PRO CUP LEFTOVERS: LAKELAND by Jerermy Troiano
Logano Wrecks Hard, Huffman’s New Team, Bayne Learns New Series

LOGANO’S 2006 SEASON OPENER SHORT LIVED

Young Joey Logano had some big expectations heading into the 2006 season.  He was hoping to start his season right at USA International Speedway.

Unfortunately, Logano’s 2006 season opened and closed after just 38 laps.  Despite starting seventh and running inside the top-five early, Logano got involved in an accident early and finished with a 35th-place effort.

“The shock mount broke going into three,” said Logano.  “It leaned over onto the right front.  I cut into the tire going into one and we drove right into the wall.  It was a hard hit.  It was hard enough.  Then I came right back down in front of those guys.  They had nowhere to go.  It tore up the car pretty good.”

As Logano came back down the track after hitting the wall, he was hit hard by Stacy Puryear.  The accident ended his night and cut short a weekend that had been good, but tough, as Joey fought through flu-like symptoms.

Mason, who prior to Saturday’s race had just one previous Pro Cup start, an 11th-place finish in the final regular season race at Lakeland last season. "It’s all about getting experience in these cars for me right now. If we finish all or most of the laps, the finishes will take care of themselves.”

The back end of Logano's car got airborne after contact with Stacy Puryear (Kathy Bond photo)
Austin (#50, top) bounced back from a practice incident, while Mason (#75) had a steady race.
“It hasn’t been too bad.  We were good in practice and qualified well. W e had a top-three car.  It is unfortunate it happened so early out there.  Things just happen.  I didn’t notice the sick feeling at all during the race.  It is just a bummer.  We had a really good car.  Best car I’ve ever had here.”

HUFFMAN’S FIRST RACE

Shane Huffman’s first race with JR Motorsports, the team owned by NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr., appeared to be like his first race with Knight’s Racing last season; in a dominating fashion. 

On Saturday night, Huffman grabbed the pole and led 155 of the race’s 252 laps on his way to serving notice to the rest of Pro Cup Series that he would be the man to beat once again this season.


However, rear-end problems would cost him his first victory of the season as he would settle for an 11th-place finish, one-lap down. Huffman was called down pit road on lap 161 as other competitors radioed that the No. 88 was laying down fluid. It turned out to be rear-end fluid coming from a loose filter line.

Despite the problems, though, Huffman is not going to let it get him down.
Shane Huffman's new ride (51 Photos)
“It just shows we can’t sit back,” said Huffman.  “We’ve got work to do.  It looked pretty dominant, but we could have changed some things and made it better.  

“I just got to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity.  We had the right gear, right setup and the engine ran well.    It just never did pan out right.  We got back there, had a long green run and we just couldn’t get it back.  It is frustrating.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.  We’ve got a lot of positives, but we had a negative there.  It just shows you can’t overlook anything.

“I’ve got awesome equipment and awesome people.  The best group of people that I’ve ever worked with.  This just shows that you just can’t ever be too confident in this sport, because something like that can bite you.  You just have to cross your t’s and dot your i’s.”


NEW CREW CHIEF HELPS ROGERS

Clay Rogers finished with an impressive second-place on Saturday night.

Some of it can be attributed to his tenacity as a driver.  Some of it can be attributed to his late-race battle with Bobby Gill.  Some of it can be attributed to his new crew chief, Blake Bainbridge.

Clay Rogers sported a new black-based paint scheme in Lakeland
“We got a little bit physical there at the end with Bobby (Gill),” said Rogers.  “That is the way things are, though.  You saw the way he and (Jay) Fogleman raced here a couple of years ago.  That is just the way we like to race with Bobby.  I knew I had to go at the end here, though, to have a shot to win.  I didn’t need all those cautions at the end.  Good job to Bobby, though.  I know I turned him sideways a couple of times there.  I’m sure he won’t forget.”



It was Rogers’ first race with Bainbridge, his new crew chief.  Bainbridge previously served as crew chief with Rusty Wallace’s #64 Busch team, as well as with Brian Vickers.

“Blake is an old friend of mine,” said Rogers.  “He has been with RWI.  He has been around racing a long time.  I tell him he is a junior member of the Alabama Gang.  He’s from Hueytown. 

“He’s been a good friend of mine for a while.  It is a good thing that (owners) Johnny and Troy realize what this series has been elevated to, so we decided to bring him over.”

“I’m happy with the way things are going.  We didn’t decide to race Pro Cup until January 17th.  We just finished this new car on Thursday, so we had no testing on it.  So I’m happy with how we finished.”

NEW TEAM WORKS FOR PISTONE

Chase Pistone started his season out last year by finishing 14th after grabbing the pole with a brand new team (FasTimes Motorsports).  For the second year in a row, Pistone started out his Pro Cup Southern Division season debuting with a new team, this time with the Doug Stringer, Inc. #83 RaceVue team at USA International Speedway. While he didn’t grab the pole, Pistone’s overall race and finish was much better off this time around and could have been even better had he not make a simple mistake late in the running.

“We started 12th and finished 12th, so that isn’t too bad,” said Pistone.  “It’s a building point, that is for sure.  I am just disappointed in myself.  We had a pretty good car, but I just got up into the fence and knocked the rear bumper cover off the car with about 20 laps to go.  I am disappointed because I did it myself.  It is a good building point.  We came out of here better than we did last year.”

Pistone got into the wall just a little bit and knocked the rear deck off the car, including the spoiler.

“Our spoiler is everything.  It gives you all the downforce.  You just can’t get on the gas coming out of the corner.  I just got up in the marbles.  We just got into the marbles.   I’m just disappointed. 

The back end of Chase Pistone's car was torn up after the Lakeland opener
“This isn’t the best car in our stable, so to run in the top 10 all year gets me excited,” added Pistone.  “We should have our new car ready by Montgomery.   This is our first time in this car.  Yesterday, we had brake problems.  We got stuff figured out with about 10 minutes left in practice.  It still isn’t perfect, but I’m really excited about the future here.”

HANNIFORD HAS IMPRESSIVE ROOKIE OUTING

The ultra-competitive USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series is a tough place for rookie drivers. 

Rookie Dange Hanniford, who made his debut driving for Ricky Benton Racing, didn’t let that stop him at all, coming home with an eighth-place run.


Dange Hanniford
“We started 12th and finished 12th, so that isn’t too bad,” said Pistone.  “It’s a building point, that is for sure.  I am just disappointed in myself.  We had a pretty good car, but I just got up into the fence and knocked the rear bumper cover off the car with about 20 laps to go.  I am disappointed because I did it myself.  It is a good building point.  We came out of here better than we did last year.”

Pistone got into the wall just a little bit and knocked the rear deck off the car, including the spoiler.

“Our spoiler is everything.  It gives you all the downforce.  You just can’t get on the gas coming out of the corner.  I just got up in the marbles.  We just got into the marbles.   I’m just disappointed. 

“I’m glad to get it over with,” said Hanniford.  “There is some pressure in coming out and driving the #22.  There is some history in this car.  I was the rookie of the race and got a top-10, so I can’t complain.  I made some rookie mistakes, so hopefully I got them out of the way.”

What were those rookie mistakes?

“The first start, I missed a gear.  There toward the end, we were tight and I just drove it in and washed up the track.  I knew it was going to happen, but I was just driving too hard, trying to get some positions I probably didn’t deserve.”


ANOTHER ROOKIE IMPRESSIVE

Joey Logano turned some heads in 2005 when he came upon the Pro Cup series at the ripe old age of 15.  This year, there is another 15-year-old on the scene and he impressed a lot of people equally.

Meet Trevor Bayne.


Trevor Bayne
Unfortunately, Bayne’s night ended after getting caught up in an accident with another competitor, forcing him to just “ride” to finish the night.

“It is crazy,” said Bayne, a high school freshman.  “That was my first big car race.  I got a lot of experience.  I got to race in traffic being in the middle of the pack.   It was different with all of these lapped cars.  It was our first live pit stop.  The guys did a great job with that. 

“I ran a 200-lap Allison Legacy race one time, but there were a lot of cautions, so we never really had any long green runs.  I felt like everything was going good.

Bayne’s accident came while battling with the night’s second-quick qualifier, Kirk Leone.

“I think the 52 blew a right front when he was under us.  It wasn’t very lucky, but that stuff happens.




“Up until the wreck, I think we had a b, maybe a b-.  our team worked really well together today.  We had a good car for longer runs.  After about 5 or 10 laps, it would really start taking off.”

Bayne also had some big-time help on the pit box.  His crew chief was veteran driver, Wade Day.

VETERANS RITCH & WALLACE SOLID AT LAKELAND

While there were some impressive rookies at Lakeland, the night belonged to the veterans, who swept the top-five spots. 


Michael Ritch turned in his best performance at Lakeland, coming home third, while Shane Wallace grabbed a fifth.
“That is the best we’ve ran here in a long time,” said Ritch.  “I know Bobby (Gill, with whom Ritch was racing for third) was a little bit better than we were.  Ask him about aero push, though.   When he got behind me, I know he lost the front end some.  He drove me really clean.  He was probably getting pretty PO’d at me because of my restarts. The transmission got hung up in fourth gear, so I had to take my time on restarts.”

Wallace is known for being one of the fastest guys on the circuit, but he’s making a conscious effort to become a driver that is fast at the right time. Wallace’s new-found patience paid dividends with a fifth-place finish.

"We’ve talked about (being more patient)," said Wallace. "We had a lot of guys tell us how good our car was, and that felt great. We lost a bunch of positions on the pit stop, and we had to use the car up getting back to the front.





Michael Ritch (#28, top) and Shane Wallace (#38, bottom)
“We had a good, stout car all night. We just rode around from the get-go.     We had a problem in the pits.  We came in third and went out around 15th.  We had to waste most of our tires coming back through the pack.  It was a pretty decent night for us.”

TWO MORE IMPRESSIVE ROOKIES

The rookie class in the Pro Cup Series looks strong in 2006.  The class was led by Dange Hanniford and Trevor Bayne, but there has to also be some attention paid to two others; Mike Mason and Chase Austin.

Mason impressed many by qualifying sixth on Saturday, then followed that up with a 14th-place finish.  Austin finished 13th after starting 32nd and picked up the Aaron’s Hard Charger Award.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for either driver.  Mason got into the wall during the race, while Austin smacked the wall hard during practice.

"I started pushing up off the turn and just got into the wall," said Mason. "I bounced off (the wall) and into Jody Lavender. Somehow, we didn’t wreck and we both managed to save it. We were really lucky because that could have been pretty big."

Mason pancaked the right-rear side of his car in the incident so significantly that it moved the rear end housing over. It also damaged the fuel filler on the left side of the car forcing Mason to pit more than once during each caution to make sure the car was full of fuel.

"Our whole philosophy for the first half of the season is to qualify and complete as many laps as we can," said