Pro Cup Crowns Rogers Champ, Kale Rookie Of The Year
Clay Rogers had already clinched the overall Hooters Pro Cup Series title, but he wanted more. So with 145 laps remaining the Robert H. Brooks Memorial 300, Rogers ducked to pit road while the rest of the field stayed on the track.
It was a dominant car.
Early in the race, Gill marched from 20th to first in just 68 laps to take the lead. Once there, Gill left the field behind for much of the race. Gill’s pace forced others to make strategy calls they wouldn’t normally try.
Mart Nesbitt, driver of the No. 88n ConstructionJobs.com Ford, and Rogers elected to short-pit. Nesbitt led 10 laps before Rogers took the lead. Rogers pulled out to a sizeable advantage over the field, but Gill was on the charge. Gill caught Rogers on Lap 250 and Rogers didn’t put up too much of a fight.
“When Blake [Bainbridge, Rogers’ crew chief] saw that Bobby was better than us, we figured we might better roll the dice and see if we could just get lucky and beat him,” said Rogers, who clinched the overall Hooters Pro Cup Series title by starting the race. “We had dominant car, but there was one car that was a good bit better than us. It’s hard to believe we could get our car that good and still get beat, but Bobby’s good here and always figures out how to end with a bang.”
Bobby Gill won his 12th-career race at USA International Speedway on Saturday night. (Kathy Bond photos)
Behind Gill and Rogers, Johnny Rumley also ended the season on a high note. Rumley, driver of the No. 80n Champion Spark Plugs Chevrolet, picked up his first podium finish since joining JR Motorsports at the start of the Championship Series.
Michael Ritch, driver of the No. 28s Jackaroo Ford, came home fourth, while Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73n Mark IV Honda/Team 7 Ford, completed the top five.
The Hooters 300 was slowed eight times for 42 laps of caution and featured nine lead changes among six drivers.
While the overall title was secured as soon as Clay Rogers took the green flag, the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year battle went down to the final lap.
After starting from the Advance Auto Parts Pole and leading the first 64 laps, Derek Kale, driver of the No. 22n Termidor Chevrolet, looked to be en route to an easy victory in the Miller Lite Rookie of the Year battle. But on Lap 154, Kale’s rookie dreams took big hit, literally.
Rogers’ short-pit strategy appeared to be the right call as he took the lead on Lap 206, but not even pit strategy could beat Bobby Gill at USA Int’l Speedway on Saturday night.
Gill, who restarted 10th after making a pit stop on Lap 196, tracked down Rogers on Lap 250 and slipped past with 45 laps remaining. From there, Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Brand Ford, pulled away to win by 7.802 seconds over Rogers.
The win was Gill’s 43rd career victory and his 12th at USA Int’l Speedway. But earlier in the day, Gill wasn’t sure he’d end up in victory lane at the end of the night.
“The car was junk in practice,” said Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Brand Ford. “Clay [Rogers] told us to change the air pressure on the right front, and it was a different car when the race started.”
Dominick Casola spun on the backstretch and Kale caught a piece of the accident. His team managed to keep him on the lead lap while repairing the damage. But on Lap 168, Kale pounded the Turn 2 wall.
“I thought it was over,” said Kale. “I came on the radio and told them that we’re done. But they pulled it behind the wall and dug in. As soon as I jumped out of the ambulance, the car was ready.”
When Kale returned to action, he was running 29th and trailed Dange Hanniford in the standings. As the race wore on, attrition helped Kale finish 25th and edge Hanniford by two points for the rookie title. But Kale—and his team—didn’t celebrate immediately.
“I didn’t even think I had a shot, and then my team told me to stay down there because they were still doing the math,” said Kale. “That’s the first time I thought we may still be in it.”
It may have been a blessing that Kale didn’t know what was going on, because the drama was heavy in the final laps as Hanniford closed in on Mart Nesbitt for the eighth position. After trailing Nesbitt by a straightaway with 20 to go, Hanniford, needing one position to claim the ROTY title, caught Nesbitt with two laps remaining. But after navigating past the lapped cars of Michelle Theriault and Joey Logano, Hanniford came up short.
Derek Kale's night came to a crashing end... but he still wrapped up the Rookie of the Year title.
“We started 39th in the standings, so we’re really happy with the way we finished,” said Hanniford, driver of the No. 65s Hager Cycle World Chevrolet. “If we had of lost by 20 points, it would have been a lot easier to take, though.”
While Clay Rogers came up short of his eighth win of the season, his season was nothing short of spectacular.
Rogers finished the season with seven wins, 15 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes in 21 starts. More impressive is the fact that Rogers won three of the six Championship Series events, averaged a 6.5 finish during the six-race shootout and won the title by a gaudy 197 points over Shelby Howard.
“I had to drive a lot smarter this year than I did in the past,” said Rogers. “A lot of people have fast racecars out there. I learned a lot from Shane Huffman, Benny Gordon and Bobby Gill over the last few years that’s helped me. Those guys know how to save equipment and be ready for the end of the race. I had to learn that because the level of competition in the series is light years ahead of where it was just two years ago. But it’s not just me, my team is the reason we’re where we are. Those guys gave me good cars all year long, and their work on pit road was a reason we won so many races.”
Rogers finished the season with $402,250 in winnings.
Clay Rogers' #44 chased Gill's #06 all night.
Earlier in the day, Rogers’ East Coast Motorsports teammates won the BFGoodrich Tires Pit Crew Challenge. Rogers’ crew turned in a time of 23.227 seconds to best the Dale Jr.-owned JR Motorsports team, who turned in a time of 23.578 seconds, for the $3,000 prize.
The stop by Rogers’ team set a new record in the competition.
Clay Rogers is now a two-time Pro Cup Series Champion.