Gill Kicks Off Championships Series in Style
Veteran claims Charlie Campbell Memorial Sears Auto Center 250
Championship points leader Gary St. Amant (right) comes over to congratulate race winner Bobby Gill (left) after Mansfield's Championship race. (Kathy Bond photos)
After all these years, Bobby Gill is still one of the best short-track drivers to strap on a helmet. And he showed why in the first round of the Championship Series at Mansfield Motorsports Park.
After starting 29th in the 36-car field, Gill knifed his way to the top five just after the halfway mark, slid around Gary St. Amant for the lead on Lap 171 and led to the finish of the Charlie Campbell Memorial Sears Auto Center 250.
Gill’s win was his series-high 45th career victory and his second trip to Victory Lane this season.
“It was important for us to get off to a good start in the Championship Series,” said Gill, driver of the No. 06s USG Sheetrock Ford. “But we should have won about four races this year already.”
Gary St. Amant tried to keep Gill from winning his second race of the year.
After losing the lead, St. Amant, driver of the No. 7n JEGS.com/Speedco Chevrolet, didn’t fade late in the race. The Northern Division champ stayed glued to Gill’s bumper for the remainder of the event. Several late-race restarts gave St. Amant a chance to reclaim the top spot, and he nearly did when the green waved for the final restart on Lap 247.
“About three cautions from the end, I figured something out,” said St. Amant. “I called the guys on the radio and said, ‘I think I got something for him.’”
As Gill’s car wiggled coming up to full power, St. Amant dove to the inside of the leader in Turn 1 and stayed alongside Gill into Turn 3. But when St. Amant dove to the inside of the track, third-place Lonnie Rush Jr. made it a three-car battle for the win by jumping to the outside of St. Amant. With Rush on his high side, St. Amant knew his chances at victory were gone.
“When I saw Gill get sideways, I knew I had a chance. I was salivating,” said St. Amant, who finished .264 of a second behind Gill. “I drove underneath Gill, and then I saw Lonnie going to the high side. I just had to race them both hard on the bottom.
“It feels really good to finish second and to get to race Bobby Gill for the win. This is the best car I’ve ever had at Mansfield. It was just an awesome race for us.”
Michael Ritch's #28 pole sitting car falls off the pace at the drop of the green flag.
And it was a race that couldn’t get over too soon for Gill.
“Our car was real loose on the last few restarts. I didn’t know we were going to win until we crossed the line,” said Gill, who took home $12,500 for the win. “I’m just glad there were only three laps left after that last restart.”
Gill picked up five bonus points for leading a race-high 80 laps and also grabbed five more via the Aaron’s “Do The Math” Award for advancing the most positions. Combined with his win, Gill chopped St. Amant’s point lead down to 20 points heading into the next Championship Series event at Iowa Speedway.
Though St. Amant’s lead was trimmed by Gill’s win, at least he’s still atop the standings. Michael Ritch, the Southern Division champion, can’t say the same.
Ritch, who came in tied with St. Amant in the Championship Series standings, started
off his day on the right track with his third Awesome Awnings Pole of the season. But on the initial start, Ritch’s No. 28 Naturally Fresh/Jackaroo Ford failed to come up to speed and he immediately came to pit road.
Ritch rejoined the race after losing four laps. For a while it looked like Ritch might salvage a good night after the misfortune as he made up all four laps. But the mechanical gremlins caught up with him on Lap 189 and forced him behind the wall for good.
“The car just wouldn’t shift on the first restart,” said Ritch. “We came in, fixed it and were able to make up our laps. Then everybody got stacked up on a restart and we spun. I couldn’t get the car to shift after that so we just parked it.”
St. Amant (#7) and Gill (#06) were nose to tail almost all race long at Mansfield.
With his DNF, Ritch fell to fifth in the standings, 75 behind St. Amant.
Lonnie Rush Jr., driver of the No. 71n Ray Skillman Classic Cars Chevrolet, was the big gainer in points during the Sears Auto Center 250. Rush led 19 laps and finished third to move from 50th to 16th in the standings.
Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38n Sears Auto Center Ford, was another driver to start the Championship Series out on the right foot. Wallace led 21 laps, finished fourth and moved from 21st to seventh in the standings.
Benny Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Samuel Metals Ford, didn’t thrust himself into championship battle, but he didn’t race himself out of it either. Gordon had an uneventful evening and finished fifth.
Mark McFarland, Brandon Ward, Derek Kale, A.J. Frank and James Buescher completed the top 10.
The Sears Auto Center 250 was slowed 20 times for 113 laps of caution and featured seven lead changes among six drivers.
Sears Auto Center 250 Notebook
Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38n Sears Auto Center Ford, is a notorious fast starter, but this year has been different. Wallace struggled a bit during the regular season before posting a top-five finish in the Sears Auto Center 250.
“The last two years we’ve started out strong and struggled at the end,” said Wallace, who led 21 laps. “Maybe, we’re going to have a backward pattern this year and be good at the end. We had a good car tonight and we’re headed to four tracks that we should be really good at. It was fun to get up front, lead some laps and charge back to the front after the pit stops, especially with everyone from Sears Auto Center here tonight.”
James Buescher had another solid run, trying to get back into the Rookie of the Year battle.
Top 10 Again
James Buescher, driver of the No. 84s Mercedes Homes Chevrolet, posted his second top-10 finish in the Hooters Pro Cup Series this season. Buescher picked up his first top-10 finish of the season at USA Int’l Speedway to open the season. Buescher did perform a first-time feat at Mansfield, however. The 17-year-old driver also led his first laps of the season. In all, Buescher led 56 laps en route to a 10th-place finish.
Brandon Ward wasn’t over-jubilant after his seventh-place finish in the Sears Auto Center 250, but he was pretty psyched. Ward, driver of the No. 93 SupplyOne Ford, picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race and jumped out to a 56-point lead over James Buescher for the $25,000 grand prize given to the top rookie in the Championship Series.
“I thought we had a good top-five car tonight,” said Ward, who has already won more than $15,000 in rookie bonuses. “We lost some spots after the red flag; it just took about three laps before our car would turn. We got some back, not as many as we hoped. It was a good points night for us, though.”
Virginia to Maryland to Ohio to ???
Frank Deiny and Richard Boswell have had a bit of a running feud since their days as Late Model Stock rivals in Virginia and Maryland. Now the feud has added yet another state to its battle ground: Ohio.
The two talented rookies were involved in two separate incidents during the event that led to a trip to the command center after the event.
OH…IO, Go, Err, Gary
Gary St. Amant is a favorite driver along many Northern Division stops during the year, but he’s a resounding favorite in his home state of Ohio. The Buckeye backing is a blessing, but sometimes it can be a burden.
“I was on edge for the last few days, and I finally figured out before the race what the problem was,” said St. Amant. “I realized that I wanted to win this race so bad for the people here. This is my home track, and I really wanted that win.”