WINNING IS NO “SUNDAY DRIVE” FOR HUFFMAN AT LAKELAND by Jeremy Troiano
Pro Cup Champ Hopes Bad Luck Off His Back After Win Number Four Of 2005
The term “out for a Sunday drive” is an often over-used cliché. But over-used or not, it is something that racecar drivers hope to feel in a car. That means the any respective race was a cakewalk of sorts; an easy victory.
Looking at the final results of the one-day rained-delayed Naturally Fresh 250 from USA International Speedway on Sunday, it looked like Shane Huffman’s win was that of a “Sunday drive.” He led 177 of 250 laps and dominated the event.
Finally, the margin of victory for Huffman didn’t reflect the domination, but also showed that it was no easy win. Coming to the checkers, Huffman was working as hard as he worked all day long to hold off a late-race charge from Toby Porter. The margin of victory: 0.137 seconds. That is less that a car length.
“That was a tough race. Wow,” said Huffman after the event, both physically and mentally drained. “From dealing with the heat in the car to the pressure from Toby there at the end, that was one of the toughest races I’ve been a part of ever right there.
Huffman shows the pain and agony of Sunday's heat while sitting in his car in Victory Lane. (51 Photo)
However, three other stats, one shown on the final results and two not will prove that Sunday’s victory for Huffman at the .75-mile track, his fourth victory of the season, was anything but.
First, the weather that didn’t cooperate on Saturday when the race was suppose to be run and it wasn’t cooperating on Sunday either, but for different reasons. At the start of the race, the air temperature was in the high 80s with humidity in the mid-90s, making for some very steamy conditions.
Second, the #81 team came into the pits for their only stop of the day leading, but left in the third spot, meaning more work to get around cars that were just as fast.
“It was hot. It was really hot. It probably wasn’t as tough as the race at Montgomery (AL) in 2001, but it was close. It was just so hot and humid. Anytime you come to Lakeland in June it is going to be hot. You got to know what to expect.”
Huffman dominated most of the event, jumping into the lead on lap 18 and holding onto it until pit stops at lap 119. Huffman came into the pits leading, but went out third. Mark McFarland came in sixth and went out first. It made for more work for Huffman.
“We lost a couple of spots on pit road, but that was the first time pitting for two guys on the crew. We lost our rear tire changer to a truck team between races here. The new guys did a good job. To just lose two spots first time out; I’m not to mad about that. All in all, it could have been a lot worse.”
So as McFarland led for the next 54 laps, Huffman felt his car up, moved back up into contention and finally got around McFarland after a restart. From there, Huffman cruised again, until another late caution set up a final shootout.
For the second-straight race, a Pro Cup Southern event was this close at the finish, this time between Shane Huffman (#81) and Toby Porter (#13). (Kathy Bond Photo)
With Porter in second, Huffman took the green, trying to hold off Porter for the final three laps. Porter got underneath Huffman and the two raced side-by-side until the final two corners, when Huffman motored ahead and just beat Porter to the finish.
“He was awful good all during the race,” said Porter. “I thought if I could get some pressure on him and get beside him, it might throw him off a little bit. My car got some pretty good bite off the last restart. I got into the corners better than he. I was better getting in, but he could get off the corner better.
Huffman had to sit down and take a break during Victory Lane celebrations because of the heat. (51 Photo)
“My car was good right at the end. We just needed some more laps. I’m happy though. Sure I’m disappointed, but I’m happy.”
The win was big for Huffman for many reasons. It ended a bad luck streak that saw him finish 27th and 19th the last two races, knocking him out of the points lead. With the victory, he vaulted back into the top spot in the Southern Division point standings.
The win also gave Huffman 19 overall Pro Cup Series wins in his career. That means Huffman is now tied with Mario Gosselin for second place in career wins in the Pro Cup Series. The 177 laps led by Huffman on Sunday also gave him 4,611 for his career, passing Gosselin (who has led 4,440 laps during his career) for second all time in the Hooters Pro Cup Series.
“We haven’t really struggled, but we just have had some bad luck,” added Huffman. “I didn’t know what we needed to do. After you win, you know why and then you start losing and you don’t know why. But all you can do it prepare and do all you can do to show up to the race track ready. Stuff is going to happen in this racing deal.”
And it was yet another Lakeland win for Huffman.
“I guess I’ve taken a liking to Lakeland. I told someone this morning that if you follow Bobby Gill enough around here, you learn how to get around this place. You watch him with the attitude of his car and everything, you just learn what it takes to make the thing go. Now, I know exactly the feel I’m looking for and when I find it in practice, I quit.”
McFarland was able to hold onto third at the final rundown, followed by Bobby Gill and Jay Fogleman.
Speed51.com will have much more from Lakeland,
With the win, Huffman (#81) took the points lead back from Clay Rogers (#44).
including reaction from the fallout of the heatwave later this week in Leftovers.