Clay Rogers dominated Saturday's Racing Electronics 250 presented by Live Oak Plantation at Gresham Motorsports Park, then held off Benny Gordon in the final laps to win the USAR Pro Cup Series season opener.
“We unloaded and we were pretty far off. I'm learning a new team and they're learning me and what I like,” said Rogers, who averaged 64.933 mph in the race that was slowed by 12 caution flags for 64 laps on the half-mile track. “I actually thought we were a little bit on the safe side and we ended up going out there and dragging the bottom off the car. We had to make a bunch of changes.
“Once it cooled off tonight and our car came to life it was awesome!”
Rogers' 24th career victory meant the Mooresville, N.C., driver began the 2010 season the way he concluded 2009, but with a different team. The series defending champion's team closed during the off-season.
Rogers, driving the USG Sheetrock Ford, led by as much as 9.777 seconds late in the race, but had to settle for a slim 0.470-second victory over Gordon's Sanuel Metals Ford due to the race's final caution flag with less than 10 laps remaining. When Brandon Sweet spun in turn four with eight laps remaining, Rogers' 7.689-second advantage was erased.
Rounding out the top five, respectively, were: John Gibson, MitiGator Ford; A.J. Frank, Lucas Oil Chevrolet; and Jeff Agnew, Team 7 Motorsports Ford. That gave Ford four of the top-5 positions.
Gibson described the car that carried him to only his third career top-5 as “amazing.”
“We got a vibration halfway through the race and we were getting ready to park it because it felt like a front tire was getting ready to come off the car,” Gibson explained. “Dad and I kinda had an argument on the radio. He said, 'If you come in, we're parking it.' I said, 'All right, fine. I'll stay out.' because we were third at the time. So we stayed out and she held together, but I'm interested to get her on jack stands and see what's coming apart on the bottom.”
Saturday's race began with a horrendous crash involving Stephen Nasse, who had qualified second. When the green flag waved, pole winner Caleb Holman and Nasse dove into the first turn side-by-side. They remained fender-to-fender with Holman on the inside until they reached the fourth turn. Holman's Chevrolet wiggled as it exited the fourth turn and slid up into Nasse's Ford. Nasse then hit the outside wall, crossed the track and slammed into the frontstretch's inside Bubba wall, moving a portion of it before stopping in turn one. Nasse escaped serious injury, but was transported to Banks Jackson Community Hospital in Commerce, Ga., for observation.
Since the first lap wasn't completed, the race was restarted from the beginning with Holman returning to the pole and Gibson moving up to the outside of the front row. This time, Gibson took the lead immediately and held it for the first 52 laps. Over the next 71 laps, Rogers set the pace for 20 circuits, Gordon led for 23 laps, and Frank paced the field for 28 laps before Rogers assumed the lead for good on lap 124 of the 250-lap race.
In addition to the red flag that delayed the start of the race, there was one on lap 19 for 4 minutes 50 seconds for a seven-car accident in the first turn on a restart. No one was injured.
The USAR Pro Cup Series, formerly known as the Hooters Pro Cup Series, moves to New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, Fla., for the season's second race on April 17.
For more information on the USARacing Pro Cup Series, go to www.usarprocup.com.