St. Amant Grabs Emotional Victory
Short Track Veteran Wins Lucas Oil 200
Gary St. Amant continued his strong season by winning at Salem Speedway. (Kathy Bond photos)
Despite leading the Sears Auto Center Northern Division standings, few, including himself, expected the Gary St. Amant to walk away with the victory in the Lucas Oil 200 presented by Kmart.
But after he climbed from his car in Victory Lane, St. Amant, tired and drenched in sweat, revealed his secret to navigating the treacherous high banks of Salem Speedway.
“I thought about Kenny Holbrook for 200 laps tonight,” said St. Amant, driver of the No. 7 JEGS.com/Speedco Chevrolet. “He was my first sponsor when I started stock-car racing with A-1 Auto Service. He had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago, and he’s not in very good shape. This win is for him.”
While the extra motivation helped St. Amant score his first win since 2004, his car wasn’t too bad either.
After starting in the 16th spot, St. Amant grabbed the lead on Lap 139, when then-leader Brandon Ward was swept into an accident. But St. Amant didn’t just waltz into victory lane.
Once in the lead, St. Amant had a mirror full of Clay Rogers, driver of the No. 29 Bowen Family Homes Ford, as the laps wound down. The two raced nose-to-tail for 15 laps before Rogers used a bump-and-run move to take the on Lap 174.
“Clay Rogers is one of the smartest drivers I’ve ever raced against,” said St. Amant. “He knew my car took about 10 laps to get up the speed, so he pressured me hard. Clay would never intentionally take me out. We’ve raced side-by-side a lot, and it was going to be that way again, once my tire pressures came up.”
St. Amant wouldn’t get that chance. On Lap 175, Rogers uncharacteristically lost control of his car coming off Turn 4 and slammed the inside wall, handing the lead back to St. Amant.
“He just came off [Turn] 4 and lit the tires up,” said St. Amant, who was able to miss Rogers’ spinning car. “I think maybe his air pressures got away from him.”
Rogers wasn’t the only leader to have problems during the 200-lap affair.
Allen Purkhiser, driver of the No. 68 TOPCON Ford, cycled into the lead on Lap 47 when most of the leaders came to pit road. But after leading 15 laps, Purkhiser smacked the wall in Turn 4 after a car lost an engine in front of him.
Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73 Mark IV Suzuki/Team 7 Ford, inherited the lead and led five laps before ducking to pit road.
A.J. Frank, driver of the No. 56 Camping World Chevrolet, elected to stay out and took control of the middle stages of the race, leading 41 laps and picking up $1,000 and five bonus points via the Lucas Oil Halfway Leader Award. Frank finally dropped to pit road on Lap 106, handing the lead to rookie Brandon Ward.
But Ward, driver of the No. 93 SupplyOne Ford, found out the lead wasn’t the pace to be.
While trying to put a lap on J.D. Leonard, Ward was forced low in Turn 4 and made contact with Leonard, igniting a track-clogging crash that ended his chances at victory. Frank and Agnew both caught a piece of the incident as well.
St. Amant, Matt Carter, Benny Gordon and Rogers all made it through unscathed and began to dice it up for the lead.
AJ Frank (#56) led some laps at Salem.
Gordon, driver of the No. 66 Samuel Metals Ford, slipped past Carter for second and was under St. Amant for the lead when caution slowed the field on Lap 150, negating the pass. After another quick caution, Gordon decided to give up second to come to pit road and put his first set of tires back on his car.
Gordon, who restarted 11th, quickly made his way back to the front in the final laps. But once he caught Carter for second, Gordon became St. Amant’s best friend.
As Carter, driver of the No. 26 Travis Carter Motorsports Ford, and Gordon battled for second, St. Amant was able ease away at the finish.
“I never in my wildest imagination thought we could bring a new car here, not put a scratch on it and win the race,” said St. Amant, who extended his point lead to 105 points over Gordon. “I think some of these guys had a good two- or three-lap car, but we had a good car after about 30 laps and it paid off.”
Benny Gordon's late charge toward the front ended with him against the inside wall.
Gordon made one final attempt to clear Carter on the last lap and lost control of his car. After sliding down the track, Gordon clobbered the water barrels at the end of pit road and didn’t cross the stripe, dropping from third to 10th at the finish.
Despite not picking up the ever-elusive first win, Carter did post his career-best finish by coming home second.
“Our car was just too free to turn under Gary,” said Carter, who led 16 laps after starting from the BFGoodrich Tires Pole. “I think that comes with experience. We were just too free to go for a long time, and that’s where Gary and Benny were better than us. But I’m happy with a second-place finish.”
Shane Wallace, driver of the No. 38 Sears Auto Center Ford, was also happy with his podium effort, especially since he slid the length of the frontstretch earlier in the event without hitting anything after contact with Carter.
“I got loose, and [Carter] didn’t give me a chance to catch it,” said Wallace, who finished third. “Luckily, we didn’t total the car, came in and got fresh tires and moved back to the front. Not always does the best car win. But we had a good car and a good run, and I’m happy to get out of here with the car in one piece.”
Although he was involved in the melee on Lap 139, Ben Stancill, driver of the No. 9 Stancill Farms Ford, came back to post a season-best, fourth-place finish. In doing so, Stancill picked up $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race.
Fellow rookie Danny Jackson, driver of the No. 05 Redbank Transport Chevrolet, also post his best finish of the season by coming home fifth.
Sam Fullone, Jody Lavender, Jeff Fultz, Jim Crabtree and Benny Gordon completed the top 10.
The Lucas Oil 200 featured eight lead changes among seven drivers and was slowed 13 times for 72 laps of caution.
Lucas Oil 200 Notebook
Staying the Course
If Danny Jackson had pulled his car off the starting grid and went home, nobody would have blamed him. The rookie’s season has been filled with misfortune, and it followed him to Salem, at least early in the day.
After having a skip in the motor during qualifying, the nose on Jackson’s car was damaged while being pushed to the grid before the race.
But Jackson stayed the course and was rewarded with a fifth-place finish.
“This is like a win for us,” said Jackson, driver of the No. 05 Redbank Transport Chevrolet. “Something happened to the car in qualifying, so I switched boxes, and it never missed a beat in the race. Then, I wrecked myself racing with Jody Lavender early in the race. We weren’t planning on coming here, but I like the high-banked tracks. I have to thank all my sponsors. Hopefully, with this run, we can make it to the next show.”
Danny Jackson's #05 had a good day at Salem.
In Need of Relief
Jeff Agnew, driver of the No. 73 Mark IV Suzuki/Team 7 Ford, needs some relief from the bad luck that has plagued his season. Through five races, Agnew has only finished in the top 10 once. And it’s not because he’s had slow cars, either.
The former Pro Cup champ has been involved in three wrecks and had two mechanical problems in five races. After the forgettable start, Agnew 15th in points, the lowest point position of his career.
Star Wars Convention
Pro Cup drivers have used the force to their advantage this year. Actually, they’re using the BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radial to break records at an alarming rate.
Matt Carter’s pole speed of 114.735 mph was nearly two miles an hour faster than Shelby Howard’s previous track record. Through 10 races, Pro Cup drivers have set new track records in all but one event.
Gary St. Amant knows winning... and knows Salem.
Salem Speedway isn’t that far from Kentucky’s Churchill Downs, so Gary St. Amant’s horse analogy was fitting after his win in the Lucas Oil 200.
“We’ve rode the horse that got us here all year, but I felt like we needed to run our new car tonight,” said St. Amant, who affectionately named his old car Mr. Ed for its reliability. “People thought I was crazy to break out a new car here. But as hard as this place is on parts, I felt like we need to have new stuff. This car is better than our other car, and I think we’re going to call her Secretariat.”
Talking You Through It
As a rookie, Salem Speedway can be intimidating to say the least. Despite bouncing off the wall and being involved in the Lap 139 incident, Ben Stancill, driver of the No. 9 Stancill Farms Ford, survived high banks, mainly due to his team talking him through it.
“They helped me out,” said Stancill, who moved to sixth in the standings. “They told me to stay calm and we could get through this. We got a lap down, made our lap up and came home fourth. You can’t ask for anything better that.”