Caleb Holman led twice for 126 laps in Saturday night's Crane Cams 250 at New Smyrna Speedway to record the second victory of his USARacing Pro Cup Series career and his first since 2008.
Holman's only other Pro Cup victory came at Bristol [Tenn.] Motor Speedway two years ago.
“Bristol is kinda like winning at Daytona in that it's really great, everybody loves it and it's a big deal, but it's not your typical race track,” Holman said after taking a 1.791-second victory over John Gibson. “Honestly, I feel like this is our first win on a typical, Pro Cup race track. It's slick, hard to get a hold of. So this win means as much as Bristol to me.”
The Abingdon, Va., driver took the lead for good on lap 152 when leader Stephen Nasse's All American Concrete Chevrolet Monte Carlo slid up towards the fourth turn wall. Nasse's slip allowed Holman and Clay Rogers to scoot underneath him as they exited the corner. That maneuver provided Holman with first and Rogers with second.
Rogers continuously challenged Holman during the remaining laps – first on the high side, then low, and at times, clinging to his rear bumper, trying to force Holman into making a mistake. But Rogers' tactics failed.
“It's not too often you get to make Clay Rogers work, so we were making him work for it. I'm glad of that,” said the 26-year-old Holman, who qualified third for the 250-lap race at the half-mile track. “He drove us real clean. There were several times there he could have wrecked us with lapped cars and stuff.”
Ironically, it was a miscue by Rogers on lap 236 in the second turn that provided Holman with a little breathing room and practically assured him of the victory. Rogers' USG Sheetrock Ford Fusion was too high in turn two as he attempted to pass Holman and it smacked the wall. Rogers managed to nurse his damaged race car to a fourth-placefinish, one lap down. After taking the checkered flag, he parked his car on pit road, climbed from it and walked into victory lane to congratulate Holman, who was still seated in his Food Country USA Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
Early in the event it appeared pole winner Rogers would breeze to his second victory of the 2010 season. The series defending champion assumed the lead on lap 45 after J.P. Morgan spun and hit the fourth-turn wall head-on while battling Rogers for the top spot. For the next 66 laps, no one could match Rogers' horsepower. At one point, he led Holman by half a lap and had relegated all but four cars to a lap off the pace. Then the fourth yellow flag waved on lap 108 when Brandon Sweet spun on the backstretch. Holman assumed the lead for the first time during that caution period when he beat Rogers off pit road even though both received only fuel during the stop.
Holman led the next 27 laps before Nasse snatched the lead from the Virginia driver with a fuel only stop during the fifth caution period. Nasse had taken four tires during his last stop, thus allowing him to receive only fuel on this one. Holman had to take four tires. However, once Holman passed Nasse for the lead on lap 152, he never relinquished it. He eventually averaged 71.553 mph in the race that was slowed by eight caution flags for 54 laps and had four lead changes among four drivers.
In addition to Holman snapping a 17-race winless streak, 25-year-old John Gibson and the 14-year-old Nasse produced the best finishes of their Pro Cup careers. Gibson finished second in his MitiGator Ford Fusion, while Nasse posted a third in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
“About halfway through, I was really doubting whether or not we would actually be able to pull this off,” Gibson said. “We had a plan of taking tires really late and we just kinda stuck to it and it benefited us at the end. We were horrible at first. Then with 50 (laps) to go we got track position and got tires on it and she came to the front. I was really surprised.”
During his post-race interview, Gibson saluted the job turned in by the young Nasse.
“Hats off to Stephen,” Gibson continued. “He had a heck of a race on the outside. I could not get by him. He did a real good job. Coming to that restart, he checked up just a little bit and I thought, 'Man, it's 10 to go. You've got to shove your nose in there.' So I just buried it in there, but he didn't give me any room. It was a lot of fun.”
Nasse's third-place finish and first top-5 came in only his third Pro Cup event.
“I think I drove a great race tonight,” Nasse said. “I definitely love the outside here. I've always raced it. Even during speed weeks I raced it. I just love the outside at any track.”
The USAR Pro Cup Series takes a week off before the season's third race on May 1 at Hickory [N.C.] Motor Speedway.
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.