USAR: Valdosta: Race report

Woody Howard Wins Glover Foods 250 Checker-or-wrecker mindset pays off for Virginia driver Cecil, Ga.-Woody Howard was shaking. Bobby Gill was hanging on. Michael Ritch was driving mad. And a packed house at South Georgia Motorsports Park was on...

Woody Howard Wins Glover Foods 250
Checker-or-wrecker mindset pays off for Virginia driver

Cecil, Ga.-Woody Howard was shaking. Bobby Gill was hanging on. Michael Ritch was driving mad. And a packed house at South Georgia Motorsports Park was on their feet for the final 20 laps as the trio waged war for the win.

Gill, Ritch and Howard swapped positions-and paint-in the waning stages before Howard, driver of the No. 55 Dean Motorsports Chevrolet, took the lead with eight laps remaining en route to victory in the Glover Foods 250 presented by Crane Cams on Saturday, March 31.

"I was shaking in the car [over the final laps]," Howard said of the nail- biting finish. "I was not going to lay down, and I was not going to give up. I was going to wreck, or we were going to win."

Unfortunately, for Gill, it was a wreck that likely cost him his 44th Pro Cup win.

Gill, driver of the No. 06 USG Sheetrock Brand Ford, appeared to be in control of the race when he wrestled the lead away from Ritch on Lap 162. But on Lap 216, Gill, while navigating lapped traffic, sustained significant damage to the right side of his car when rookies Brian Scott and Joey Coulter went around in Turn 2. Despite being minus a door, Gill opted not to pit, hoping he had enough car and talent to hold off Ritch and Howard.

"I didn't know what the car was going to do after [the contact]," said Gill, who led a race-high 80 laps. "I tried to crank some front brake into it, but it didn't really help none. If it had been 15 to go, I think it would have been a different story."

With Gill wheeling a wounded machine, Ritch, driver of the No. 28 Jackaroo/Naturally Fresh Ford, began to look high and low to retake the top spot. Ritch's win bid seemed improbable after he received a rough-driving penalty for his involvement in a run-in with Brett Butler earlier in the race.

"I didn't mean to get into him, and I hate that I did. He slammed on brakes way before I was expecting him to, and I got into the back of him," said Ritch. "I thought it was a silly call. But, hey, they make their own rules and we have to abide by them."

Ritch used the ruling to his advantage, however. The veteran cycled through the pits and put himself in sequence with Gill and Howard. Before the halfway mark, Ritch climbed back into contention, slipping past Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 29 Chevy Racing Chevrolet, for the lead on Lap 120.

After leading 41 laps, Ritch gave way to Gill on Lap 162 and found himself staving off the advances of Howard. Gill began to pull away until the contact set up the feverish finish.

Ritch appeared to have the preferred groove under Gill after the final restart on Lap 226, but lapped traffic stalled his momentum and allowed Howard to take second on Lap 234.

Howard picked up where Ritch left off, hounding Gill for the lead.

"I was concentrating so hard to hit my marks," said Howard. "I adjusted the brakes under the last caution. I finally got it where I could just touch them a little and get through the corner. The car wasn't perfect."

But it was good enough.

Howard worked around Gill for the lead on Lap 242, but his run to the checkered wasn't without drama in the final laps as Ritch made a valiant effort to wrestle the lead back. With two laps remaining, Ritch drove underneath Howard for the lead, but, once again, a lapped car killed his momentum and Howard beat Ritch to the checkered flag by .573 seconds.

"[The lapped cars] shouldn't be racing like that in front of the leaders," said Ritch. "But after what happened at Lakeland, this is the kind of finish we needed. To finish second in this series is a big deal; hell, a top 10 is a good finish with the amount of good teams and drivers now."

Howard is one of those. After spending two years in the Sears Auto Center Northern Division, Howard jumped into the Aaron's Southern Division this season and captured his first win as Southern regular.

"This Dean Motorsports team is on point right now," said Howard. "Jim Dean invested a lot in this team, moved us to Charlotte and hired crew chief Steve Bird. We're organized, working hard and I'm pumped about the rest of the year."

Howard's win pushed him into the point lead in the Southern Division. Despite slipping to third at the finish, Gill is just five points behind Howard.

Chase Pistone, driver of the No. 54 C&C Boiler Chevrolet, and Shelby Howard, driver of the No. 22 Black's Tire and Auto Service Chevrolet, completed the top five.

The Glover Foods 250 featured seven lead changes among seven drivers and was slowed 14 times for 94 laps of caution.

Glover Foods 250 Notebook

Take the Long Way Home

On paper, Chase Pistone started fourth and finished fourth. But in reality, Pistone, driver of the No. 54 C&C Boiler Chevrolet, took the long way to a top-five finish.

"My spotter missed the meeting so I had to start dead last," said Pistone. "We came through the field and the car was good. The Craigs have awesome equipment and they really want to win. I'm just happy they've given me this opportunity. This is the best team I've driven for, and I think we can win some races."

Coming from Behind

Mike Herman Jr., driver of the No. 34 Fireside Hearth & Home Chevrolet, picked up the Aaron's "Do the Math" Award for advancing from 33rd to 13th at the finish. But it's not an award he hopes to keep winning.

"Our new Hess car races great, but I still have to figure out what it needs in qualifying," said Herman. "We'll take the extra $500 from Aaron's to Concord in a few weeks and use it to learn how to make the Fireside car fast for two laps. If we do that, we'll have a good shot at winning in front of the home crowd."

Heating Up

Mark McFarland, driver of the No. 81 Knight's Companies Chevrolet, isn't off to the best start this season, posting two finishes outside the top 10 in the first two events. But if history repeats itself, competitors better beware.

"This is almost exactly the way I started out in 2005," said McFarland. "After that, we still made it back and finished second in points. Hopefully, we can do the same thing."

McFarland recorded eight top-fives in a row after his slow start to 2005.

Ready to Go

Rookie Richard Boswell, driver of the No. 88 Champion Spark Plugs Chevrolet, posted a sixth-place finish in the Glover Foods 250 and took home $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race. While the top-10 finish was a needed one after a mechanical problem at Lakeland, Boswell knows he needs wins to make bigger gains in points.

"You can't point race over here," said Boswell. "I have to go out and try to win every race, especially after Lakeland. We had a good car tonight, but we need to gamble a little more on pit strategy. But if we keep running like this, we'll be in good shape by the time the Championship Series comes around."

Cleaning Up

Dange Hanniford, driver of the No. 65 Smith Transport Chevrolet, picked up an extra $250 from Greased Lighting for being the highest-finishing member of the "Clean Team."

It was a nice bonus, but Hanniford had a car capable of winning and he showed it in the middle stages of the race, building a six-second lead. But while Hanniford was leading, most of the leaders came to pit road.

"I really don't know what we were doing out there," said Hanniford, who led 42 laps. "It wasn't our strategy; the caution kind of snuck up on us. It seemed like after we pitted that every wreck happened right in front of me and I'd lose all the positions I'd gained. We just couldn't make our way back to the front. I thought we were going to have a top-five finish, but it didn't work out."

-credit: usar

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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Mark McFarland , Brian Scott , Brett Butler , Joey Coulter , Richard Boswell