Since joining the USARacing Pro Cup Series in 2006, John Gibson has always fielded a car that performed well, but Lady Luck seemed to never want to visit the Springfield, Mo., native. That, however, isn't the case this year.
Heading into Saturday's Hampton Virginia 250 at Langley Speedway, Gibson is not only close to scoring his first career USAR Pro Cup Series victory, but taking the point lead as well.
“I feel like if we could get ahead of Clay [Rogers, standings leader] in one of these races and lead some laps and finish a few spots ahead of him, we could come out of Langley leading the points,” said Gibson, who trailed Rogers by 54 points heading into the season's fifth race. “But Clay and Caleb [Holman, third in points] are real strong at Langley, so we're going to have to be as good as they are, which I think we can.”
In the season's first four races, Gibson hasn't finished outside the top 10. In fact, he's placed outside the top four only once and he took second at New Smyrna [Fla.] Speedway in his Mitigator Ford Fusion. The 25-year-old Gibson readily admits it's the best start he's had to a season since he joined the series.
“We've had a lot of good runs, but we've always ended up having some bad luck,” the Statesville, N.C., resident said. “Like a couple of years ago in the first race at Lakeland [Fla.] we were running in the top 5, someone missed a shift in front of us with 20 (laps) to go and we got caught up in a wreck. It just always seems like we have these good runs, but not had the luck that usually needs to come with it.
“This year, it's all kind of come together. We've known we were capable of running this way for quite some time, but we just haven't had the luck to go with it. The way we ended last year where we knocked off seven straight top 10s (before finishing 17th in the season finale) I knew we could come into this year running that well if we could keep the momentum going. I think some people are surprised (at our performance), but everybody with our team isn't because we've known that we can run this way.
“I'll admit I was kinda surprised at Gresham, first race of the year, that we led 50 laps and finished third. It kinda caught me off guard because I didn't think we'd hit the ground running that quick, but we've been able to use some pit strategy a couple of times and we've caught the breaks that we needed. It's been a good year so far and we're just hoping we can keep it going.”
Gibson cites acquiring Jody Lavender as his crew chief and a second car, as well as a change in the team's luck, as instrumental in the team's good performances this year. However, the 0.395-mile, slightly-banked Langley Speedway could present Gibson with his biggest challenge this season. Gibson describes Langley as being “one of my worst tracks” last year even though he finished 10th and seventh, respectively.
“For some reason, last year I just didn't get around that track that well,” Gibson said. “I think we can be decent there, but we're just going to have to work on it a little bit. It's a fun track and I absolutely love going there and racing because the fans pack that place. We had that four-wide finish there last year, so I really like racing there. It makes it more fun for us when you come around on the frontstretch and you see that place packed. It's a pretty neat place. To pass somebody, you either have to show a lot of patience or put the chrome horn to them, but it's a fun place to get around. I just need to get around it a little better.”
Saturday's USAR Pro Cup Series action begins at noon with qualifying at 4:30 p.m. Fans will have the opportunity to meet the drivers during an autograph session at 5:45 p.m. The May 29 race begins at 7 p.m.
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.