Three-Straight Wins In Championship Keeps Rogers On Top
Jimmy Buffett has made a living writing music about his favorite frozen concoctions, beaches and life on the open seas. People from all around the country visit Myrtle Beach every year to do their best to enjoy a Buffett-esque lifestyle on the Grand Strand, where they can enjoy their margaritas and eat their cheeseburgers in paradise.
Rogers did not disappoint, but it wasn’t quite the runaway landslide victory that he was used to. In one of the most competitive Myrtle Beach races in recent memory, Rogers took the lead late in the race from Chase Pistone on lap 197 but had to endure several late-race restarts with 2006 Pro Cup Northern Division titlist Benny Gordon hot on his tail in order to earn his third straight Championship Series race, officially hitting his stride with his #44S team led by crew chief Blake Bainbridge.
“Winning three in a row in this Championship Series is awesome,” said Rogers. “At the beginning of the year, we just kinda put some guys together late and Blake came in with a different way of how he wanted things done. We had different people that had worked with me before, worked with other race teams, some Truck and Busch Series teams, and then we got some guys that just had regular old jobs. We meshed that all together and Blake came in and said things have got to be done this way. That doesn’t always make everybody happy.
Clay Rogers celebrates his third-straight Pro Cup Championship Series win.
“At the beginning of the year, if our race team wasn’t fighting, we weren’t happy. Now any one of them would take a bullet for another. They work their tails off, they make sure everything is absolutely perfect. Every person on our race team has come so far thanks to Blake and the way he wants things to be done. Blake won’t put up with any less and we’re just on a roll right now.”
Rogers ran up front all night long at Myrtle Beach, but he swapped the lead throughout the race with Gordon, Michael Ritch, Jeff Fultz, Bobby Gill and others in competitive battles for the top spot. As the laps clicked away, however Rogers proved to have the best car on long runs. He had the field covered as he came off the
Once again, it came down to Rogers (#44) and Shelby Howard (#20).
Buffett has a fondness for the Carolina coast, as can be noted in his song “Coast of Carolina.” In the tune, the crooner says “From the bottom of my heart, off the coast of Carolina. After one or two false starts, I believe we've found our stride.”
While Buffett may have found his stride off the coast of Carolina, Clay Rogers has found it at a half-mile on the South Carolina shore – Myrtle Beach Speedway. Earlier this season, Rogers dominated the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Southern Division event at the track just a few miles from one of Buffett’s “Margaritaville” restaurants on the beach. That win helped him to the 2006 Pro Cup Southern Division’s championship.
Against the best of the best from both the North and the South in the “Four Champions Championship Series,” Rogers kept up the roll he has been on seemingly all season with two-straight victories at Jennerstown and Mansfield. Add in that dominating performance at Myrtle Beach earlier in the year, all eyes were on Clay Rogers Saturday as a favorite for victory.
fourth turn on the final lap, but before he saw the checkered flag, the caution flag flew for a spin. As the field circled under caution before the final green-white-checkered restart, Rogers looked in his rear-view mirror and saw the front bumper of Benny Gordon’s machine. He knew that if he was going to win his third-straight race, he would have to hold off Gordon on the final restart.
“My heart dropped when I saw the caution come out,” added Rogers. “I was just about ready to stab the gas coming off of four when the yellow came out. I couldn’t believe the caution came out just as we were coming to the checkered flag.
“Benny’s sneaky and he’s won a bunch of races here. He came down here and I know he’s sneaky on those restarts. I was worried. I told my spotter to watch him and tell me what he’s doing. I wanted him to tell me what Benny’s doing and where he’s going behind me – whether he’s rolling up on me or laying back or what. This place is so slick, after you run about 10 to 15 laps, you could just touch the throttle and spin them. But I knew if I could have half a car length, just enough on him going into one that could keep him from running in and hitting me then we’d be alright.”
Gordon tried to poke the nose of his #66N machine under Rogers going into that first corner on the restart, but he couldn’t make it stick. In fact, Gordon even lost the second spot to a hard-charging Woody Howard, who charged back from a lap down to score the runner-up finish.
After the race, Rogers did his traditional smoke show and victory lap. The festive and good-natured fun time that Jimmy Buffett preaches in his songs should have gone on in victory lane for the race winner, but was interrupted by a knock-down, drag out battle royale on pit road between Benny Gordon, his team and the team of fifth-
Benny Gordon (#66) and Woody Howard (#55) had a heated battle for second. (Kathy Bond Photo)
place finisher Jeff Fultz. Contact late in the race sent Fultz spinning, causing post-race bumps between the two drivers on the track to escalate into a brawl on pit road as Rogers sat in victory lane patiently awaiting to be welcomed by series officials that had their hands full getting the fight calmed down.
We’ll have plenty more on the Fultz/Gordon battle, which turned out to be a severe case of mistaken identity that the SPEED television cameras did not miss, soon here on Speed51.com in “Leftovers.”
Eventually peace was restored and after about 10 minutes of sitting inside his car waiting to climb out, Rogers celebrated his victory with a beer bath and a stage dive into his team’s arms – a team that Rogers was quick to point out was the key to his success all season long.
“In the last month and a half, we’ve been running good and we haven’t been tearing up racecars. We give the guys a Monday off and they’ll come in and practice pit stops. They want to do better and they’re doing it. These guys in this series are tough on pit road and we beat them out twice tonight. To come in and come out first every time we pitted tonight is great.”
Clay Rogers' team gets him off pit road ahead of the field. (Bond Photo)
Rogers’ victory extended his Championship Series points lead to 191 over Woody Howard, who leapfrogged Shelby Howard for second in points as a result of his second-place finish at Myrtle Beach. Gordon followed for third, while Gill and Fultz rounded out the top-five.