Cope Wins Wild Goodyear Challenge Opener At Lakeland by Jeremy Troiano
Youngster Can Thank The Lapped Cars
Travis Cope (top) had a car that didn't look like it should have won the race, but some bad luck from Daniel Keene Jr. (#16) got spun by a lapped car.  (51 Photos)
If there was a way that young Travis Cope could send a Christmas car to the lapped cars in the Goodyear Challenge Series event at USA International Speedway, he probably should.

Cope first used a lapped car to his advantage to take the lead early from AJ Curreli when Curreli got stuck behind a slower car on the front stretch.  Then, Cope used bad luck caused by another lapped car that befell late-race leader Daniel Keene Jr.  to earn the impressive victory, which followed the running of the opening round of the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series season. 
“It was a wild, wild race,” said Cope.  “This race was a lot of fun.  I’ve only raced here three times before this and every other time, I’ve either had something break on the car or just had a bad day.  So that made today a lot of fun.

“You wouldn’t think we would have won the race if you looked at this car after the race though.”

That’s because Cope’s car looked as if it just survived a demolition derby rather than a 100-lap race at the .75-mile USA International Speedway.

When fast qualifier Keene finally got his way up to Cope’s bumper, he made quick work of getting to the top spot.  After a little bit of bumping and banging, Keene found himself in the lead.

However, less than a lap later, Keene found himself spun around as result of contact with a lapped car.  As Keene spun in turns three and four, Cope locked up the brakes and tried to miss the accident.  Cope slid into the side of Keene’s car, smashing up on the front end.  Both Cope and Keene were able to continue, but Keene had to visit pit road due to a flat left rear tire.

Cope was able to reassume his lead at the front of the field as officials deemed the contact on the fault of the lapped car.  In fact, officials would have put Keene back up front had he not had to visit pit road.

“I gave him a little room and he kind of bumped me and we got into each other when we were battling for the lead,” added Cope.  “Going down into one, he got by me and I got up in the upper groove.  I thought I was going to lose it, but I was able to hold on.
“Then, coming down into turn three, I saw him spin after he got hit by a lapped car.  I just got in there too much and get up into everything.  I knew we didn’t really hurt anything other than just the body, so once I got back up into my position, I figured we would be ok.”

Keene was disappointed in the finish after dropping out of the event just a couple of laps later.

“We had a really good car,” said Keene.  “We came up on the lapped car.  It was the second or third time that we lapped him.  We got by him and almost had him cleared, but he pushed up and got us in the left rear and spun me around.  The tire went flat and we had to come in and change the tire.  In the midst of that somewhere, the rear-end broke in the car.
"We had an excellent car.  We were really patient passing everyone.  We were trying to stay out of trouble, but that stuff just happens.  It’s a shame that it happened with a lapped car and not someone you were racing with.  At least then, you feel like it would be been better or more acceptable.

“I’m really disappointed.  We were really good here and had high hopes.”

Rich Clouser, the two-time defending Goodyear Challenge Series champion, was right behind the Cope-Keene incident, but didn’t have any ill-feelings towards officials giving Cope his spot back out front.

“I didn’t see what happened,” said Clouser.  “I just drove down into three and saw some smoke and a guy spinning around.  I thought I was going to get some good luck there and get to start up front.  But, oh well.

“Usually, its protect the leader in this series.  They were going to leave the 16 up there too, but he had to come in and change his tire.  They were deeming that the lapped car’s fault.  They were blaming it on the lapped car.

“We had a good car.  This is the best car we’ve ever had at Lakeland.  We’ve only been here four or five times and this is the best ride we’ve ever put together for here.   We won back-to-back championships with this series in 2005 and 2006, so a second-place finish is a good way to start off the year.”

JR McMichael finished third, with Joe Winchell and Darren Brown rounding out the top-five.

Rich Clouser finished second.