USAR: Southern: Race report

Bobby Gill Takes Sears Auto Center 250 Veteran notches 42nd Pro Cup Win Kenly, N.C.-Robert H. Brooks created the Hooters Pro Cup Series to give grassroots racers a chance to compete in a national touring circuit-and make a living doing so. If...

Bobby Gill Takes Sears Auto Center 250
Veteran notches 42nd Pro Cup Win

Kenly, N.C.-Robert H. Brooks created the Hooters Pro Cup Series to give grassroots racers a chance to compete in a national touring circuit-and make a living doing so. If there's one driver in the Hooters Pro Cup Series who encompasses Mr. Brooks' vision, it's Bobby Gill.

He's not a Madison-Avenue type. Heck, he's not even politically correct. But what Gill does have is the ability to wheel a racecar as good as anyone. So on a night of remembrance of the passing of Mr. Brooks, Gill reminded us all what racing is about. It's not about boardrooms, and it's not about celebrity. It's about laying it all on the line to be the first one to sweep under the checkered flag.

In front of a packed house in rural Kenly, N.C., Gill took on all-comers and won the Sears Auto Center 250 presented by Awesome Awnings going away at Southern National Raceway Park on Sat., July 22.

After starting 20th in the 32-car field, Gill drove his No. 06 USG Sheetrock Brand Ford to the point after the halfway mark and held off furious charges by Shane Huffman and Clay Rogers to take his 42nd Pro Cup win by 1.255 seconds.

"We've kind of been behind the eight ball and stuck in third [place] the last four or five races," said Gill, who pushed his Hooters Pro Cup winnings to $1.6 million. "We brought a drop-snout car here tonight that worked pretty good. We had the same four springs we had on the car here last year, and I kind of made the calls myself tonight on the setup, because I knew what I wanted."

But it took 137 laps for Gill to get where he wanted to be, mainly because Huffman, driver of the No. 88 Champion Spark Plugs Chevrolet, and Michael Ritch, driver of the No. 28 Jackaroo Sauces Ford, were the class of the field in the first 125 laps.

Huffman, who started second, beat pole-sitter Kirk Leone, driver of the No. 52 Percy Johnson Grading Chevrolet, to the first turn and begin to inch away from the pack.

As Huffman paced the field in the first 50 laps, Ritch was riding the rim of SNRP and passing cars each lap. By Lap 65, Ritch, who started 12th, had tracked down Huffman, and the two put on a show for the capacity crowd.

In the span of 50 laps, Huffman, running the low groove, and Ritch, opting for the high side, swapped the lead four times.

"That was fun," said Huffman. "I love racing with Michael. He probably is the best person out here to race with like that."

Ritch eventually took control of the lead on Lap 93, but laps later he would find himself alone on the track when most of the lead-lap cars, including Huffman, ducked to pit road under caution.

"We definitely screwed up on pit strategy," said Ritch. "I thought they were going to stay out with us a little bit longer."

Huffman's JR Motorsports crew sent him off pit road ahead of all the cars pitting on Lap 108, but he would restart seventh behind the out-of-sequence cars.

It took Huffman just 12 laps of green flag racing to knife his way back to the front as he slipped past Kirk Leone on Lap 122. Huffman would pace the field for 13 laps, including the Lucas Oil Halfway Lap, but Gill was beginning to pressure for the lead. On Lap 136, Huffman opted to let Gill pass.

"I just let him go," said Huffman. "I felt like we were going to be real dominant in the second half of the race. I was just riding, and he was driving his [butt] off at the time. I thought, well, he can have [the lead] if he wants it."

As soon as Gill moved to the point, ominous clouds started to form just off Turn 2. Fearing the race might not reach its scheduled distance, Gill and Huffman began to turn some of the fastest laps of the night.

Huffman would close on Gill in traffic, but Gill would pull away in clean air.

"As long as I kept Shane back there, I knew I was going to be alright," said Gill. "The guys may have said something about the rain, but I just had a good rhythm going. I knew where my car was good, and the biggest thing out there tonight was throttle control. It's real easy to slip the tires here."

Gill didn't slip, but Huffman slipped from second to third in the final 20 laps.

"Our car just got way tight," said Huffman, who moved to the high line late in the race. "We'll just go back to the shop and evaluate what happened. I think something happened on the front of the car. Maybe, if I'd a stayed on the bottom, I could have finished second, but I don't know."

The battle for second had plenty of ramifications, too.

Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Automotive Development Group Ford, eased past Huffman on Lap 230 into second place. Huffman, who trailed Rogers by 92 points coming into SNRP, had picked 10-bonus points for leading a lap and the Lucas Oil Products Halfway lap, while Rogers had yet to lead a lap. Had Huffman been able to hold on to second, Rogers' lead would have been 77 points rather than 87 points with three races remaining.

Once Rogers slipped past Huffman, he was unable to track down Gill and finished second for the fifth time this season.

"It was a good night for us," said Rogers. "We had a really good car, but we just came up a little bit short. I think we at least maintained our point lead with Shane finishing third. If we just keep our nose clean and finish the next couple of races, we'll be alright."

Michael Ritch's night turned out alright after the miscue on pit strategy. Despite dropping to 26th after pitting late, Ritch rallied to finish fourth.

Jay Fogleman, driver of the No. 4 Greased Lightning Ford, picked up his fifth top-five finish of the season by coming home fifth.

Kirk Leone, Justin Hobgood, Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne and Jody Lavender completed the top 10.

The Sears Auto Center 250 was slowed seven times for 37 laps of caution and featured seven lead changes among four drivers.

Sears Auto Center 250 Notebook

Thinking of You

It was with heavy hearts that the Hooters Pro Cup Series carried on this weekend, but the memorials to Robert H. Brooks, who passed last Sunday, were fitting and heartfelt at SNRP.

Flags flew at half-mast, all 32 cars carried an "In Memory of RHB" sticker and the pace laps featured an "Open Pole" in honor of the founding father of the Hooters Pro Cup Series.

"This series wouldn't be here today without his guidance and leadership," said Gene Cox, USAR President.

Wall Climbing

If Michael Ritch's line was much higher, he'd likely climb the wall. But he believes the high line is the fast line.

"The high side is definitely the fast way around the race track, I don't care what anybody says," said Ritch. "If your car is set up to run the high side, you'll win the race. With the right adjustments, we had the car to win the race tonight."

A Little Less Ambiguity

Justin Hobgood took over the No. 16 Naturally Fresh Ford on June 3, knowing he needed to post some stellar runs to climb into the top 30 in points and qualify for the season-ending Championship Series. Hobgood posted his second seventh-place finish in as many races in the Sears Auto Center 250, picked up Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors and moved into 33rd in the point standings, somewhat alleviating his post-season worries.

"We missed it just a little bit," said Hobgood. "These guys are all volunteers on this team, and they busted their butts to get this car ready. Haskell Willingham has got this thing figured out. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going, pick up some top-5's and get in the Championship Series."

Hobgood is 117 points out of 30th with three races remaining.

Pleasant Dreams

One race after missing the field at Hickory Motor Speedway, Brett Butler, driver of the No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine, turned in the best run of his rookie season by finishing 12th in the Sears Auto Center 250 at SNRP.

"This team is really coming together," said Butler, who was in the top 10 with 20 laps to go. "They had an incredible pit stop today, and I've got to thank them. I'm kind of disappointed in my finish; I think we had a better car than 12th.

"The car wasn't really going away at the end; I just didn't have a rabbit to chase. Once Shane lapped me, I had a rabbit to chase, and I got faster."

Waiting in the Wings

Johnny Rumley made the trip to SNRP just in case Jody Lavender, who had some lingering effects from a boating accident, couldn't make it the entire 250 laps. But Lavender, driver of the No. 84 Sears Auto Center Ford, toughed it out and came home with a top-10 finish.

"It really wasn't that bad, until about 30 to go," said Lavender. "I thought it was just me, but everybody looked bad after the race. It was hot out there. I'm a little disappointed in our finish, because I thought we had a top-five car here tonight. We fell back to 26th on the pit stop, and that just killed us."

Pole Prowess

Kirk Leone has two poles in the Hooters Pro Cup Series, and both have come at SNRP. Last year's pole was nice, but taking the Advance Auto Parts Pole in the Sears Auto Center 250 was little more special. Last year, SNRP was Leone's home track, now its his own track.

Leone purchased SNRP late last year and revamped the high-banked oval, turning the aging speedway into a short-track gem.

-usar

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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Clay Rogers , Trevor Bayne , Jody Lavender , Justin Hobgood , Shane Huffman , Joey Logano , Brett Butler , Johnny R
Teams JR Motorsports