Barring misfortune, Shane Huffman was going to move over the million-dollar mark in career earnings at USA Int’l Speedway, needing just a $2,700 payout to move into seven-figure territory. But in typical Huffman fashion, he did it in style.
Huffman, driver of the No. 88 Champion Chevrolet, took the lead on Lap 133 and beat Clay Rogers to the checkered flag by 1.721 seconds to win the Sears Auto Center 250 presented by BFGoodrich Tires.
3 and 4. I thought maybe I should just get by him and see if I could pull away from him in clean air. [As I was trying to get back around him], both of us just got loose getting down in the corner, and I just chased it up into him. It was completely unintentional. I talked him about it already.”
After the Rogers-Huffman tangle, Gill, driver of the No. 06 USG Sheetrock Brand Ford, took his turn out front on Lap 71. The cagy veteran would take command of the race over the next 38 laps.
But while Gill and the rest of the field continued to circle the .75-mile layout, Huffman’s JR Motorsports teammates decided to use a little strategy to regain some track position lost in the spin and brought the No. 88 Chevrolet to pit road on Lap 104.
Shane Huffman celebrates in Lakeland after coming from behind to win the Sears 250. (Kathy Bond photos)
“Wes Ward [Huffman’ crew chief] made the pit call to come in around Lap 100,” said Huffman. “Then, two or three laps later, the caution came out and the rest of the field came in. After that, we had perfect track position. I just set out there and saved my tires.”
Rogers wasn’t afforded that luxury.
During his pit stop, Rogers, driver of the No. 44 Automotive Development Group Ford, lost six positions on pit road after his crew had problems servicing his machine, dropping him outside the top 10 with nearly half the race in the books.
Shane Huffman (#88) and Clay Rogers (#44) raced side-by-side and touched early in the race.
“[Moving over the million-dollar mark] is the coolest thing about this win,” said Huffman, who won for the 27th time in his Pro Cup career. “I’m proud of that. I really wanted to be No. 2 on the money list, since I couldn’t be No. 1. It’s just a tribute to the situations I’ve been able to be in. And this situation is no different. I’ve got to thank Dale Jr., Kelly [Elledge Earnhardt], Steve Crisp, Rich Hubbs, Mark McFarland and Willie Jackson for the opportunity to be here.”
Bobby Gill currently holds down the top spot on the money list with nearly $1.6 million in winnings. And for a while, it looked like the 3-time champion would stuff his coffers in the Sears Auto Center 250, not Huffman.
After starting sixth, Huffman made his way to the front on Lap 30. But a heated battle for the lead with Clay Rogers on Lap 63 left Huffman headed in the wrong direction.
“I don’t think it was intentional,” Huffman said of the contact with Rogers. “It was just racing.”
“I pushed it real hard to lead a lap, and then I was going to back off,” said Rogers. “Then I saw that he got real loose on the outside in [Turns] 1 and 2. Then he did the same thing in [Turns]
“We had two lug nuts fall off our tire when we pitted, and I think that was the difference,” said Rogers. “It happens to everybody. This team doesn’t have lug nuts come off normally. Sometimes that stuff just happens.”
Rogers did, however, make a valiant effort to get back what he lost on pit road.
In just 80 laps, Rogers, who dropped outside the top 10, moved into second. But once he made it to the runner-up spot, Rogers didn’t have anything left for Huffman.
“If we hadn’t had to burn the right front [tire] off trying to get through traffic it may have been different, but I don’t know.” said Rogers. “I was just surprised we could stay with him late in the race.”
“[Herman] got in there sideways and we had a run on him,” said Gill, who rallied to finish third. “I bumped him, he spun and I got sent to the rear. That’s alright, we’ve got a lot of races to go, and we’ll just keep getting while the getting’s good.”
Bayne followed Gill under the checkered flag to notch his first top-five finish of his rookie season. But his night wasn’t without its share of adversity.
The 15-year-old driver had to fall to rear at the start after stopping on the track during the pace laps.
“This team didn’t get down and stayed positive on the radio,” said Bayne, who picked up Miller Lite Rookie of the Race honors. “We had 250 laps to come back. We had a good pit strategy. We came out awesome, and it was an awesome day.”
Jay Fogleman, driver of the No. 4 Greased Lightning Ford, continued his recent string of solid runs by coming home fifth.
Chase Pistone, Michelle Theriault, Wayne Willard, Joey Logano and Daniel Johnson rounded out the top 10.
The Sears Auto Center 250 featured eight lead changes among six drivers and was slowed 12 times for 72 laps.
PRO CUP NOTEBOOK
Bobby Gill (#06) had a shot at winning.
Not many others could.
Huffman’s blistering pace in the second half of the event allowed him to lap up to fourth place. Gill and rookie Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 29 McDonalds Ford, were the only other drivers that managed to stay on the lead lap, which was surprising, considering both had to come from the rear of the field to do so.
Gill, after leading 38 laps in the middle stages of the event, made a late-race charge after being hit with a rough-driving penalty for his involvement in Mike Herman Jr.’s spin.
Michelle Theriault, driver of the No. 45 Team Glock Ford, posted a career-best finish of seventh in the Sears Auto Center 250. It was Theriault’s first top-10 of her career and the best finish by a female driver in the history of the Hooters Pro Cup Series.
“We worked hard all day,” said Theriault. “We struggled with the car in practice, but we all pulled together. The guys were pumped, and, to hear them pumped up, it kept me motivated. I’m real proud of the way things went for Team Glock.”
Jay Fogleman said after Concord that his team has been good all year, but they just weren’t getting the finishes. It appears Fogleman wasn’t giving a PR spin after he picked up his second top-five finish in as many races.
“Joe Burke made a good call for us to come in and take left-side tires on the first stop,” said Fogleman. “When we came back in and just put on rights, we were able to beat a lot of guys out the pits. Track position was key, because we didn’t have to deal with all that traffic. We took a 10th- or 11th-place car and run fifth with it.”
Chase Pistone, driver of the No. 83 Sears Auto Center Ford, qualified on the outside of the front row, hovered around the top 10 all night and finished sixth, giving him four top-10 finishes in the first six races of the season.
“We opted to stay out, lead at halfway and get some points,” said Pistone, who picked up five bonus points and $1,000 for being the Lucas Oil Products Halfway Leader. “Our car was good out front. I don’t think if we’d a pitted with the rest of them that it would’ve made a difference.”
With the top-six finish and the added bonus points, Pistone is currently fourth in points, just 12 behind Bobby Gill in third.
Batteries Not Included
Jody Lavender paced practice, qualified third and ran strong in the first 100 laps of the Sears Auto Center 250. But like several other of the frontrunners, battery problems thwarted Lavender’s solid run.
“The car just up and died on me,” said Lavender, driver of the No. 84 Sears Auto Center Ford. “I looked at the volt meter and it was all the way down. We put a new battery in it, but it never showed like it was charging. I cut off all the fans, and it got hot in there, but we made the rest of the race. I hate it for all my guys, because we all worked hard and had a great car.”
Jeff Fultz's team goes to work on a battery problem.
Jeff Fultz has been quietly figuring out the nuances of the Hooters Pro Cup car since moving over to the series full-time this year. Futlz’s persistence paid off in Advance Auto Parts Pole Qualifying.
Fultz, driver of the No. 54 C & C Boiler Sales & Service Pontiac, lapped the .75-mile track in 22.213 seconds at 121.550 mph to pick up his first pole in Hooters Pro Cup competition.
Unfortunately, for Fultz, he would pull behind the wall on Lap 136 with mechanical failure.