Rule Of Three Good For Pro Cupper Benny Gordon
Former Champion Wins Madison Northern Division Event
Benny Gordon (#66) held off Brandon Ward to win the Pro Cup Northern race at Madison. (Doug Hornickel photo)
During his Hooters Pro Cup career, Benny Gordon has averaged a win in about every three events. Not wanting to see that average drop, Gordon promptly won the third race of the Sears Auto Center Northern Division season on Saturday night.
Gordon, driver of the No. 66 Samuel Metals Ford, cycled into the lead on Lap 76 and led to the finish of the Sears Auto Center 200 presented by BFGoodrich Tires at Madison Int’l Speedway.
“Racing is a momentum sport, and we started out behind this year,” said Gordon, who took home $13,750 for his win. “We made some big steps tonight, and I think we’re back in the battle. We just need to buckle down and work hard.”
Most of Gordon’s hard work on Saturday night came from shifting as he had to hold off rookie Brandon Ward on a bevy of late-race restarts. The final restart came with just three laps remaining, but Ward couldn’t close on Gordon and finished .484 seconds behind Gordon.
“Benny was just exceptional on the short runs,” said Ward, driver of the No. 93 SupplyOne Ford. “I felt like our car was good on the long runs, but we just couldn’t get them in the second half of the race.”
And that was mainly because of 10 caution periods that slowed the event in the final 100 laps.
“I don’t usually complain, but the lapped cars were the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Matt Carter, who finished seventh.
Early leader A.J. Frank can echo Carter’s sentiment.
After leading the first 56 laps, Frank, driver of the No. 56 Camping World Chevrolet, was navigating his way around the lapped car of Sean Sauer when the two made contact. Frank spun in Turn 2 and lost the lead. But that would be the least of his problems. Frank continued on only to be swept into two more accidents and finished 24th.
With Frank out of the fray, Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73 Mark IV Suzuki/Team 7 Pontiac, took over the lead on Lap 57. But, despite having one of the fastest cars on the track, Agnew still needed to come to pit road for service. The 1998 Pro Cup champion finally gave up the lead to Gordon on Lap 75 and came to pit road. After the stop, Agnew charged back to the front of the field. But on Lap 176, Agnew tangled with Jody Lavender while battling for third place and ignited a seven-car accident along the frontstretch.
“I think Jeff may have had something for Benny, if he’d a been a little more patient,” said Gary St. Amant, who picked his way through the carnage.
Agnew was hit with a rough-driving penalty for his part in the incident, dropping him from contention. A.J. Frank, Johnny Rumley, John Gibson and Mike Held all retired from the event after being involved in the multi-car crash.
AJ Frank (#56) was fast until getting spun by the lapped car of Sean Sauer (#96). (Hornickel photo)
While many frontrunners were caught up in the melee, St. Amant, Jack Bailey and Shane Wallace made it through unscathed.
St. Amant made several bids to wrestle second place from Ward in the final laps, but the veteran racer had to settle for third when the checkered waved.
“I’m starting to figure out why we’re building a new car,” said St. Amant, who took over the Northern Division point lead with his podium finish. “This old girl here is a top-five car night in and night out, but Benny had a better car than we did. To be able to come out of the first three races with three top-five finishes tickles me to death. As long as we keep getting those top-three finishes, the points will take care of themselves.”
Gordon took matters into his own hands in the point race. By picking up bonus points for leading the most laps, the halfway lap and advancing the most positions, Gordon jumped from 22nd into a tie for third in the standings.
Gordon in Victory Lane. (Hornickel photo)
“I was just happy to get us some points,” said Gordon. “Samuel Metals, Johnny Dangerfield and Greased Lightning got us going this year and I’m happy to get them and my team to victory lane. We’ve got one good car and another one being built. We’ve just got to keep building and we’ll be there at the end.”
While it’s too early to start counting points, St. Amant’s third-place finish pushed him into the outright lead in Northern Division points by 46 markers over Jody Lavender.
Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 29 Bowen Family Homes Chevrolet, was tied with St. Amant coming into the event, but Rogers, who was competing in the Craftsman Truck race at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway, was unable to make it to Madison Int’l Speedway when rain delayed that event. By not showing, Rogers dropped to 15th in points.
Jack Bailey, driver of the No. 11 Hour Homes/Bullet Racing Chevrolet, continued to shine in his second start with Bullet Racing. Bailey backed up his runner-up finish at Shenandoah by finishing fourth on Saturday night. With his second top-five finish in as many starts, Bailey jumped into 13th in the standings.
Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38 Sears Auto Center Ford, rallied from a mid-race accident to finish fifth.
Ben Stancill, Matt Carter, Jody Lavender, Jeff Agnew and Jim Crabtree completed the top 10.
The Sears Auto Center 200 featured three lead changes among three drivers and was slowed 17 times for 82 laps of caution.
Sears Auto Center 200 Notebook
In a Better Place
While Benny Gordon’s win pushed him to third in points, his $13,750 in winnings vaulted him closer to the $1,000,000 mark in career earnings. After 72 starts in the Hooters Pro Cup Series, Gordon has 22 wins and is averaging $12,828 per event in winnings. Later this season, Gordon should become the fifth driver to surpass $1,000,000 in winnings in the series.
Brandon Ward has championships in the Dash Series and UARA-Stars Series, but he’s making the most of his new beginnings. Ward, driver of the No. 93 SupplyOne Ford, was tabbed to drive for Randy Humphrey Racing just days before the season-opening event, finished second in Sears Auto Center 200 and moved to seventh in points. More importantly, Ward moved into the lead of the $66,000 Miller Lite Rookie of the Year Program.
“That was our main goal when the season started,” said Ward. “Don’t get me wrong, I think we can compete for the championship, but the rookie of the year title was our goal. I just have to thank Randy Humphrey, SupplyOne and Robert Huffman for the opportunity to drive this car. We’re learning each race, and we’re going to get better.”
Light at the End of the Tunnel
The track-clogging incident on Lap 177 caught up many of the top 10, but Matt Carter was able to make it through without damage and moved into third points with his seventh-place finish.
Brandon Ward in the #93. (Kathy Bond photo)
“My spotter was saying, ‘Go high, go high,’ but all I could see was smoke and cars,” Carter said of his evasive move. “I saw the 56 car going flying through the air and I dove to the bottom. I was kinda lucky, but we didn’t wreck. I guess that’s one good thing that went our way tonight.”
Gary St. Amant won the pole. (Bond photo)
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 7 JEGS.com/Speedco Chevrolet, didn’t quite embrace the BFGoodrich Tires Pole Award with a big hug, but maybe he should have.
For the first time in 54 Pro Cup starts, St. Amant took home the $1,000 for starting from the pole after the field was set by points.
While the trend of breaking track records on the BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radial was broken with the rainout, 15 drivers ran laps below Benny Gordon’s track record of 18.751 seconds during the event.