Mark McFarland took the lead for the final time on Lap 111 and pulled away from rookie Drew Herring and Cale Gale to win the Sears Auto Center 150 at The Milwaukee Mile on Saturday afternoon.
McFarland, driver of the No. 81s Sears Auto Center Chevrolet, started 10th in the 40-car field and moved to the point on Lap 63. After giving up the lead during the cycle of pit stops, McFarland charged past Benny Gordon off Turn 2 on Lap 110 and never looked back.
“Wes [Ward] made a really good change on the tire stop and tightened me up a little so I could get off the corner better,” said McFarland, who won $11,600. “I knew right when we went back green the car was going to be really good.”
And it was. McFarland turned his best lap of the race on Lap 127.
Though his car was the best down the stretch, McFarland did have some worrisome moments in the first 50 laps of the event.
Michael Ritch, driver of the No. 28s Support Our Troops Ford, jumped out to a sizable lead at the start. Ritch led the first 43 laps, but it wasn't the reigning Greased Lightning Southern Division champion that vexed McFarland. It was two-time Hooters Pro Cup Champion Clay Rogers, who moved to the point on Lap 44.
“In the first run, I was worried about Clayton,” said McFarland, who moved from 10th to second behind Rogers in the first 50 laps. “I couldn't get up to him. And I knew if I couldn't get to him, I couldn't pass him.”
But pit strategy changed that.
“We pitted under the first caution [on lap 41] to get fuel,” said McFarland, driver of the No. 81s Sears Auto Center Chevrolet. “We came back in [ on lap 58] with the field, and we were able to beat them out because we only had to get three gallons.”
With Rogers and Ritch now behind him, McFarland wasted little time bypassing Bobby Gill for the lead once the green waved again. After taking the lead on Lap 63, McFarland led 21 laps, including the Lucas Oil Halfway Lap, before making his final stop of the night on Lap 83.
“Some people got two tires on that last stop, but we got four,” said McFarland. “I think four tires was definitely the right call.”
Benny Gordon, who pitted earlier, took control of the race when the leaders made their final stops. But the three-time Northern Division champion couldn't hold off the cars with fresh BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radials as the laps wore down.
McFarland easily slipped past Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Samuel Metals Ford, on Lap 111. Rookie Drew Herring followed McFarland around Gordon and tried to pressure the leader. But that's when McFarland turned up the wick.
Herring, driver of the No. 22s Black's Tire & Auto Service Ford, came up 1.12 seconds short of his first Hooters Pro Cup win, but second place was still his best finish in his first five starts.
“This is the run we needed,” said Herring, who pocketed an extra $1,000 for being the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race. “We definitely would have liked one more position, but we needed a nice solid finish today, and we got that. This is a great confidence builder, and hopefully we can carry this into the next few races.”
Cale Gale, subbing for Hunter Robbins, had a solid showing in his first Hooters Pro Cup event. After starting in the rear due to the driver change, Gale overcame the lost track position and a mid-race spin to finish third.
“We ended up third, but I wish we would've waited a little later to put tires on,” said Gale, driver of the No. 6s Harley-Davidson of Milwaukee machine. “Being that we had to go to the tail end [of the field at the start], we really didn't have a good strategy. We did what we had to do and salvaged third.”
Caleb Holman, driver of the No. 75s Food Country Chevrolet, finish fourth, and Brad Rogers, driver of the No. 29s Chevy Racing Chevrolet, rounded out the top five.
Ray Love Jr., driver of the No. 08n Love Concrete Chevrolet, was the highest finishing Sears Auto Center Northern Division driver. Love's sixth-place effort was also a career-best.
After leading the first 43 laps, Greased Lightning Southern Division point leader Michael Ritch couldn't make it back to the front after pitting and finished 13th. Ritch did maintain the point lead, however.
Clay Rogers, who led 15 laps, fell from contention when he pulled behind the wall with a mechanical failure on Lap 125.
Matt Carter, subbing for Joey Coulter, rocketed to the front after starting in the rear and took the lead on Lap 84. But after making a late stop for fuel, Carter slipped to 16th at the finish.
James Buescher picked up the Aaron's “Do The Math” Hard Charger Award after moving from 40th to seventh at the finish.
The race was slowed four times for 25 laps of caution and featured seven lead changes among six drivers.
Sears Auto Center 150 Notebook
Showing Some Love
Not too many people expected Ray Love Jr. to be the top-finishing Northern Division driver in the Sears Auto Center 150, well, except Ray Love Jr.
“I feel like I have an advantage for some reason on these larger tracks,” said Love, driver of the No. 08n Love Concrete Chevrolet. “I had to get the car real loose in the center of the corner to get it to turn, but, hey, I'm I a dirt-tracker, what do you want me to do? [Being sideways] don't bother me.”
Love's sixth-place finish was his first top-10 in Hooters Pro Cup competition and his first-place points pushed him to seventh in the standings.
“We definitely needed the points,” said Love. “We don't have much money to run on. Hopefully, this will open up some doors after people see that this team can run up front.”
Welcome Back, Carter
Matt Carter made his return to the Hooters Pro Cup Series in grand fashion during the Awesome Awnings Pole Qualifying today at The Milwaukee Mile.
Carter, subbing for Joey Coulter due to the minimum-age rule in place for the event, ripped off a lap of 29.904 seconds at 120.385 mph to best the 48 drivers in attendance.
“After my first lap, they said, 'Pole,' over the radio, and I thought somebody was kidding,” said Carter, who now has four career poles in Pro Cup competition. “I just have to thank the Coulters for asking me to drive their car. I probably wasn't their first choice, but I was real excited to get this opportunity. They've got a great team over here.”
Carter's pole will be the second front-row start for Coulter Motorsports. Regular pilot Joey Coulter started second at Concord.
Nationwide Series rookie Cale Gale, subbing for Hunter Robbins, made his first Hooters Pro Cup Series start in the Sears Auto Center 150 and got a glimpse of what most race fans already knew.
“The competition over here is really strong,” said Gale. “There are a lot of good, young drivers in this series. It's a good proving ground for these guys because the competition level is so high.”