ROGERS, RAIN RULE HICKORY ON SATURDAY by Jeremy Troiano
Only Mother Nature, Not Hometown Hero Huffman, Stop Clay's Roll
If you asked anyone in the pits and anyone in the stands, there was one obvious favorite to win at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) on Saturday night. That would be defending ProCup Series champion and Hickory native Shane Huffman.
“It feels good to beat Shane at his race track,” said Rogers in the makeshift Victory Lane set up in the tech shed. “It's like beating Jeff Gordon at a road course. I mean, he knows his way around here. Everyone knows he is the car to beat when you come into this race. I think we beat him pretty good too. That feels good.”
Rogers and Huffman have formed the prime rivalry in the ProCup Series. Last year's champion (Huffman) and this year's midseason championship favorite (Rogers) have proven week-in and week-out that they are the cars to beat. And on several weeks, they are often battling each other for the win. Sometimes, as it did twice earlier this year, that battling comes down to wrinkled up fenders and hot tempers.
However, despite the rivalry, there does seem to be some mutual respect between the two.
“Hats off to Clay and those guys though tonight,” said Huffman, who finished second. “They did a great job and had a great hot rod. They have had one almost all year long. They got us tonight, but that was tonight.”
“Shane is a great driver and he is with a great team that has great equipment,” said Rogers earlier this year about his rival. “He is a championship caliber driver and he proved that last year. He doesn't always use his head, but then again, we all have problems on the track every now and then. But I like Shane and think he is one of the best we have out here in the series and it is fun to race against him each week. Especially if I'm in front.”
Following a very warm day when heat indexes pushed into the 100s plus, it took just six laps into the race for the rains to come the first
Huffman dominated the race at Hickory last year and looked as if he was on his way to doing so again following practice. But come qualifying, Clay Rogers stepped it up.
He stepped it up so much that he took the pole from Huffman. He stepped it up and took the lead right at the start. He stepped it up and led 183 laps.
The only person that stepped it up more was Mother Nature herself, who used rain showers to slow the race three different times, eventually unleashing a torrential downpour that caused USAR officials to call the race all Rogers' after 193 of the 250-scheduled laps.
This was the exciting finish the fans got to see at Hickory Motor Speedway Saturday night.
Clay Rogers (right) got the jump on Shane Huffman (left) at the start in front of a great Hickory crowd.
time around. The light rain kept the drivers on the track and a few laps later, they were back to green.
Rains came a second time on lap 86 and halted the action for some time. Drivers parked their cars on pit road and retreated to their haulers before returning to race about 25 minutes later.
“We just made a small adjustment after the pit stop. She was just spot-on after that. We knew were were capable of winning this race.”
It was the best medicine for a team and driver that had been reeling the last couple of races. At Myrtle Beach, the team was just out to lunch and finished outside the top-10.
A round of pit stops put Greg Marlow, the only other driver to lead the race, out front but it took just 10 laps for Rogers to make his way back to the top of the standings and pull away.
With lightening abound, the rains came yet again on lap 185. The drivers circled under caution before parking their cars for a second time on lap 193, when the bottom fell out. Clay Rogers received word, while sitting in the back of his trailer joking around with some of his crew members, that he had official dethroned the champ in front of his people.
“The whole first half of the race, before the pit stop, I'm not sure if there was a time on the race track where I didn't have some type of water on the windshield,” said Rogers. “And the car was driving loose, but it is hard to make a call to tighten a car up cause you don't' know if it is the rain or the car.
“My guys dug hard when you needed to dig hard. We've lost some points the last couple of races. We were not performing on par with how we came out of the box. It is amazing how quickly you can go from the highest of highs to making swings on the race car and it isn't doing anything. It doesn't take long to start thinking that you don't know what you are doing.”
But he knew just what he was doing. He was winning.
And it could only get better, or worse, depending on how you look at it.
Rogers tested recently at Motor Mile Speedway, where the ProCup Northern Division races next weekend. Rogers plans to attend the race.
“We tested twice last week. Once was here (at Hickory) and one was at (Motor Mile). And the car was even better in the test at (Motor Mile).”
Clay kisses the trophy in Victory Lane at Hickory.
The ominous clouds dropped a lot of rain and put the field under the red flag twice.