“That was just hard racing,” said Purkhiser, driver of the No. 68n Bill Ellis Barbeque Ford. “If I was in his position, I would have done the same thing.”
Purkhiser actually did the same thing on Lap 174. After catching Kile for the lead, Purkhiser bumped Kile high, moved to the point with 25 laps remaining and began to pull away from the field. But a pair of late-race cautions changed everything.
A.J. Frank and Brandon Ward were battling for third when they tangled going into Turn 3. Both drivers spun and suffered major damage to their machines. Then on the ensuing restart, Kile, running second, appeared to miss a shift and Travis Miller and Matt Merrell, running third and fourth, respectively, made hard contact on the frontstretch. Merrell’s damaged car leaked enough fluid that the race was red-flagged on Lap 194.
“I hated to see those cautions,” said Purkhiser. “If the caution doesn’t come out, we win the race. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Even with the cautions, Purkhiser seemed destined to pick up his first Hooters Pro Cup win. When the final green waved at Lap 197, Purkhiser gapped Kile by three car lengths. But the next two laps will be on his mind for a while.
“If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have gone off into [Turn] 1 just a little lower and held it down,” said Purkhiser. “I got up high and got into the speedy dry, pushed up and there wasn’t much I could do.”
The cautions undoubtedly hurt Purkhiser’s win bid, but the seven-minute red flag may have had more to do with Kile’s surge.
“I was able to cool the tires off,” Kile said of the late-race stoppage. “Allen’s tires were so much fresher than ours were. If we don’t get a caution, I don’t think I had a shot at him. But we got it, and I was able to get a run at him. It looked like his car got a little tight on the restart and I was able to get under him, then it was a drag race down to Turn 3.”
Kile won the drag race and cleared Purkhiser coming to the white flag. Purkhiser tried to close on Kile in the final turn, but Kile inched away by .170 of a second for his first Pro Cup win.
“Rookies ain’t supposed to be standing in Victory Lane,” said an elated Kile. “I know there are a lot of good drivers in this series looking to get their first win. We’re just fortunate. All the guys at Mac Hill Motorsports make my job easy when the cars are this good.”
Gordon, driver of the No. 66n Samuel Metals Ford, never threatened the leaders in the final dash to the finish. But a podium finish was fine with the Sears Auto Center Northern Division point leader.
“I had the biggest piece of junk that I’ve ever driven,” said Gordon. “Every time I come here I’m fast as hell right off the trailer. Today, I wasn’t any good and we worked on it and worked on it. We still never got it any good. I just hung around all night, raced smart and stayed out of trouble.”
Gary St. Amant did the same.
St. Amant, the defending winner of the event, started 12th and ran toward the back end of the top 10 before sifting through the carnage, which sidelined four contenders in the final laps, for a fourth-place finish.
Mike Hampton, who started from the Awesome Awnings Pole, slipped back once the green flew, but the Fort Mill, S.C., driver rallied for a fifth-place finish.
Brandon Ward, driver of the No. 93n Super Clean Ford, was able to nurse his mangled machine to a sixth-place finish.
Travis Miller, who led the first 38 laps, came home seventh after receiving damage during the restart mishap on Lap 194.
Tyler Young, Tim Bainey Jr. and Ray Love Jr. completed the top 10.
The Lucas Oil 200 featured eight lead changes among five drivers and was slowed eight times for 46 laps of caution.
Lucas Oil 200 Notebook
A Change of Heart
Benny Gordon says he doesn’t points race. But his ill-handling machine in the Lucas Oil 200 forced him into a change of heart.
“I don’t like to race for points, but I started points racing after the first lap,” said Gordon, who started ninth. “I didn’t beat and bang with those guys and let a lot of guys go that ended up wrecking later. But that’s just typical of guys that don’t win. You gotta be smart to win races and championships.”
Gordon now holds a 35-point lead over Mikey Kile in the Northern Division standings.
Travis Miller, driver of the No. 81n Pete Knight Racing Chevrolet, led for the first time in his Hooters Pro Cup career in the Lucas Oil 200 and was in position to challenge for the win. Despite slipping to seventh after suffering damage on a late-race restart, Miller was upbeat about the effort.
“The [finish] wasn’t the best in the world, but we’ve got to look at the progression we’ve made,” said Miller, whose best finish of the season was 14th. “This was my first weekend with Shane [Huffman] as crew chief, and he gave me what I needed to get under people. I really thought we had a car that could’ve won this race. I have to thank Pete Knight for the opportunity, and Wes Ward, Mark McFarland and my dad for coming up here to support me. This run means a lot for us going into Motor Mile.”
Forgetting Is Never Easy
A few years ago, Mike Hampton had a scary crash at Salem Speedway that he’ll never forget. But his first Hooters Pro Cup pole and fifth-place finish this time around should restore equilibrium to his thoughts of the Indiana speedplant.
“It really is a night-and-day difference,” said Hampton, driver of the No. 31n Eaton Electrical Ford. “The team that I have around me now is great. Every single one of them has a job to do and they do it exceptionally well. My crew chief, Buggy Pletcher, really puts everybody in the right place and directs it. I couldn’t be happier about my situation.”
Allen Purkhiser gets around Salem Speedway as good as anyone, but he was giving most of the credit to his crew chief, Radar Parker, after his stellar performance in the Lucas Oil 200.
“You have to be fearless to drive here, but I think my confidence in Radar is the biggest help,” said Purkhiser, driver of the No. 68n Bill Ellis Barbeque Ford. “He really knows how to get a car around here. [Premiere Motorsports] was always fast here when Kertus Davis drove for them. It’s a big confidence builder when you come here with them.”