Clay Rogers dominated Saturday night's WIX Filters 250, leading three times for 222 laps, but an engine problem with 14 laps remaining sent the 29-year-old North Carolinian to the garage and Virginia's Caleb Holman to victory lane for his second straight USARacing Pro Cup Series race.
Holman, from Abingdon, Va., has now won two of the season's first three USAR Pro Cup races. He snapped a 17-race winless streak two weeks ago at New Smyrna [Fla.] Speedway, while Rogers won the season opener at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.
“It feels good.,” said Holman, who led only once for the final 14 laps. “When your luck finally turns around, and I tell you, it isn't luck. I've got to give all the credit to the Lord Jesus Christ. We had a great team and everything was put together great, but a few weeks ago I got to the end of my rope at Gresham and I said, 'Man, what do I have to do?' I read a verse in the Bible (that said) if you put your priorities straight, the Lord will add all these other things unto you. I just decided I was going to do that and, man, we haven't lost a race since.”
The 26-year-old Holman described his team as “awesome” following his third career victory.
“We came up yesterday [Friday] and we're awful when we started (testing) and just kept working and working,” Holman said about his Food Country USA Chevrolet Monte Carlo. “We absolutely worked ourself to the bone to try to get this car to drive. Of course, Clay was just in another time zone. I don't think we could have worked long enough to get to him.”
Rogers, who led both practice sessions and earned his second straight and 28th career pole in qualifying Saturday afternoon, clearly had the strongest car from the 250-lap race's beginning on the 0.363-mile track. He never was seriously challenged, losing the lead only on two caution-flag pit stops, and he always regained it quickly once the race returned to green-flag conditions. At one point, the Troutman, N.C., resident possessed a half-lap lead on the second-place car. However, with only 50 laps remaining, Rogers reported an overheating problem. He attempted to nurse his ailing car to the finish, but on lap 237 his USG Sheetrock Ford slowed on the backstretch with a cracked cylinder head and Holman shot past and into the lead.
“They told me on the radio that he'd been spewing water,” said Holman, who averaged 58.117 mph in the race that was slowed by seven caution flags for 56 laps. “I hate it for him; I do. He's a good guy; a great competitor. It's absolutely a shame that he didn't win the race, but I'm going to take it. I'm not going to give it back. They were the class of the field without a doubt.”
It also was a special night for 15-year-old Logan Ruffin, who finished second in his Hickory Motor Speedway debut. Ruffin's first career top-5 came in just his sixth USAR Pro Cup Series start.
“We were needing a good points night because we've had two DNFs this year for the first two races,” the Memphis, Tenn., native said after the race that had seven lead changes among five drivers. “It's time for us to start points racing if we're going to win (Raybestos) Rookie of the Year and the championship.”
Ruffin made a charge on Holman in the closing laps with his Turner Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo, but fell short by 0.567-second.
“We were trying (to catch Holman),” Ruffin said. “I was starting to buzz the right rear off. I could tell on the white flag lap we came off of (turn) two and I started to lose him a little bit, so I think that might have been all we had. He had a great car and we tried.”
A.J. Frank fought back from a penalty to take third in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The Bluffton, S.C., driver was sent to the end of the longest line for the restart following the sixth caution period for his involvement in the yellow flag. Frank and Lucas Ransone were battling for a top-5 position when Frank's front bumper connected with Ransone's rear and sent Ransone spinning off turn four.
“Everybody raced clean, I guess, except for me, from what some of these guys are telling me,” Frank said.
After being assessed the penalty, Frank pitted for left-side tires before the race returned to green flag conditions on lap 170. Forty-eight laps later, Frank was sitting in fifth. By the time the race concluded, 32 laps later, Frank had made it to third.
“We just had a good car there at the end,” Frank said. “We struggled really bad (at the beginning). The SpeedCo/Lucas Oil machine was just really, really tight. I was just hanging on for adjustments and we let a bunch of them go and tried to stay on the lead lap. We were able to do that and made it up to second with some great adjustments by the crew. We just misjudged, got in a hurry, got into the 00 [Lucas Ransone] and served my penalty and went to the back. I think we had the best car at the end.”
Billy Bigley Jr. finished fourth in his Peerless Woodworking Ford Fusion, while J.P. Morgan came back from a mid-race spin to take fifth, his first top-5 this season.
The USAR Pro Cup Series now takes a week break before heading to Rockingham Speedway for the May 15 Carolina 200 presented by Black's Tire Service. Since the WIX Challenge bonus, which goes to the driver who earns the pole and wins the race, wasn't claimed, it rolls over to Rockingham and is now worth $4,000.
The USARacing Pro Cup Series, formerly Hooters Pro Cup, is owned by Interstate Investment Group and is based in Concord, N.C. IIG is comprised of Jack McNelly, Gary Kale, Carl Hubbard, Chip Lofton and Larry Camp, who serves as the managing partner. For more information on the USARacing Pro Cup Series, go to www.usarprocup.com.