Clay Rogers claimed his fourth victory in six USAR Pro Cup Series races this season in Saturday night's Strutmasters.com 250 at South Boston Speedway, as one challenger after another fell by the wayside.
Pole winner Jeff Agnew led twice for 91 laps in his Team 7 Motorsports Ford, including the first 90, before pulling behind the wall on lap 180 with a mechanical problem. The Floyd, Va., driver, who was running second when he exited the race, finished 14th.
Caleb Holman, who was second in the point standings entering the event, exited on lap 156, also with a mechanical problem in his Food Country USA Chevrolet.
In fact, Rogers was the only driver with a position in the top five in the point standings who finished the race. John Gibson, who started on the outside of the front row, was third in the standings entering the event. However, he had to take his MitiGator Ford behind the wall on lap 51. Benny Gordon, who was fifth in the standings, exited the event in his Samuel Metals Ford on lap 218.
“I feel bad for Jeff Agnew right now,” said Rogers, who led the final 118 laps. “He probably had the best car here tonight. I'd say most definitely he had the best car. I hate he had a problem, but he and his team have been working real hard and they're catching up.”
Rogers cited his crew's pit stop during the third caution period as playing a critical role in his 27th career victory. The Mooresville, N.C., driver was the first lead-lap driver off pit road during the yellow flag. For the restart, he was second to Matt Lofton, who didn't pit. Lofton led laps 130-132 on the 0.400-mile track before Rogers scooted under him and into the No. 1 position for good on lap 133. It was the only time Rogers led during the event.
“It was so hard to pass out there,” said Rogers, who averaged 74.290 mph in the race that was slowed by four caution flags for 23 laps. “It was so hot and greasy. I was just glad my guys got me out in front, in clean air. That clean air on the nose helps a lot.
“We knew right off the bat, early in the race, that we didn't have the car that we needed and nobody panicked. We made some pretty big adjustments on that fuel stop and another pretty big swing at it when we made a tire stop. Luckily, we got it good enough that we were holding off Jeff (Agnew) for a little while, but we were just preventing the inevitable. He was coming.”
Lofton had to settle for the runner-up position Saturday night, 2.708 seconds behind Rogers, but it was the Roxboro, N.C., native's best finish this season.
“At the beginning of the race, we started losing voltage in it,” said Lofton, who had to come from a lap down in his Strutmasters.com Chevrolet to record his second straight top 5. “We came down pit road on the first caution after it stalled out. We had to change the battery in it. We lost one lap there, but we were able to race our way back. We had to stay out to keep our lead lap, so we couldn't pit when everybody else came in and took fuel. We knew that was going to hurt us a little bit, but it was more important for us to get our lap back so we could start racing.
“We came in, took our fuel on the next caution and we were the only ones on the lead lap that came in and took tires at the end of the race. We had to come from the back three different times. We made it hard on ourselves.”
Brandon Ward, the race's defending champion, claimed third in his Heritage Truck Centers Chevrolet for his first top-5 this season.
“The car just kept getting tighter and tighter as the race went on,” Ward said after the event that had four lead changes among four drivers. “The car was fairly decent early, but it was still tight. We made three adjustments and it really just didn't do what it was supposed to do.
“We've been working real close with our teammate A.J. Frank, he's run a few races and we've been trying to share some notes this year. I think we're making gains on it. We've got a little ways to go to run with Clay, but we're making gains.
Rounding out the top five, respectively, were Logan Ruffin in his Turner Motorsports Chevrolet, and Chase Elliott in his Aaron's Ford. The event was Ruffin's second at South Boston Speedway and Elliott's inaugural event at the historical short track.