Real Ritch Veteran Puts Stamp on Status Kenly, N.C. -- If there was any doubt that Michael Ritch was for real, well, it was gone after the Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Awesome Awnings at Southern National Raceway Park on Saturday, July ...
Veteran Puts Stamp on Status
Kenly, N.C. -- If there was any doubt that Michael Ritch was for real, well, it was gone after the Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Awesome Awnings at Southern National Raceway Park on Saturday, July 21.
Ritch, driver of the No. 28 Naturally Fresh/Jackaroo Ford, nudged Mark McFarland out of the lead on Lap 195, pulled away for his second win of the season and extend his lead in the Aaron's Southern Division point standings.
"I've been racing since I was eight years old, and there ain't nobody out here that will out drive me," said Ritch. "They might be able to out-dollar me, but not out-drive me. My crew doesn't get paid. They just do it for fun, and we're leading a big-time series right now. My guys are just awesome. I wish I could repay them. The way I repay them is cold beer and wins."
It was a cold track that helped Ritch to his 13th Hooters Pro Cup win.
After trailing Mark McFarland for much of the second half of the event, Ritch closed in on McFarland after a red flag on Lap 187.
"I don't know what happened, but the car didn't take off like it had after that red flag," said McFarland. "Earlier in the race, I could just turn to the bottom and go. The car just lost a lot of grip and I couldn't get off the corners."
Ritch didn't help McFarland's handling conditions much, either.
As McFarland, driver of the No. 81 Knight's Companies Chevrolet, tried to keep Ritch at bay, Ritch bumped McFarland out of the bottom groove in Turn 1 on Lap 195. McFarland charged back in Turn 4 to pull alongside of Ritch. The car of Billy Bigley blocked McFarland's charge, however.
"That was just hard racing," said McFarland. "My spotter told me he was looking, and then I felt him down there. He just got into me a little bit. I almost had him back if that lapped car hadn't been there. It's just fun racing with Michael. He's a good clean racer."
McFarland could stay within earshot of Ritch over the final 55 laps, but he finished .747 of a second behind at the finish.
"Michael just had a great car; he's been on a roll all year," said McFarland, who moved to second in points with his runner-up finish. "I'm just glad we could finish second and move up in the points a little more. Hopefully, we can go into the Championship Series a little closer than we were."
While Ritch and McFarland have been staples at the front of the field all year, the third-place finisher was a bit of a surprise.
Jay Fogleman, driver of the No. 4 The Works Ford, has seen his share of struggles this season, but the veteran qualified seventh, ran in the top five all night and finished a season-best third at SNRP.
"I've never endured as much as I've had to swallow this year," said Fogleman, who came into the event 29th in points. "It's been a struggle. I just thank the Lord for giving me enough patience to get through this."
Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55 Dean Motorsports Chevrolet, could have used a higher power on his team. After starting from the Awesome Awnings Pole, Howard checked out on Caleb Holman in the first 30 laps, building a 10-car length lead over the pack. The Chesapeake, Va. driver continued to lead until coming to pit road for his first stop on Lap 39. And that's when things started to go awry.
After the ensuing restart, Howard went for a slow spin and received a bit of damage to the front end of his machine. On Lap 109, Howard was involved in another incident that forced him to a 27th-place finish.
Holman, driver of the No. 75 Food Country Chevrolet, took control after Howard's misfortune and led until coming to pit road on Lap 94. But Holman would suffer a mechanical failure on Lap 158 and finish 25th.
Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 29 Chevy Racing/Aaron's Chevrolet, held the lead for 42 laps in the middle stages of the event, but he, too, wouldn't make it to the finish.
After making a pit stop, Bayne was working his way through the field when Chase Pistone ran over something, cut a tire and bounced off the wall directly in Bayne's path. Both Bayne and Pistone walked away from the hard accident that brought out the red flag, but they finished 23rd and 24th, respectively.
The red flag stayed out for nine minutes, and that was all Ritch needed.
"The thing that won us the race was the red flag," said Ritch, who picked up $10,500 for the win. "We didn't have anything for McFarland before that. He was so much better than us from the center [of the corner] off. But when the track got cool, our car was a rocket ship."
Mike Garvey, driver of the No. 17 JaniKing Ford, posted his third top-five finish of the season by finishing fourth.
Matt Hawkins, driver of the No. 2 H&H Electric Ford, completed the top five. Hawkins also picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race.
Bobby Gill, Carl Long, Richard Boswell, Mike Herman and Derrick Kelley completed the top 10.
The Naturally Fresh 250 featured five lead changes among six drivers and was slowed 15 times for 92 laps of caution.
Naturally Fresh 250 Notebook
Can't Wait to Practice
Mark McFarland has climbed from 23rd to second in points over the last five races, which makes him happy. But McFarland is even more elated with the way he's done it.
"We haven't tested, and we've still got all our tests left," said McFarland. "We're going to test at every Championship Series track. [Not testing] hurt us today because it took us the entire practice to find what we needed."
Pro Cup teams are only allowed five tests during the entire season, regular season and Championship Series included.
Never Give Up!
Rookie Matt Hawkins has been impressive this season. The 19-year-old driver won the season opener at USA Int'l Speedway and has had fast cars in most of the events. But his fifth-place finish in the Naturally Fresh 250 may have been his most-impressive run.
"That's the hardest 250 laps that I've ever driven," said Hawkins, who started 17th. "The car was terrible at the beginning. We came in and tried to tighten it up, and I couldn't even tell we did anything. Finally when the track cooled off, the car got better. We were decent in the end."
He was also fortunate.
Hawkins went for a spin late in the Naturally Fresh 250, but the rookie somehow managed to keep his No. 2 H&H Electric Ford off the wall, grabbed a gear and only lost one position.
"We got lucky right there," said Hawkins.
Take What I Can Get
Mike Garvey, driver of the No. 17 JaniKing Ford, is still looking for his first win of the season, but he wasn't too peeved at his fourth-place run in the Naturally Fresh 250.
"Fourth place is fine," said Garvey, who moved to eighth in points. "I said when we came here, as fast and tight as this track is, if we can get out of here with a top five, I'll be ecstatic."
Michael Ritch and his crew chief, Patrick Wall, usually have their fair share of sound bites on the radio during each event. And Naturally Fresh 250 proved to be no different after Ritch lost a ton of track position during the pit cycle.
"We still had miscommunication on the radio tonight," said Ritch. "Somehow, we ended up at the rear of the field after our pit stop, and there weren't a lot of people that still had to pit. Me and Patrick are like brothers, but we got things we got to work out."
Home is Where You Make It
Kirk Leone, driver of the No. 52 Awesome Awnings Ford, purchased Southern National Raceway Park a few years ago and has turned it into a short-track jewel. But the one capital investment he wishes he would have held off on was paving the track, at least until after the Naturally Fresh 250.
"I kind of took away my home-track advantage by paving it," joked Leone, who won the pole in the two previous events at SNRP.
Leone started 22nd and finished 13th on the new surface.
Five Years Ago...
Toby Robertson's track record lap of 15.605 seconds at 92.278 mph stood for five years at SNRP. It took all of 14.403 seconds for Woody Howard to break it.
Howard's lap of 99.979 mph set a new track record. It was the 11th track record in 12 races on the BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radials. But tires weren't just good for one lap. Most of the leaders ran the final 200 laps without changing tires.