Former Champ Wins Another At Mansfield, Leads Points
In the most competitive fields ever, Clay Rogers is doing what nobody thought was possible in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. He’s dominating.
Rogers took the lead from Woody Howard on Lap 128 and led the final 133 laps of the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Sears Auto Center 250 presented by the IHRA Nitro Jam at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway on Saturday night. The win was Rogers’ series-leading six win of the year and his second in a row in the Championship Series.
the gas, I just spun them,” said Rogers. “Before I even got to Turn 1, I thought I might be in trouble. I needed that car length and a half buffer zone to get some heat in my tires, but he was all over us.”
Howard pulled alongside of Rogers coming to take the white flag, but he was unable to complete the pass when his car broke loose in the middle of Turn 2.
“With the progressive banking, you can’t really drive underneath somebody real hard; you almost have to have them cleared,” said Howard, driver of the No. 20n Speedco/Tony Stewart Racing Pontiac. “I got real loose getting in there and had to get out of the throttle.”
Howard’s slip allowed Rogers to pull away by .472 seconds at the finish.
Clay Rogers burns down the house after winning at Mansfield on Saturday. (Kathy Bond photos)
While the top three were elated with their podium finishes, Shane Wallace was feeling no elation after cutting a tire with less than two laps remaining.
Wallace wrestled the lead away from Lonnie Rush Jr. with 30 laps remaining in the race and was holding Mardy Lindley at bay for the top spot as the laps were winding down. But as he entered Turn 3 on Lap 249, Wallace’s No. 38 EM Wallace Contractors Ford slid up the banking, bringing out the caution and setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
Once again, it came down to Rogers (#44) and Shelby Howard (#20).
“Blake Bainbridge [Rogers’ crew chief] means so much to this team the way he leads them,” said Rogers, driver of the No. 44s Automotive Development Group Ford. “He’s carried this team a long way this year. I’ve got a lot of faith in him, and he has a lot of faith in me.”
And Bainbridge would need that faith on the final lap.
After late caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, Shelby Howard, who led 59 laps early in the event, was able to get underneath Rogers coming to take the white flag.
“Our tires were so cold on the restart, when I jumped on
Wallace didn’t make any contact and stayed on the lead lap, but his chance for his first win was gone. Wallace did rally back to finish 11th.
“We got together a little bit, but he could have let go of the steering wheel, knocked me out of the way and went on and won the race,” said Rogers, who led a race-high 133 laps to pick up the Greased Lightning Super Strength Performer Award. “It was his decision to make, and I’m glad he chose to race us clean. I thanked him for that after the race.”
Despite finishing second for the second week in a row and moving into second in the points, the Indiana driver had to feel like he let one slip away.
After starting second, Howard moved past pole-sitter Woody Howard on Lap 6 and checked out on the field. At one point, Howard was nearly two seconds ahead of the field. But on Lap 64, that would all change.
As Howard began to lap his way through the pack, he tangled with Eric Corbett. The contact sent Corbett for a spin and cost Howard the lead.
“I got the right-front fender tore up getting through lapped traffic. I don’t know; it was probably my fault,” said Howard, who came to pit road after the contact. “We got behind on the pit stop because we had to pull the fender out.”
Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55n Dean Motorsports Chevrolet, stayed on the track while most of the lead-lap cars came to pit road on Lap 70. With the lengthy pit stop, Shelby Howard restarted 11th, but he began to claw his way back into contention, moving inside the top five by Lap 120.
Woody Howard finally came to pit road after leading the
Clay made it two in a row over Shebly Howard.
Lucas Oil Products Halfway Lap, giving the lead to Rogers on Lap 128.
Shelby Howard completed his climb back to the front on Lap 142 when he moved into second place. Howard made his first attempt to take the lead from Rogers on Lap 152, but a caution for Trevor Bayne’s smoking machine thwarted the pass. Cautions would be a common theme over the next 50 laps as the race was slowed four times.
“Every time I had a run on him, the caution would come out,” said Howard. “If we were up beside him, the caution would come out. Then we would run him back down and the caution would come out. We just got behind him on that pit stop, and that was it. I really felt like we had the best car tonight.”
While the leaders waged war near the end of the race, Jay Fogleman and Jody Lavender were in a skirmish of their on. The two veterans battled for third position over the final 50 laps before Fogleman, driver of the No. 4s Greased Lightning Ford, slipped past to take his first podium finish of the Championship Series.
“If I could have gotten by Jody a little bit earlier, I think I could have run with [the leaders],” said Fogleman. “I don’t know if I could have beaten them, but we’re so much better than we’ve been. We’re really building for next year.”
Lavender, driver of the No. 84s Sears Auto Center Ford, also had a finish he could build on. After three races of misfortune, Lavender brought his car home unscathed and in fourth position.
“I have to thank my pit crew. They are the reason we were up there,” said Lavender. “We were at best a top-10 car early in the race, and I think we beat everybody off pit
Benny Gordon's #66 took another major hit when he was involved in an accident.
road. This is a place where you can get ahead of people you can hold them off.”
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 72n JEGS.com Chevrolet, also used his pit stop to gain positions. St. Amant came in early in the race for tires then took fuel only on his last stop to gain track position. The strategy worked as the short-track veteran finished fifth.
On the other hand, Woody Howard’s decision to pit late in the event backfired. After leading 68 laps, Howard restarted 24th after making his stop and was involved in an accident, dropping him to 25th at the finish.
Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38s Sears Auto Center Ford, finished sixth; A.J. Frank, driver of the No. 11n Ohio Technical College Pontiac, finished seventh; Justin Hobgood, driver of the No. 16s Naturally Fresh Ford, finished eighth and picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race; Kirk Leone, driver of the No. 52s Percy Johnson Grading Ford, picked up his best finish of the Championship Series by coming home ninth; and Matt Carter, driver of the No. 26s Travis Carter Motorsports Ford, rounded out the top 10.
The Alan Kulwicki Memorial Sears Auto Center 250 was slowed 16 times for 119 laps of caution and featured three lead changes among three drivers.