Benny Gordon Invades The South; Steals Pro Cup Bristol Win by Jason Buckley
Northern Division Driver Takes Glory In Southern Championship Race
Benny Gordon stole the win at Bristol from the Southern regulars. (Kethy Bond photo)
A few weeks ago, the USAR Hooters Pro Cup North division concluded their season at South Boston Speedway (VA). The Northern division drivers had a few weeks off before the Championship Series kicks off at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway (OH).
While many North division drivers are using the time to get their cars refreshed and ready for the five-race final championship run, including recently crowned Northern Division champ Gary St. Amant, a few others decided to invade the Southern Division’s season finale at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN). South Boston winner Jeff Agnew and Benny Gordon both made the trip to the famous half-mile facility, but Agnew wasn’t a factor in the Wednesday night event. Gordon however took full advantage of his Southern Invasion by winning the “Food City 150”.
“That makes it a million times better being in a Southern race because they have come up and taken our money a couple of times,” said Gordon, referring to Mark McFarland, a Southern regular who won two Northern Division races this year. “Anytime you go out of your division and win a race is great. I hate it when they do it to us, so to come to Bristol and take some glory from them makes me feel pretty good.”
Gordon started his journey to victory lane from the seventh position. Southern regular
Michael Ritch started from the pole position, but trouble during the race ended his race victory bid.
“Our race didn't go too good once the green dropped,” said Ritch. “Starting from the pole meant a lot after the bad run we had at Hickory. We lost a few laps in the pits later in the race when we broke a wheel and had to come in under green. We had nothing to gain, so we just tried to stay out of trouble.”
McFarland took his turn at the top spot looking to be the driver to take the victory, but his race ended early as his car stalled during an early caution while he was leading, forcing him to be pushed off the track and out of the event.
It was tough to be a leader at Bristol. Mark McFarland (top, 51 photo) and Wade Day (bottom, Bond photo) both fell off the pace with various problems.
Then, it was Wade Day’s turn.
Day placed his car firmly in the lead and pulled out to over a three-second lead by the halfway mark. Unfortunately for Day and the Southern contingent, his race ended with a hard hit into the wall.
“I ran over something and cut the right front tire down,” said Day. “That is the best that we can figure. It is pretty tore up. I was really just cruising and they said I was running faster than the rest of them.
“Man, I couldn’t have asked for a better race car there, but that is how it goes. They say Bristol will jump out and bite you. That is what they told us in the driver’s meeting, and it will. It got us.”
With the attrition taking out the major players, Gordon worked his way into the lead of the race with a charging Chase Pistone and Trevor Bayne behind him. A few late race restarts, including a green-white-checkered finish, threatened Gordon’s bid to steal one from the South, but he was able to hold on to collect the winner’s trophy.
“It was a great race,” said Gordon. “There were a couple of great young guys behind us. They both have great futures in racing and I enjoyed racing with them.
“We really set our car up to be in the lead. With the way we had the gear ratio and the car set up, we had to be in front. Once I got in clean air the car came to me and there was no looking back from there.”
While some drivers hate having late-race restarts, Gordon actually preferred it due to the way his car handled on short runs.
“I was happy to see the caution because my car was really good on restarts,” said Gordon. “Late in the run we pretty much evened out on time, so it didn’t bother me having a green-white-checkered finish.”
Pistone did his best to try and pass Gordon without wrecking him. Unfortunately he came up short, but was happy to be the best in class.
“With the pit strategy we started so far back we just decided to take two tires and no gas,” said Pistone. “We came in early at lap three or four and we passed many cars. By the time we got up front I think we were a little hard on the right front. It was unfortunate we didn’t have anything for him (Benny Gordon) but we were the first South car. That should knock us up to third in the points and give us a real good standing going into the last five.”
Gordon (#66) held off Chase Pistone (#54) over the final restarts. (Bond photo)
Some drivers are not satisfied with a third-place finish, but for Bayne, he was ecstatic. Great teamwork early on moved Bayne up a few spots, giving him the confidence and drive to work his way towards the front.
“We started off behind the eight ball by qualifying 23rd,” said Bayne. “We had an awesome stop at lap four or five. We came out about 17th and that put us in a good position by gaining spots early in the race. We worked our way on the high side. That is not usual of Bristol, but it was good racing. It was not easy to pass, but it was better than last year. It gives these guys a lot of momentum going into the championship series by finishing second in the South. It is a big step from finishing seventh or eighth last year.”
After the race, Gordon stood in the infield towards turn one watching the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers negotiate on the same track he just won on a few hours earlier. Taking the win from the Southern drivers was something he thoroughly enjoyed, but he wondered what the race would have been like if Day wouldn’t have had his trouble.
“I hate what happened to Wade,” remarked Gordon. “He had a really good car. Late in the race it would have been a really good race between us, but hey, we will take them any way we could get them.”
Michael Ritch and Richard Boswell Crowned Southern Champs
While Northern Division driver Benny Gordon stole the final Southern Division season race win at Bristol, two Southern Champions were crowned.
Michael Ritch (top) was crowned the Southern Champion after Bristol, while Richard Boswell (bottom) was crowned the Rookie of the Year for the Southern Series.
Michael Ritch build up a healthy points lead heading into the final race, allowing him to just roll across the start line to take the series championship. In fitting fashion, Ritch was the first driver to take the green as he started from the pole position.
“I’m tickled about winning the title, and it’s not like we lucked into it,” said Ritch. “We had a great car all year, and we dominated a lot of the year. We’re definitely a championship contender now.”
Ritch finished the race in 19th position, but the finish in the race didn’t matter in relation to the crowning as the champ.
“Bristol a great place to race, but Bristol is not the big picture for this team,” said Ritch. “We’re looking for the overall title.”
Meanwhile, the Rookie of the Year title was up for grabs. Matt Hawkins entered the race 23 points ahead of Richard Boswell for the rookie honors. Hawkins looked to have the title in his grasp, but a few incidents on the track put Hawkins back in the running order. Boswell was able to cross the finish line in eighth, taking the rookie honors by a mere nine points over Hawkins.
“Winning the rookie title is great,” said Boswell. “We’ve had a lot of bad luck this year, but to even have a shot at the title coming into Bristol was awesome. We were able to capitalize on a lot of the misfortune tonight, and I’m real happy we did.
“This was our goal at the beginning of the year. Shane (Huffman) and Mark (McFarland) have shown over the last couple of years that this team was capable of winning races. I’m a little disappointed not to have won yet, but this is a team with a rookie driver and rookie crew chief. We’ll just get ready for the Championship Series, and maybe we can come away with a win there.”