Three Champions Crowned In Pro Cup North Finale at SoBo by Jason Buckley
Agnew, St. Amant and Ward Celebrate Victories
Jeff Agnew is happy after finally getting to victory lane. (51 Photo)
The final race of the season in any racing series is full of drama and multiple races within the race. While some are focused on just winning the event, others are looking at the championship battles that they may be positioned for during the event. By the end of the race, some drivers will be happy while others will be disappointed they were not able to take top honors for the day or season.
On Saturday, the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series took to the track at South Boston Speedway (VA) for their final 2007 Northern Division event with three trophies looking to be handed out. When the race concluded, Jeff Agnew, Gary St. Amant and Brandon Ward celebrated in victory lane as the race winner, the champion and the rookie of the year respectively.
None of the three drivers claimed their trophies easily.
Agnew started the race from within the top-10, which was a relief to him as he has had struggles all season with his qualifying effort. This helped him work his way to the front of the field.
“Most all year we have struggled in qualifying,” said Agnew. “We hit on something down there in practice, and we ended up qualifying in eighth. We slowly worked our way up. The car was pretty good and we took our time. We started to make a run at Benny (Gordon) before the halfway mark. There was still a lot of the race left, so we held patient. When he started to fade back it allowed us to get to him.
“We got under him one time and we got together a little bit coming off the corner. The next time we got under him I thought he let us go, but I talked to him after the race he said he was running pretty hard. I did notice if Benny had to get up off the bottom he lost time there. Once we got under him we just got the bite coming off the corner and went by him.”
This season Agnew has had trouble closing the deal. Good runs have been foiled by bad luck, but this time the stars were aligned just right for him to hold onto the victory.
“We have had such a terrible year with things happening, getting into wrecks and things breaking,” said Agnew. “We have had a good car all year long. I was worried until we went past the finish line on the checkered-flag lap and it was like a big sigh of relief for us. It was for me and I am sure it was for the team because we have all kind of gone through it together.”
With the race victory in the hands of Agnew, the attention on the track turned to the battle for the Northern championship. St. Amant entered the race in the points lead over Benny Gordon and only had to finish within the top eight or so positions to claim the title, regardless of what Gordon did on the track. Gordon’s day started off rough with a poor qualifying effort. Some thought he might have sandbagged the effort to get the bonus points for being the hard charger, but Gordon said that wasn’t the case.
“We screwed up in qualifying,” said Gordon. “I was so mad after qualifying. I wanted to qualify on the pole, lead laps and win it that way. I never sandbag. I don’t know what happened to me in qualifying. I was absolutely disgusted over it. There wasn’t any sandbagging even though it looked like it was going to work in our favor.”
Once the green flag flew, Gordon worked his way up from the 19th position to the front, but had to settle for second place at the end of the event.
Gary St. Amant was fast at South Boston. (51 Photo)
“I had a really fast car all day,” said Gordon. “The car was great. When we qualified bad it made us change our pit strategy. I came in early so we had older tires on. These guys had fresher tires than us and the car just wasn’t quite right. I changed it a little bit before the race and I made a mistake. If I would have left it alone I would have had a car to compete with Agnew. It was a good, fun race.”
St. Amant started closer towards the front of the field, but wasn’t as desperate as Gordon was to get to the front. Once Gordon got by St. Amant, the two appeared tied together on the track.
“Anytime Benny would get loose I would get loose,” said St. Amant. “He would about get into the wall and I would about run into the wall. We did exactly the same thing. It is easy to do that because Benny is such a great driver, you just do everything he does and you will be just fine.”
By hanging right with Gordon, St. Amant finished one spot behind him on the track, giving St. Amant the Pro Cup North regular season championship.
“To beat Benny here with him being a three-time champion in the Northern division it is a great feat for myself and my team,” said St. Amant. “We had a great car today. We have two great racecars. We ran the first four races with the old car. We ran the next three races in the new car and won a race with it. We came back here with South Boston with the old car. It was so good the last time we were here we knew it would be (the car to bring). When we unloaded it was great right off the trailer. We played with the new car just a bit but we knew we had to put it in the trailer. It was a hot day and we didn’t need all of our guys spending up all of their energy trying to make something work when we had a great old race car. It ran 250 laps and we got a third-place finish. I can’t be happier.”
Gary St. Amant was all smiles after the race concluded.(51 Photo)
The title not only means a lot to St. Amant, but also to his team and car owner. St. Amant knows his championship is a team effort and couldn’t be more appreciative of what they have accomplished together.
“I have to thank Dwayne Tatman, my car owner,” said St. Amant. “I forgot about him when I did all of the celebration. I have to give him a big plug because he stuck with me through a bad year last year. He gave me everything I needed to win this championship. I am tickled to death for him and hopefully these last races have more to come.”
While St. Amant received the accolades from fans for being the champion, Gordon tipped his hat in respect to St. Amant on a job well done this season.
“He has had a great season,” said Gordon. “He has completed all the laps. He is a smart racer and a good points racer. That is why he runs where he does. He is with a good team this year. He might not be the fastest car out there every week but he knows where he needs to finish 10th and when he needs to win.”
The congratulatory words from the other drivers in the series meant a lot to St. Amant throughout the evening. As one of the ‘good guys’ in the sport, St. Amant knows that it isn’t just about being the fastest driver on the track, but also keeping your ego and attitude in check.
“Next year will be my 25th year racing,” said St. Amant. “If you carry around a bad attitude you aren’t going to be in this sport very long. I have been fortunate to win enough to make myself happy and content. You can’t win them all and you have to take the good with the bad. After struggling all year like we did last year, nobody gave up. We just worked hard over the winter getting this car back together and getting it good. It has all paid off good here winning the championship.”
Another battle throughout the evening was the rookie of the year title. Brandon Ward and Ben Stancill both entered the race within grasp of the rookie title, and throughout the event it appeared neither driver was ready to take it from the other.
Stancill started mid-pack and ran a steady race until a mechanical issue bit him towards the end of the event. Ward also had his troubles as he was kicked to the back of the field for contact with another car.
“I felt like we had a car that could have finished first or second tonight,” said Ward. “I was just trying to bide our time there with the #48 (Sam Fullone) and we got into him. It was a racing deal and I hate it. He had a good car too. We got hit with a rough-driving penalty and got put in the rear which I pretty much figured I would. They have been consistent with that all year long.”
Ward, Agnew and St. Amant celebrated in victory lane together by spraying champaigne at each other and their crews. (51 Photo)
By staying patient after the penalty, Ward worked his way from the back up to the 11th position. With Stancill’s 17th-place finish, Ward claimed the Rookie of the Year title.
“These guys have done a heck of a job this year,” said Ward. “Everybody at RHR has given me a good top-five car all year long and that made the difference. I had a lot of fun racing with them this year. It has been a team effort and they have all done a great job.
“I have said all year long that Ben is a good kid. He is a hard racer and a good driver. He is young and he is going to go places in this series and above and beyond this I am sure. He is an excellent racer and he is going to be tough to outrun in this Championship Series.”
With three trophies handed out to three drivers, the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series has put a period on their northern division while the focus shifts to the Southern Division season finale at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) on August 22nd. After that race concludes, the drivers will then focus on the five-race championship series.
For St. Amant, his crew will spend most of the next few weeks getting ready for the overall championship battle. While he is getting his cars ready, he is hoping most drivers focus on Bristol.
“I feel like we have a lot of work to do,” explained St. Amant. “This old car is a good top-five car every single weekend, but I don’t know if that will be good enough. I think we might have to work on the new car and get it better. I am pretty sure I know what it needs, so we are going to be testing pretty hard with that new car over the next couple weeks.
“I hope all these boys show up at Bristol because to me they are going to be playing at Bristol while we are testing for the championship.”