After building leads of over two seconds in the final 100 laps, Jeff Agnew’s No. 73n Team 7 Ford sputtered on the final half lap, allowing Derek Kale to sneak by in Turn 4 and pick up his first Hooters Pro Cup victory in his 35th start.
“I don’t know how we could run out of fuel,” said a disheartened Agnew. “We’re going to check it and see if it was a pick-up problem. I’m tickled to death about how this old car ran, but I hate it for our guys. They work so hard. We were 50 feet away from winning this race. What can you say about something like that?”
Kale was nearly speechless, too.
“When he slowed up, I thought I had miscounted the laps in my head and that the race was over,” said Kale, driver of the No. 22n Heritage Equipment Ford. “Then they came over the radio and said, ‘Go, go, go!’ When we came off [Turn] 4, I knew we had it. I came to the line hollering on the radio to my guys. They all did a great job, and we stayed in the right position to win the race. I’m just speechless right now.”
For most of the night, that position was inside the top five for Kale. The 2006 Miller Lite Rookie of the Year qualified sixth in the 32-car field and moved to point on Lap 110. Although he was on older tires than many of the cars behind, Kale settled into second after Agnew took the lead on Lap 151.
“When Jeff got by us, I was fine with riding behind him,” said Kale. “I didn’t want to push the car too hard and get in trouble. I really didn’t want to see that last caution [on lap 246], because I
had a cushion on third place. Truth be told, if Jeff didn’t run out of gas, we don’t win the race. But circumstances played in our favor.”
The same can’t be said for Sears Auto Center Northern Division point leader Benny Gordon.
After starting from the Awesome Awnings Pole, Gordon led the first 16 laps before ducking to pit road to make his mandatory tire stop. But as Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Samuel Metals Ford, began to knife his way back towards the front, he began to lose power and positions.
“The battery went out, so we had to change it,” said Gordon, who made an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 140 under caution. “We changed the battery and went a lap down.”
Gordon made his lap up pretty quickly, passing Kale on the ensuing restart. But he wouldn’t stay there long. Under the next caution, Gordon’s team decided to bring him back in and put his first set of tires back on the car. After leaving the pits, Gordon was informed of a missing lug nut and had to return to pit road, giving back the lap he had just made up.
“That was some crazy [stuff],” said Gordon. “We made that lap up and had to start at the back. We found out it was the alternator, so I just shut all the blowers off and ran it like hell.”
Gordon marched from the back to finish fourth and keep his point lead.
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 7n Jegs.com/Speedco Chevrolet, was another driver that had to make a late-race charge to the front.
St. Amant stayed on the track for nearly 100 laps after the rest of the field had come to pit road. Though he led 46 laps, the reigning Northern Division champ still needed to make a pit stop.
“It was a snafu,” St. Amant said of his pit strategy. “We wanted to do something different, because we didn’t feel like we could pick up any positions in the pits. But at Mansfield, we should know better than that. [After staying out], we decided to run our first set of tires as long as we could.”
St. Amant stayed out until Lap 147 and had to restart outside the top 15 with 100 laps to go. And, in hindsight, the move panned out as he raced back to third on fresh BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radials.
“Running that long on the first set of tires, I figured out some changes we could make to the car,” said St. Amant, who jumped to fifth in the standings with his first podium finish of the season. “The car came to life in those last 100 laps, and I’m tickled to death to get out of here with a third-place finish.”
Brett Butler, driver of the No. 99n Verve Energy Drink Chevrolet, was on the same pit strategy as St. Amant and led 45 laps in the first 70 circuits. But Butler didn’t get to make a late-race charge due to a mechanical failure that sidelined him on Lap 107.
With Gordon struggling and St. Amant at the back of the field, Agnew was in full command of the event in the second half.
“We tried a different deal on this car tonight,” said Agnew, “We’ve got a new chassis guy and we built a new set of shocks for it. That old car is eight-years old. We just pulled it out and changed some stuff. I guess it really liked it.”
After taking the lead on Lap 151, Agnew gapped the field and turned his best lap of the night on Lap 196. The lap was nearly two tenths of a second quicker than Agnew’s qualifying speed.
A late-race caution on Lap 245 negated Agnew’s lead and set up a green-white-checkered finish. However, Agnew, the 1998 Hooters Pro Cup Champion, showed no signs of letting up during the final two laps. When the green waved, he cleanly beat the field into Turn 1 and appeared to be cruising to victory. Coming off Turn 2 on the white-flag lap, Agnew’s car slowed briefly off Turn 2 then managed to re-fire long enough for him to keep the lead into the final turn. Kale jumped to the outside of Agnew as he slowed.
“I was just hoping there was going to be enough room between Agnew and the outside wall coming off Turn 4,” said Kale.
There was, after Agnew pulled down instead of blocking the preferred line coming to the checkered. With his attention on Agnew and the waving checkered flag, Kale left enough room for Mark McFarland to ease alongside as they raced to the finish line. But Kale had enough speed to beat McFarland by .126 seconds, giving him the long-awaited thrill of victory.
“It’s not the way I would have written it if I had written the book, but it turned out really well,” said Kale. “It was an amazing night.”
Sam Fullone, driver of the No. 48n Fullone Trucking Chevrolet, completed the top five.
The Greased Lightning 250 featured six lead changes among five drivers.
Greased Lightning 250 Notebook
More than Words
Words will probably never heal Agnew’s heartbreaking loss, but it didn’t stop most of the top finishers in the Greased Lightning 250 from stopping by and offering condolences. Gary St. Amant climbed from his car and went straight to Agnew, saying, “Keep your head up, you had us beat.”
Mark McFarland agreed.
“I hate it for him,” said Mark McFarland. “He had us licked if that last caution doesn’t come out.”
Fortunately for Agnew, redemption is only a few weeks away as the series returns to Salem Speedway, a track Agnew loves.
Derek Kale became the third driver to pick up his first Hooters Pro Cup win at Mansfield. Kale joined Joey Logano and Eric Corbett as the third first-timer to conquer the tight, half-mile track en route to victory.
Sam Fullone, driver of the No. 48n Fullone Trucking Chevrolet, picked up his first top-five finish of the season in the Greased Lightning 250 at Mansfield Motorsports Park. Actually, it was his first top-five since he finished second at Madison (Wis.) Int’l Speedway in 2006. But it hasn’t been that long since he deserved one.
Fullone had a solid shot at a top five at Milwaukee before having motor problems.
Joe Harrison Jr. picked up his first Aaron’s “Do the Math” Hard Charger Award of the season by moving from 31st to 14th at the finish of the Greased Lightning 250 at Mansfield Motorsports Park.
Harrison picked up an extra $500 via the award.
Mikey Likes It
Rookie Mikey Kile picked up his second Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award after finishing ninth in the Greased Lightning 250 at Mansfield Motorsports Park. Kile, driver of the No. 65n VisVisa Energy Drink Chevrolet, has won the award, worth $1,000, in two of his three starts this season. Kile also has a stranglehold on the $10,000 payday for being the top Northern Division rookie at the moment, leading Matt Merrell by 105 points.