PRO CUP LEFTOVERS: LONESOME PINE by Matthew Dillner & Paul Warner
CA's DJ, Pit Safety, Gary's Adventure, Rumley vs. O'Quinn & More
DJ GOES A LONG WAY FOR NINTH
While many of the Hooters Pro Cup competitors had a long haul across the Mason/Dixon line to Lonesome Pine Speedway, DJ Kennington had to come across two lines. Kennington, a regular on the Pro Cup Northern division, made the 14-hour trek over the border from Ontario, Canada to Virginia.
DJ Kennington, who is a CASCAR regular, was fast at the Pine. (51 Photo)
The long tow paid off. Kennington, who had a strong showing in the season opener, came back from a lap down to score a ninth place finish.
“We were short guys,” says Kennington. “We had a bunch of guys together who had never been together before. Because of that we went a lap down in the pits. We had trouble changing the front tires and went a lap down. It put us in a hole and we had to use up quite a bit to get back on the lead lap. When we did get back on the lead lap we had nothing left.
He addressed concerns about safety on pit road to Fritz Augustine and the rest of the Hooters Pro Cup officials.
“I've been noticing that pit road has gotten a lot busier than it has been in the last few years,” said Rogers. “It is getting a lot more dangerous. It used to be that every now and then you would come down pit road and see someone almost get run-over. Now it seems like every time you pit we just narrowly miss disaster.”
And the officials listened and responded that night to the concern.
“We talked to the officials about it because it is a safety issue that needed to be addressed and they made a change tonight to try something.
Clay Rogers addressed the problem during the drivers meeting at Lonesome Pine. (51 Photo)
ST. AMANT OVERCOMES COUNTLESS GREMLINS WITH A SMILE
Gary St. Amant had about one of the most interesting and stressful days a racer could ever have.
“It went all the way from the hotel this morning when the truck wouldn't start,” laughed St. Amant. “Oh yeah, and then we couldn't get the car out of the trailer because the lift gate was broken.”
But the team nearly couldn't find O'Quinn's shop.
“We were on the back country roads here trying to find it. It wasn't working so good. Danny was nice enough to let us use the place though.”
O'Quinn chuckled when he heard about St. Amant's team having trouble finding the place and added, “Our shop is just there over the hill. We told them to use the trailer side and get there car ready in there. We are pretty good friends with them so it's no problem. They are a great group of guys that we don't mind helping out at all”
St. Amant and the JEGS crew work at Danny O'Quinn's race shop just up the road from Lonesome Pine Speedway. (51 Photo)
Then as if that weren't enough, mother nature through another wrench into Gary's day. With heavy rains, Hooters officials decided to delay the opening to the infield. This meant teams had to wait to roll their cars into the track and work on them. That was not good news for St. Amant and his team. They had a lot of work to do on their #11. So in a snap decision, the team decided to pull the rig out of Lonesome Pine and bring it to fellow competitor Danny O'Quinn's nearby shop
“We've worked on this racecar ever since we left South Boston and just ran out of time,” said St. Amant as the crew scurried to finish scaling the car. “We planned on just finishing it up at the track and when everything looked like it was rain and would be down for a little while we just decided to use Danny O'Quinn's shop up here.”
Then, the rains subsided and a practice session was scheduled. The team hurried up and loaded the car back in the trailer and rushed back to the track. But the troubles weren't over just yet.
When practice started, St. Amant was standing outside the gate with his helmet and suit on waiting for a chance to get into the infield.
When Gary finally got into the track, they were only able to get ten to fifteen laps of practice in. At the end of that practice a cooling duct for the brakes, which was rubbing on the right front tire, caught fire. St. Amant pulled in, lifted the hood, and remedied the smoking problem.
Then just before qualifying, they realized the water pump was broke. So the team had to rush and replace it.
Gary almost missed qualifying and was the last car to take time. They had to take a provisional to make the field.
Now it's race time and everything is set... not so. The radios are not working. But through all of the panic, Gary kept a positive attitude and his trademark smile. When the car fired for the race the radios somehow worked.
The problems kept coming for St. Amant. (Above) The hole in the brake ducts and a broken water pump weren't the only things that went wrong.
Gary went on to wheel the JEGS #11 from the 25th place starting spot to a very respectable and hard earned seventh place finish.
“This probably was the biggest cluster-day I've ever had since I've gone racing,” laughed Gary from his hauler after the race.
“I told everyone on the team that I see some good things happening with the team. Yes, we were behind on everything when we got here and had problems like the radios not working until we started the engines. A lot of things were having problems. But through it all, I started to see the team come together.
“The new editions to the team, Bob Becksteen and Jimmy Fitzgerald and Ben from Roush Racing; those additions are going to make this team a championship contending team. It might not be the next race or the next five races but I guarantee that the last five races we will be in the hunt for race wins and the championship.”
St. Amant's day proves the old adage is correct: “Never Give Up.”
AJ FRANK SAVES A SPIN AND A PODIUM FINISH
AJ Frank shared the Hard Charger award with Gary St. Amant at the end of the Food City 250, both improving 18-spots from their starting positions.
Frank messed up in qualifying and shook off the poor effort to charge to a podium finish. But his charge to the front was almost erased when contact between with Danny O'Quinn sent Frank's #45 spinning. But an amazing recovery and a little help from the tower gave Frank his spot back.
“I really wanted to protect that bottom and I don't think Danny meant to but he caught us a little quicker than he expected and turned us around. I don't like the fact that he drove into the back of me. I would have liked to race him.
“I spun around, dropped the clutch and grabbed a gear. I don't think we lost a spot besides to Danny. I really want to commend Hooters for making the right call there and give us our spot back.”
Frank then capitalized on a great pit stop to get a third place finish that he was very proud of.
“I think we drove to fifth before the pit stop. Then we pitted and came out third. It's a great night. Rookie of the Race and the Hard Charger award. I was having fun.
AJ Frank was proud of his performance. (51 Photos)
“When we came to pit Clay told me there was nobody else out there passing cars but you. It was a blast man. It's fun to be with this team and have Clay spot for me and have Bill on the radio. You've (Speed51.com's Matt Dillner) followed my career over the past few years and know how much I struggled in mediocre equipment. To get this type of opportunity to be with this group is just an honor.”
WOODY AND TEAM DIG HARD FOR TOP FIVE
“We didn't know what we were going to do. We just got this car three or four weeks ago and it's an old piece of junk. Luckily Jim Dean is awesome to drive for and he lets us order the parts we need to order and do what we need to do. We had a real late start on this. To start out like we are is great. We have a brand new car we are going to break out in Indy.”
The Late Model Stock standout, who was recently signed with Joe Gibbs Racing, now has a seventh and a fifth in first two Pro Cup races.
WET DAY, WET TRACK MAKE FOR A DIFFERENT TYPE OF DAY
It was a very wet day at Lonesome Pine Speedway. Much of the day was spent waiting for the constant drizzle to stop. At times in the morning, the sky would tease you appearing to clear. Then it would dump down heavier rain.
A wet crew goes to work prepping Woody Howard's #99 car. (51 Photo)
Hard work paid off for several teams in the Pro Cup stop at Lonesome Pine. But one team in particular was ecstatic with their work ethic and result at the end of the night. A smile from ear to ear gave it away that the happy driver was rookie Woody Howard.
Howard's team worked hard in the rain, without a tent to cover them, to get the car up to speed. The puddle soaked crew and their driver were pretty happy with the result.
“This is awesome to come here and finish fifth,” said Woody. “We worked day and night just to get here.
Most of the 40 drivers in Virginia were doubtful that they would get anything run. But somehow it all worked out.
When the skies cleared Pro Cup officials got trucks on the track in an attempt to dry the racing surface.
A short time later, cars were sent out on the track for practice. Many in the paddock scratched their heads in disbelief at the call. The track was visibly damp. But the cars hit the track and a dry groove was worked in.
According to AJ Frank, the wet conditions played a major role in his qualifying effort.
It's hard to believe that they raced after rains washed the morning away. (51 Photo)
“We had a couple of cars break there while we were qualifying,” explained Frank. “When they were sending cars back to back the track didn't have time to get wet. When a car broke, with that time the track got wet. And on my lap we went down into turn-one and shot up three grooves. Then when I got back in the gas it got loose off the corner. We had a fast car but ended up 21St: I was like oh my gosh!”
The damp conditions and light drizzle continued sporadically throughout the day and night. And even though it didn't make for the best racing conditions, the race ran relatively clean to the finish.
“Last year I was able to run the outside here during the race,” said defending race winner Danny O'Quinn. “This year with it being wet, the new tire and the track bleeding a little, you just couldn't get the outside working at all. That is where I made it work here last year and I just couldn't get it to go up there this year.”
The long tow paid off. Kennington, who had a strong showing in the season opener, came back from a lap down to score a ninth place finish.
CLAY ROGERS BRINGS PIT ROAD CONCERNS TO LIGHT
It started out as a fairly normal drivers meeting in the garage outside of the backstretch at Lonesome Pine Speedway. But at the end of the Pro Cup Northern Division meeting, Southern ace Clay Rogers spoke up.
This year's race winner, Joel Kauffman knew he had to tread lightly on the wet racetrack.
“They started the race a couple of times and I thought man you can't start this thing yet,” said Kauffman. “After a couple of laps the heat from the tires and exhaust took care of it. It took about two laps to get going. After that I really didn't have to drive it hard. I think that helped us save tires for those last couple of restarts.”
“It was bad at times,” said second place finisher Benny Gordon. “That last restart there it started sprinkling a little bit. The cars were all over the place and Joel was slipping. So I knew right there that that was my only shot at getting him. I was hoping he would slip up and I could get by him.”
The weepers just outside the racing groove made it a delicate dance to drive around the Pine. (51Photo)
RUMLEY AND O'QUINN GET TOGETHER...BUT NOT IN A FRIENDLY WAY
Both Danny O'Quinn and Johnny Rumley were on their way to fourth and fifth place finishes when they took the white flag. But coming around turn-four, Rumley tapped O'Quinn and sent the local boy spinning. The crowd was very unhappy with the contact. Rumley hopped to fourth and O'Quinn's spin forced him to finish 10th.
“I just got turned around that is about it, said a clearly frustrated O'Quinn. “It's the last lap and none of them really care what happens on the last lap. They are going to get into you.
“You just take it and next time you are behind him you remember it next time you are racing him. It's just part of it. It happens here, it happens on every short track and even in Nextel Cup. No use getting too awful mad at it.”
Rumley admitted to the contact but wasn't awfully sorry about it.
“I got into him a little bit, and I thought he was going to save it, and he didn’t. I hate that it happened, but Danny is going on to bigger and better things.”
Danny O'Quinn was recently signed to a driver development deal with Roush Racing.
PENALTIES COST MILLER
As the case for many sports, it's hard to win if you are taking penalties. A penalty can ruin a potential winning drive in football, or give the other team a power play in Hockey. In racing, it is no different. And rookie Pro Cupper Travis Miller found that out the hard way at Lonesome Pine. Penalties and bad luck resulted in a dismal 16th place finish for Miller.
“The first thing that happened to me is when someone spun there on the backstretch,” said Miller. “The guy didn't put on the brakes and backed up into me. That was too bad.
“We came down pit road and got a penalty for passing the pace car. We got a penalty also for dropping down below the line too quick. That kind of messed us up. It's a shame though to see a good car like that go to waste.”
NEAR WIN FOR BENNY GORDON IN NEW CAR
O'Quinn wasn't pleased with Rumley. (51 Photo)
Benny Gordon was the only driver who physically had a shot to beat Joel Kauffman. The two did get physical once or twice, but Gordon knew his car was no match for Kauffman's #44. So like any smart racer, Gordon didn't overdrive his car, which was a brand new chassis, and took the runner-up finish.
“Our car wasn't all that bad,” said Gordon next to victory lane. “His was just real good. We know where we are off. We just haven't done a lot of testing so we are trying to get caught up. This is a brand new car and we are going to figure out what this setup needs with these tires.
“We would have liked to win with the new car though. The car I won all the races with last year finished second in its first time out with it.”
ONE LAP OR GO HOME FOR PRO CUPPERS
Because of the rain Pro Cup officials were forced to shorten practice to only a one hour session. Then qualifying was cut to just one lap. So drivers had only one lap to make the show or go home. And for a few, who had very little experience at Lonesome Pine or in a Pro Cup car, that was a very difficult task.
“The short practice was a little tough," said Tim Bainey's crew chief Dan Bainey. "It took about 20 minutes just to get the track dry enough to run on – and with forty-some cars all trying to get laps in, it was hard for Timmy to get a lot of good laps in.”
And for NASCAR Modified regular Donny Lia, who had no experience in a full-fendered car, Pro Cup machine or any previous laps at Lonesome Pine, it was white knuckle time.
“I was very nervous. I never had to qualify a car in just one lap. It was almost the most stressful thing I've been involved with. It was tough. I was in a car I had very little experience in and it was misting out. The track was wet so I didn't know what to expect.”
Lia surprised many, turning in the third quickest lap of qualifying.
“I knew I couldn't mess up. I just got up on the wheel. Surprisingly to myself, we had a real good lap. I figured we would be OK, but didn't expect to get the lap we did.”
LONESOME PINE NOTES
- Jeff Agnew had to unload a backup car after his #73 broke in qualifying. The bad luck continued as he pulled it in the infield early in the race with mechanical problems.
- Eric Sartin, came home an impressive 12th in his pro cup debut.
- Glen Gault had a top-ten run going until he came into the pits too early. When the #32 pulled down a closed pit road, officials were forced to give the team a penalty sending them to the rear of the longest line. Gault managed a 14th place finish.
- Mardy Lindley led 40 laps of the Food City 250 but couldn't hang on at the end and faded to a 6th place finish.
- Rookie Leslie Law, making his first start at Lonesome Pine, hit the wall in practice but qualified for the show. He struggled and dropped out to finish 25th.
- Danny O'Quinn, a former track regular who knows Lonesome Pine like the back of his hand, turned in the quickest lap in qualifying and won the Advance Auto Parts Pole Award $1000 bonus.
Leslie Law stands by his damaged racecar after practice. (51 Photo)
The infield showed evidence of the bad weather as Donny Lia's #29 passed by. (51 Photo)
Benny Gordon was fast right out of the gate with his new #66 car. (51 Photo)
“The way they staggered the stalls is that the first place guy was in the first stall and then the 15th place car. They cut the field in half and staggered it like that. It think it worked. When all the leaders came down pit road their wasn't anyone jammed in behind anyone else. It's a good thing and it's all in the name of safety.”