in the top five, but our problems were just starting. I thought we had the tires mixed up, but we ended up having a flat on the right front, so that got us way behind. From then on, I wanted to get the car home with all the fenders, and we did that. To come out of here with a top-10 finish with a new team, new car and new Gaerte engine was a pretty good night for us."
Hey You, It's Me...
While the Championship Series is still a long ways away, Benny Gordon and Clay Rogers paths have crossed a lot this season already. Pro Cup drivers are allowed five out-of-division starts during the season, and Rogers and Gordon may use them all.
Round 1 went to Gordon, who finished third at South Georgia in a Southern Division event, but Rogers got Gordon back at SoBo. And Gordon didn't like it too much.
"I definitely don't like a Southern guy coming up here and whipping the Northern guys," said Gordon. "I'm not real happy about that."
But the rivalry may be deeper than divisions.
"We've got a little friendly rivalry," said Rogers. "He used to drive for the team I'm driver for now. Actually, the only reason we ran this race is because he came and ran at [South Georgia]. I like this track, it's only two hours from the house and I wanted to come up here and run with Benny and the other Northern drivers."
Sunday Can't Come Soon Enough
The Greased Lightning Racing Team didn't have the kind of night they were hoping for in the season opening Aaron's 250 at South Boston Speedway on Saturday night.
Tim Jr. was caught up in an accident just two laps into the event, leaving them with their first DNF in over two years.
"It's not the kind of night we had in mind," said Tim Jr. after the event. "But, unfortunately, that kind of stuff happens in racing. It's just too bad, because we really hurt the car tonight."
Bainey and his team will be putting in long hours to ready the No. 15 Ford for Lonesome Pine.