Clay Rogers possesses the standings lead, Bobby Gill owns the records, and Brandon Ward is coming on strong as the USARacing Pro Cup Series [formerly Hooters Pro Cup] heads into its four-race Championship Series Saturday at Concord [N.C.] Speedway.
The Pro Cup Series title bout kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on Concord's half-mile, high-banked trioval. It then moves to Iowa Speedway on Sept. 19, returns to North Carolina for an engagement with “The Rock” in Rockingham, N.C., on Oct. 10, and concludes at South Boston, Va., on Oct. 31. Only the top 30 in points have a shot at the series crown, but any team can compete in the events, which will offer a $5,000 bonus to the driver who can earn the pole and then win the race.
Rogers enters the Championship Series with a psychological advantage. He has been a victory contender in all 10 events that comprised the regular season, emerging victorious in three consecutive races. Overall, he recorded only one DNF, while totaling seven top-5s and nine top-10s. The 28-year-old Troutman, N.C., resident also is the circuit's top lap leader with 911. Rogers is no stranger to championship battles, having claimed the Pro Cup title in 2004 and 2006. He also couldn't be happier at the site of the Championship Series opening race.
“Concord is one of my strongest tracks, if not my strongest,” Rogers said. “I can't think of a better place to start the Chapionship Series. We had a fast car there in the spring (leading 105 of the 250 laps). We'll work to keep our momentum going and approach this race just like we do any other.”
Gill possesses years of experience that has provided him with the statistical advantage. A Dalton, Ga., native, the 50-year-old Gill is a four-time Pro Cup Series champion, claiming the title in 1999, 2000-01 and 2007. He also is the series all-time race winner with 46. Gill's name is atop the top -5 and top-10 categories as well with 110 and 136, respectively. However, Gill still planned to test at Concord on Friday in preparation for the title chase.
When it comes to most races led and most laps led, Gill and Rogers are 1-2 in both categories. Gill has set the pace in 100 races, while Rogers has led 81. Gill also has led more laps than Rogers – 7,141 to 6,256. Rogers is second to Mark McFarland in average starts with 5.965, but Gill isn't in the top 10. Gill is second to 2008 champion Benny Gordon in average finishes with 8.691, while Rogers is sixth with 10.097.
Ward, however, came on strong in the season's final two races, winning both of them. The 28-year-old Winston-Salem, N.C., native possessed only four top-5s and six top-10s before the South Boston, Va., race in early August. Pit strategy that night put Ward in position to claim that victory and the 2007 USAR Pro Cup Northern Division Rookie of the Year closed the deal. Two weeks later he recorded another victory at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., giving him two victories, six top-5s, eight top-10s and 198 laps led in the regular season.
Keeping that winning streak alive is the approach Ward plans to take for the Championship Series.
“There is still enough cars that could win this thing that we’ve gotta win races,” Ward said. “Clay’s been ahead of us all year, so if Clay is going to take the approach to winning races, then that’s what we need to do, especially being a little behind in points.”
Even though Rogers plans to approach the Championship Races in the same manner as those in the regular season, he admitted his team might need to examine its pit strategy approach. In the season's final two races, Rogers dominated the first half of the event, then found himself running sixth to 10th after pit stops. He spent the second half of the race fighting his way back to the front.
“With the pit road rules this year, a lot of people can make gambles to gain track position and it catches them up to us,” Rogers said referring to the rule that allows a team to either gas a car or change tires on a stop. “Doing things outside the box to gain track position has worked in Brandon Ward's favor the last two races. We might have to adjust our pit strategy a little bit.”
Practice for the Concord Championship Series race begins at 11:30 a.m. with qualifying set for 4:30 p.m. There will be an autograph session with the drivers at 6:15 p.m. with the BFGoodrich Tires 250 at Concord slated to begin at 7:30 p.m.
For more information on the USARacing Pro Cup Series, go to www.usarprocup.com.