Brandon Ward inherited the lead with 50 laps remaining in Saturday's South Boston 250, then held off a hard charging Clay Rogers to claim his first victory this season and the second of his USARacing Pro Cup career at South Boston Speedway.
Ward was running second in his HessRacing Products Chevrolet Monte Carlo when leader Derek Kale collided with Brett Butler's lapped car on the frontstretch on lap 200. Butler's LoanMax/HT&S Mulch Products Chevrolet smacked the inside wall, while Kale's Chevrolet Impala cut a tire in the collision. Kale had to pit and Ward assumed the lead.
It was then clear sailing for Ward, who was never challenged for the lead but had to keep an eye on his rear view mirror for the fast approaching Rogers. The valiant charge by Rogers began on lap 184, shortly after the third caution period ended. Rogers restarted seventh and 14 laps later he dove under Bobby Gill as they raced into turn 1, completing the pass for third in the third and fourth turns.
The fourth caution period that consumed laps 200-205 slowed Rogers' progress. When the race returned to green-flag conditions on lap 206, Ward was leading with Matt Lofton second and Rogers still in third. Lap-after-lap, Rogers stalked Lofton, trying to pass him on the inside and the outside but to no avail. Finally, on lap 234, Rogers dove under Lofton in turn 3 and took over second. The following lap, Gill moved into third and relegated Lofton to fourth.
Rogers continued to cut Ward's lead, but Ward managed to hold on to the No. 1 position, inking out a 0.395-second victory over the standings leader.
“We had a real good car and I knew that all night long,” said Ward, who averaged 77.806 mph in the race that was slowed by four caution flags for 22 laps. “We were charging hard to the front.”
Rogers dominated the race, leading the first 178 laps in the 250-lap event, but it was pit strategy that ultimately made the difference. A four-tire stop by Rogers during the third caution period left him seventh on the lap 181 restart. Ward pitted for tires earlier in the event, then received only fuel during the third caution flag and won the race off pit road. That left Ward in second to Kale on the restart.
“We actually changed our pit strategy and the caution fell our way,” commented Ward, who led the final 50 laps.
Rogers was extremely disappointed following his loss. The Concord, N.C., driver knew his car was the class of the field, and he realized it was the battle for second with Lofton that eventually cost him the victory.
“I just wasn't able to find a way around him [Lofton] and when I did it was too late,” a dejected Rogers said. “He was doing a great job and racing hard. I still had to move him up the race track to get by him. I hated doing that, but when it's time to go, it's time to go. I guess I went about five laps too late.”
Rounding out the top five, respectively, were: Gill, USGSheetrock/Building Specialties/Tidewater Int. Ford Fusion; Lofton, Strutmasters.com Chevrolet Monte Carlo; and Drew Herring, BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors/Hogslat Ford.
The top 12 finishers were on the lead lap. In addition to Rogers and Ward, the race's only other leader was Kale, who set the pace for 22 laps.
Rogers maintained the lead in the standings with one more race remaining before the four-race Championship Series begins Sept. 5 at Concord [N.C.] Motor Speedway. The series champion will be crowned Oct. 31 at South Boston.
The USARacing Pro Cup Series [formerly Hooters Pro Cup] will take a week off before returning to Langley [Va.] Speedway on Aug. 22. For more information on the USARacing Pro Cup Series, go to www.usarprocup.com.