NEW TIRES THE KEY FOR CLAY ROGERS AT PEACH STATE by Matt Kentfield
Cautions and Carnage Leave Huffman and Logano Miffed
It was nothing new for Clay Rogers and Mike Herman. They’ve been racing for wins for years going back to their Late Model Stock Car days at Concord Motorsport Park (NC). In the USAR Hooters Pro Cup ranks, Rogers is the former Champion who’s ready for a number of wins this season. Herman has been at the Pro Cup game for many years but still has yet to crack into the win column.
“I was happy to see he was running up front and I hated taking the win away from him but I’m darn sure I wasn’t going to let (Shane) Huffman pass me. We’re racing him for the championship this year and I’m sure Mike will be at Concord with a good car there, so maybe he can have a shot to win that one.”
If running for the championship was Rogers’ motivation for making the winning pass, the same motivating factor made Shane Huffman jump to Rogers’ outside on the race’s final restart with eight laps remaining.
Herman and Dange Hanniford found themselves up front using an off-sequence pit strategy while Rogers, Huffman, Joey Logano and other pitted for fresh rubber on a lap-209 caution. With new tires, the three drivers that dominated the entire race quickly found themselves jockeying for the top spot yet again.
Clay Rogers celebrates his first win of the season.
(Kathy Bond photos)
The new tires won out, as the cars with the grip took over up front, leaving Herman short of his first Pro Cup victory.
“Clay and I were Concord (Motorsport Park) Late Model Stock drivers so that wasn’t the first time that me and him were racing for the win like that,” said Herman. “The biggest thing was that I didn’t have fresh tires and he did.
Even though he knew Rogers and Huffman were closing in with their newer tires, Herman was determined to break into the win column.
“A racecar driver always thinks he’s got a shot. I feel like I’m a gladiator behind the wheel and I’m not going to give up. I haven’t won one of these races yet and I want to get one so bad.
Mike Herman (51 Photos)
In Saturday night’s Naturally Fresh 250 at Peach State Speedway, the experience of making the winning move paid off for Rogers.
Of course, fresher tires had a lot to do with it too.
Rogers slid under Herman’s #34 with three laps remaining and checked out with new rubber in the closing laps to win his first Southern Division win of the 2006 season.
“I know Mike wants to win bad,” said Rogers, who won the Pro Cup Northern Division race at South Boston last weekend. “He used to win a lot of races there at Concord and he’s struggled in his Hooters deal. He’s a little bit under-funded there but he runs good.
If we could’ve caught another caution maybe things would’ve been different and we would’ve won. I almost went down two laps on old tires so I knew I wasn’t going to be the fastest car out there with used tires there at the end so I knew Clay was going to be good with those newer tires.”
The final restart of the night proved to be the most pivotal. With Herman and Hanniford up front and Rogers and Huffman on fresher tires than the first two with just eight laps remaining, the green flag flew in the final sprint to the finish. Hanniford got off to a slow start in second, allowing Hermon to jump to a sizable lead while Rogers, who restarted third, had to roll off the throttle in the first turn. That allowed Huffman to jump to Rogers’ outside and the two raced side-by-side before Rogers pulled back ahead down the backstretch. Hanniford slipped back while Rogers and Huffman chased Hermon.
“On that last restart Huffman jumped to the outside of me because the #22 (Hanniford) had a flat left rear tire,” said Rogers. “I saw it coming halfway down the backstretch coming to the green. I jumped on the radio and told them to tell the officials.
When Huffman took advantage of Rogers being held up by Hanniford’s struggling racecar by jumping to the outside, it was more a move of necessity and frustration. Huffman was going for the lead because the championship could come down those two and every position counts but he was also eager to get up front because of his displeasure with USAR officials.
Huffman’s frustration began when Logano, who looked to have one of the most competitive cars on the racetrack all night long, spun the lapped car of Brett Butler as the leaders passed him on lap 229. USAR officials penalized Logano to the rear of the field under caution. After the race, Huffman was not pleased at the length of the caution period to sort out Logano’s penalty.
“USAR pretty much screwed this race up tonight,” said Huffman. “It seemed like we rode around for 20 laps under caution when they were looking at the tape. I don’t know if they were watching an old episode of ‘Friends,’ maybe some ‘Seinfeld.’ I’m not sure what they were watching up there but we had a race to run.”
Rogers (#44) holds off Shane Huffman's charge.
Huffman’s second-place finish behind Rogers was no consolation for his anger with the amount of laps run under caution late in the race.
“I’m pretty pissed off. I’m not taking anything away from Clay Rogers and his crew because they had a hell of a race car and we knew it was going to be a hell of a race. It’s just aggravating. It’s happened before and I don’t understand why the racers have to pay for their mistakes.”
While Huffman was upset with the laps under the caution, the driver who wound up on the short end of the entire incident was Logano. After running in the top-three all night long thanks in large part to a pit crew that got him off pit road first in both of his stops during the 250-lap race, Logano’s late-race penalty, while running third behind Herman and Hanniford, ruined any chance at his second Pro Cup victory of the season.
Naturally Fresh 250 Results
Peach State Speedway, Jefferson, GA
1. Clay Rogers
2. Shane Huffman
3. Wayne Willard
4. Jody Lavender
5. Mike Herman Jr
6. Jeff Fultz
7. Chase Pistone
8. Joey Logano
9. Matt Carter
10. Mike Mason
11. George Brunnhoelzl
12. Mardy Lindley
13. Jay Fogleman
14. Billy Bigley Jr
15. Kirk Leone
16. Bobby Joe Woodley
17. Michelle Theriault
18. Dange Hanniford
19. Trevor Bayne
20. Don Satterfield
21. C E Falk
22. Brett Butler
23. Andrew Rogers
24. Ken Butler III
25. Dana White
26. Bobby Gill
27. Shane Wallace
28. Bill Manfull
29. A J Fike
30. Rick Markle
31. Michael Ritch
32. Daniel Johnson
33. Mike Hampton
“We had the car to beat, that’s for sure,” said Logano, who finished eighth after passing several cars in the closing laps from the back of the pack. “Lapped cars that are six or seven laps down are trying to race with the leaders. They don’t need to be up there. I don’t know why the heck they need to be racing up there.
“I barely tapped him and he spun out. Still, he doesn’t belong up there. That’s flat out what it is. We were running third but we were behind guys who didn’t have any tires so we would’ve passed them.”
Joey Logano's #51 races with Trevor Bayne's #29
The penalty was even more upsetting for Logano because he may have been a strong contender with Rogers and Huffman at the end of the race, but in the last laps nobody had anything for Rogers, who started from the pole and with the win took over the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series Southern Division points lead from Shane Wallace, who finished 27th.
Last week, Rogers crossed the border and invaded the Pro Cup Northern Division and won the race at South Boston (VA). Rogers considered that race to be the turning point of the season and he proved it Saturday night at Peach State.
“This whole race team’s really got it going on right now. From the crew chief to the guy that runs the parts for us, everyone is on their game. We unloaded off the trailer the fastest car on the sheet and we stayed on top of the sheet in practice and qualifying and in the race too.”