PRO CUP LEFTOVERS: SOUTHERN NATIONAL  by Jeremy Troiano
Rogers, Ritch, Huffman, Pistone, Lavender & More
SOUTHERN NATIONAL DISAPPOINTING FOR RITCH

Its been several years since USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series driver Michael Ritch has won a race.  In fact, the last time the veteran hit Victory Lane was in 1999 at Caraway Speedway in North Carolina.

At Southern National Speedway, it looked like that streak might come to a streaking halt. 

Instead, Ritch’s #28 did.
happened.  We had a screw come out of the carburetor and the only way we could have fixed it was to change the carburetor and we didn’t have a spare carburetor.  So that is what happened. 

“We had a good car though.  I might have had something for (eventual race winner Mark ) McFarland.”

Of course, Ritch didn’t almost make it to halfway.  When he was catching early leader Kirk Leone before taking the lead on lap 32, the two drivers made contact that forced Ritch to briefly brush the outside wall and bent in his left front fender.

“We had 220 more laps to go,” said Ritch.  “I caught him and he came up the track and squeezed me up into the wall.  I tried to press the issue a couple of times and he pinched me off into the wall since I was running the high line coming off the corners.   The third time was it.

“I should have been smarter because it is my racecar.  It is my fenders and his rear bumper.  That could have taken us out.  I should have had a little more patience, but I had enough of it in this series with people chopping me off when I go to the high side.”

Ritch finished a disappointing 29th.

ROGERS WANTS BRISTOL WIN

Clay Rogers hasn’t won in 2005.  But he’s the first to add “yet” to that phrase.

And if Rogers has any ideas, there is one place he’d like to win.
Look close.  You can see the damage to Ritch's (#28) left front fender.  (Kathy Bond Photo)
Ritch led the first lap after starting on the outside pole, then led from lap 32 until lap 125.  The following lap, a lap after earning the halfway leader award, Ritch’s car slowed on the frontstretch after a big pop.  The car coasted to a stop, and Ritch was never seen on the track again.

“We got halfway and we started falling off,” said Ritch.  “I came onto the radio that I smelled fuel around lap 40.  I knew that wasn’t a good thing because if you smell fuel, that means you are losing fuel and you probably aren’t going to make it.   And I ran out of fuel and that is what
“I haven’t told Shane this, but he won Bristol last year and I won the Southern Division Championship,” said Rogers.  “If I can win Bristol this year, he can have the Southern Division Championship.”

And Rogers is getting closer.  He finished second at Southern National Speedway, his fourth runner-up finish of the year.

“That seems to be a characteristic of this team,” said Rogers.  “We are a great team and we can win some of these races.  But something is just happening to us that is keeping is from that first win of the year. 
Clay Rogers (51 Photo)
“I am just happy to be in contention to win every single race.  I can’t think of a race that we haven’t had the capability of winning except for Mansfield, and that was a Northern (Division) race.  We will get the monkey off our back soon.  Our win is coming.”

YOU CAN’T WIN THEM ALL

If there is something that Shane Huffman has learned in 2005 is that you just can’t win them all.

there before the race and it really came back to haunt us.  We aren’t perfect and we all make mistakes.  We win as a team and we lose as a team.  That is what championships are built of.  I never gave up. The team never gave up.

“We just missed the sway bar setting there. You live and learn.  You can’t win them all.”

PISTONE GETS ANOTHER TOP 10 FINISH

How intense are things getting as the Southern Division starts to wrap up its regular season?  After the race at Southern National Speedway, Rookie of the Year points leader Chase Pistone was upset that he finished 10th instead of eighth.  That is because, as the year begins to wind down, every single point counts.  And when the Rookie of the Year title is right there in front of you, there is nothing you want to stand in your way of that goal.

“We were fighting a loose condition all night long,” said Pistone.  “The crush panel got crushed in and that was letting fumes in the car starting about lap 75, so that started getting to me a little bit.  I was really starting to feel the effects of that later in the race, but we had such a good car and a good run going, I didn’t want to do anything drastic.  It was tough being in that car with all of the fumes and the heat of the night too.  Someone slid up into me early in the race and crushed the left rear in where the exhaust is and it started coming in the car.”
Huffman (#81) finished third, which pretty much sucks for him this year.  (51 Photo)
Huffman had won six of the nine Southern Division Series races leading into the event at Southern National Speedway. 

Make that six out of 10.  Huffman finished third at Southern National.

“You can’t win them all,” joked Huffman after the event.  “We knew that.

“We had an awesome car in practice and we screwed it up ourselves.  I’m aggravated about it.  I’m really aggravated about it.  We just missed a little something
However, Pistone wasn’t fatigued enough to allow the true racer to come to light late in the race when he and fellow rookie Michael Faulk got together on the white flag lap.  The contact from Faulk resulted in Pistone slipping from a solid eighth-place finish to a 10th-place run and allowed Faulk to gain a couple of points of Pistone in the rookie point standings.  It also dropped Pistone from 10th to 11th in the overall Pro Cup point standings.

“We were still on the lead lap, running eighth and got the white flag and Michael (Faulk) put me in the fence.  It wasn't too bad, we finished 10th, but we should have finished eighth.  If that is how he wants to race, that is how we’ll race him.”
Chase Pistone
Despite the contact, Pistone still holds a 40-point lead over Faulk in the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year standings in the Southern Division. 

“We got three more races in the Southern Division to continue to run like we are, then we’ll focus on the championship series,” added Pistone.   “We just want to run good, try to get top five finishes all the time and try to go ahead and get that Rookie of the Year in the south wrapped up.  Then, we want to head to the championship series and do the same  there.  We really want to win it all and I think we can do it.  It will be tough because there are some great rookies in the North as well.  That is our goal though right now, to win the overall Rookie of the Year award.”

THIS MOD ACE HAS SHORT NIGHT

Earlier this year, Whelen Modified Tour driver Donny Lia made his Pro Cup Series debut and impressed many, qualifying in the top-three and finishing just outside the top-10 in his first real race in a full-bodied stock car.

At Southern National Speedway, another Modified ace, this one from the South, made his Pro Cup debut, but it didn’t go nearly as well.
In addition, there have been some Pro Cup flavor in the driver’s seat of the Truck Series.

Defending Pro Cup Series champion Clay Rogers has run four races in the Truck Series in 2005.  Three have come with Glynn Motorsports and one with his current Pro Cup team, Baird Motorsports.   His best finish came at Texas, where he finished eighth.

Rogers’ younger brother Brad made his Truck Series debut driving for the same Glynn Motorsports team at Memphis and came home with a 19th place finish.

'It was a really good run for me,” said the younger Rogers of his run.  “We stayed on the lead lap all night long and that was one of my goals coming into Memphis. We had a tight truck from the drop of the green flag, but we continued to work on it through out the night. This is a great boost of confidence for me."

Now, Clay is again entered for a Truck Series race, at Indianapolis Raceway Park.  He will be joined there by fellow Pro Cup Series regular Michael Faulk, who has entered the event with his #53 Pro Cup Series team.

RAINS, MONKEYS, CLOUDS, LUCK

When it rains it pours.   A monkey is on his back.  A black cloud is following him.   If it weren’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.  Murphy’s law is catching up.
LW Miller
L.W. Miller made his first Pro Cup start in the  Merchant's Tire & Auto Center 250. Unfortunately, it was very brief.

Miller was involved in the lap-nine caution and parked his number 19 on lap 11.

TRUCK SERIES OFTEN HAS PRO CUP FLAVOR THIS YEAR

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the Pro Cup Series are starting to form quite a relationship, even if it is just a completely unofficial one.

The Truck Series has had a bigtime Pro Cup flavor this year, and it is only likely to get more flavorful as the year progresses.

It started last season, when the Pro Cup Series and Truck Series ran their first combined show, coming at Bristol Motor Speedway.  The night was a huge success and the two races were both more entertaining than the Cup and Busch races at the track during the same week.  This year, the two series will team up at Bristol yet again. 
No matter what cliché you use to talk about bad luck, it all means the same.  And if things keep on going, there is a chance that the name Brunnhoelzl will be a part of a new bad luck cliché pretty soon.

Just when it looks like things are going to get better for Pro Cup Series driver George Brunnhoelzl III, something happens to knock him back down a couple of notches.  The driver deserves a medal just for being able to get up in the morning and keep his positive attitude each day after the last race.

Things looked like they were about to turn around for Brunnhoelzl this past weekend when the Pro Cup Series
George Brunnhoelzl III
visited Southern National Speedway.  Brunnhoelzl qualified ninth and took his #20 ride to the front quick.  In fact, at one point during the race, Brunnhoelzl was faster than the leaders and gaining.  The team pitted and came back out having to fight from behind after getting blocked into their pits. 

He was on his way toward the front again when, just like normal, bad luck struck.  During a caution, Brunnhoelzl’s #20 coasted to a stop, the victim of dead battery.

“The first half of the race, we had a pretty good car,” said Brunnhoelzl.  “We were passing cars, coming up through the field.  The car was running good and we wanted to make some adjustments on the pit stop. 

“We ended up getting blocked in in the pits.  We had to back up, go forward, back up and go forward.  The second set of tires weren’t quite there like the first set.  We were just riding and under caution there we were debating if we should come in or not and the car just died.  The battery died right out.  So we came in, put another one in and just went out and rode around

“The car was good, but I think we could have made it better.  That is the tough part.”

GOOD SHOWING FOR LANDRETH

Richard Landreth has been fast at every race he’s competed in this season. At Southern National Speedway, Landreth finally got a finish that was indicative of how he ran.
HEAT AT SOUTHERN NATIONAL A PROBLEM FOR JUST A COUPLE

Just like in the many recent weeks, heat played a role at Soutehrn National Speedway.

However, unlike at USA International Speedway and Myrtle Beach, it didn’t quite show as much at the end of the race, even though a couple of drivers had to get a little help after exiting their race cars.

One of those was Mike Herman.  After climbing from the car Herman would succumb to heat exhaustion which was made worse by inhaling carbon monoxide all night. 

“It was hot all day, over 95 degrees I believe, and it was hot in the car, especially since the engine was running hot since the early crash.  But I was fine in the car when we were racing but when I stopped it felt like all the blood rushed out of my head.  More from the carbon-monoxide than the heat I think.  That’s no fun, I’m just glad I put myself in good shape to handle this.  I’ve lost 40lbs. since this race last year by working out an hour & a half a day and the hard work paid off, before I would feel the effects of a night like this for days,” Herman said.  “I just want to thank the EMT crew for the oxygen they gave me.  Without it I wouldn’t even be able to talk right now.”

STRONG RUN FOR JODY

At the beginning of the 2005 season, Jody Lavender said one of the main goals of his team was to improve their consistency.
“The way we’ve been running, the finishes don’t really show it,” said Landreth, whose top finish leading up to the race was 12th.  “We’ve had some mechanical problems here and there and had some bad luck here and there. 

“Tonight we finished the race and we had a good car.  I didn’t really have anything for those other guys.  It would have been nice to get up there a little bit to make it a show, but that is ok.  We’ll take this and go to South Boston and see what we can get up there.”
Based on the past five races, it appears they have achieved the consistency with five top-10 finishes.   And with the recent surge, Lavender has jumped to seventh in the points, only 11 points out of sixth place and only 29 points out of fourth place.

Lavender continued his consistency at Southern National Speedway, where he qualified third, took the lead on lap 126 and went on to finish fourth after experiencing late brake problems.

“On that last long run, I lost my brakes for some reason,” said Lavender.  “It is a new car, so it isn’t bad for the first time out.  We had a long caution there and after that
Jody Lavender
caution, the brakes came back, but it was too late.  I didn’t have anything left.  My tires were gone. 

“We had one of the best cars here for sure.  We weren’t quite as good at the end, but I think some of that was because of the brake problems.  All in all, the first time out with a new car, fourth isn’t bad.”

FAULK RACES HIS WAY INTO SECOND IN RoY CHASE

After a disappointing run at Hickory Motor Speedway, the MB3 Motorsports Team was determined to turn their racing luck around at Kenly.

"It’s a tough track and really hot, just like we expect the racing to be," said Faulk.

Faulk qualified 15th position and was ready to make his dash towards the front of the pack. As the race progressed, Faulk was able to run as high as second, but lapped traffic and excessive side-by-side racing made his car loose towards the end of the race and Michael held on for a solid eighth-place finish.

The top-10 finish moved Faulk up to 12th in overall points and second in the rookie points race.

"That was a lot of fun," said Faulk. "Our car was really hooked up until the end. It was typical short track racing, just the way I like it.

"This battle for the Rookie of the Year in the southern series is going to go down to the last race of the year, and we plan on doing what it takes to win it," Faulk said. "Our goal is to finish top 10 in points and win at least one race before the season is over."