Recap From A Wild Night Of Action In The “Rainy” Sunshine State
ROGERS, GORDON PUT ON THEIR OWN “CHASE FOR THE CUP”
Anyone who thought the NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship was exciting needed to look no further than Lakeland, FL on Saturday night/ Sunday morning to see another version of pure excitement while two drivers battled for a championship.
The ProCup title was decided by just 18 points. It was back and fourth all night long. It was exciting.
Benny Gordon entered the night with a 39-point lead on Clay Rogers. All Gordon had to do was finish third of better, not counting bonus points.
Well, Gordon led 62 laps (second most to Rogers) and led at halfway, getting him an extra five bonus points. That put the pressure on Rogers. And when Rogers fell a lap down after his first pit stop, it looked like it was all over.
“From the get go, from when we fired the motors up, I didn't have a clutch,” said Rogers of the problems that eventually led to his going a lap down. “So I had to start the race by actually putting it in first gear and hitting the starter. I've never been in that position before without a transmission with straight-cut gears. Our plan was to push it off and just jump it into gear. I think I came in to the pits in third gear and I couldn't' get it into second because the synchronizers weren't lined up when they were pushing me. I was jerking it into gear and it wouldn't go in.
Clay Rogers celebrates his championship with the #44 team.
“I couldn't get it into gear though. It was getting ready to be a bad deal. It was a bad deal.”
However, as the saying goes, it isn't over until its over.
Rogers stayed calm and raced his way back on the lead lap and back into contention.
“We stayed pretty calm through the whole thing. I knew we could get our lap back. We just went out and did what we had to do.
“Most everyone on this crew are guys I've grown up with. A lot of them are friends of mine from high school and even grade school. They all just keep me calm on the radio. I'm glad we had those extra 50 laps though to get it back.”
Then, out of the blue, Gordon's car dropped off the pace after spending several laps at the front of the field. He eventually made it into the pits under green flag conditions. He lost several laps and eventually retired from the race with engine problems.
“We thought we could coast, but we weren't sure, we we just continued racing,” added Rogers, who was immediately told by his crew when Gordon's car went behind the wall. “Hell, when we took the checkers, we still didn't know for sure thought that we had the title until I coasted down the back straight and (ProCup head tech official) Fritz (Augustine) told me we'd unofficially won it.
“We just burned our stuff up coming back up through there and getting our lap back and I'm kinda mad about that because, darn, the car was so good. I thought we could win the race.
“I guess I just feel like I'm waiting for the ax to fall with the night we had. It will sink in later I'm sure.
“Right now, I'm still shaking though.”
Speed51.com would like to congratulate Rogers on his Championship. We'll have more with the champion soon, right here on Speed51.com
SEASON FINALE DELIVERS FANTASTIC FINISH
While the results will show that Bobby Gill won the race by a margin of nearly two seconds, it won't really tell the true story of the final 10 laps of the race.
Bobby Gill summed it up the best when he said “"Those last 10 laps were hell. I drove harder in those last 10 laps than I did all night long.”
Gill and Jay Fogleman waged a late-race battle that saw them swap lead so many times, we just lost track. The records will show then changed the lead four times, but it was, in essence, many more than just that, since official lead changes are only measured at the start-finish line.
In reality, the two swapped the lead no less than eight or nine times over those last few laps. And not only did they swap the lead, but plenty of paint as well.
“I've never run that hard all year long,” said Gill. “Jay had more motor than I did. He was slowing me down in the corner, but then he could pull me off the corner. We got
into lapped traffic and he hesitated. When he hesitated, I just filled the whole. So then he was underneath me and rooted me out and I got under him and rooted him out. He let me go by then and I think he was setting me up for the last corner, but I guess he cut his tire or something banging on me. That was a hell of a 10 laps.”
Fogleman also had a blast in his battle with Gill, but it wasn't a tire that did him in at the end.
“You never know what to expect from Bobby,” said Fogleman. “One week he will run his line and the next week he'll rub doors. He rubbed and turned me sideways. Me and Bobby, we've raced each other long enough that we know how to move you without wrecking you.
“Man, it was exciting though. It is good to run up front and just to have that much excitement in a race again.
“I ran out of gas there at the end. I had no idea we were that close. It just didn't make it. When I cleared Bobby and came up off of two over there, it just quit running and there was nothing I could do.
“Hell, I thought I had me one.”
For Gill, it was a good way to end that season that saw him switch teams and come home third in the championship standings.
“We haven't really struggled, but myrtle beach really hurt us falling out with those axle problems. We were going to do what we needed to tonight. It was the last race, hell, we need new bodies anyway.”
Gill was also picked by a fan prior to the event to win the race in the Team Hooters Challenge, meaning that if Gill won, both he and the fan would get an extra $500.
“To tell you the truth, I wasn't really thanking about that fan,” joked Gill. “I get $500 too.”
CARTER JUST SQUEAKS OUT ROOKIE TITLE
If the battle for the Championship was exciting, the battle was Rookie of the Year was breathtaking.
Matt Carter and Gary St. Amant emerged as the two favorites during the five-race Championship Series and their battle came right down to the end.
Entering the night, St. Amant trailed by just 25 points. At the end of the night, he did what he needed to do by finishing in the top-five (St. Amant finished fifth), but Carter did the same, and his seventh-place run came him the Rookie of the Year title.
Jay Fogleman (#4) and Bobby Gill (#06) put on quite a show in the late laps. (Horne)
Benny Gordon's #66 fell off the pace and out of the championship hunt when he came to pit road with mechanical problems. (Horne Photo)
“We just raced our race,” said Carter, who is the son of former Winston Cup car owner Travis Carter. “We got the car better as the race went on. I knew were Gary was all night long. He was ahead of us at one point and he was behind us at times. I just tried as hard as I could to keep him behind me.
Carter and St. Amant looked to practically be tied together with a string as the night went on. They were rarely much more than a couple of cars apart at the end until a late-race charge by St. Amant had Carter on the offensive.
“I knew when he got by me there at the end, I had to go. I was driving as hard as I could to catch him as fast as I could.
“This is an awesome night for us.”
In the end, the margin between the two was just 20 points.
“We have been consistent all year long,” said Carter. “We started the year off really well as a rookie team. We went to Bristol (TN) and had a great run and ever since then, we have run well. I don't think we finished any worse than seventh in the championship series.
“And it was awesome to beat a guy like Gary. I've watched him race forever and ever in ASA and other series. Coming into the year, I wanted to beat Gary St. Amant for this rookie deal, just to prove that I could do it. He is a good racer. He's one of the best short track drivers of all time. He raced hard. He is a good racer, but he is a really good guy.”
St. Amant was disappointed, but felt he lost to a worth competitor.
“It's heart breaking to give up that overall rookie title,” said St. Amant, a two-time ASA Champion. “Then again, we dug our own hole. I broke at Myrtle Beach (SC). That was the coffin catcher there. To break a motor there sat me back. So to come back here and run as poor as we did early and come back and finish in the top-five, I'm tickled.
“Matt is a smooth driver. I congratulated him and told him it was well deserved. He had five good races. It was pretty
St. Amant finished fifth in Lakeland, but it just wasn't enough. (51 Photo)
neat because I was standing over there by the car and Travis Carter came over and said 'I wanna thank you for running the boy clean.' That meant an awful lot to me there. Matt told me the same thing later. They are good people.”
“Once again, that rookie deal kinda comes elusive,” joked St. Amant, who just lost the ASA Rookie of the Year in 1986 to Kenny Wallace. “I hope I don't have to run for rookie of the year ever again anywhere.”
DRIVERS CLOWN AROUND DURING LONG RAIN DELAY
Five hours. That is a long time to wait. That is a very long time to wait for a race. But amazingly, many of the Florida fans stuck it out.
About two-thirds of those that came to the race that was suppose to start at 7:30 pm on Saturday night were still around from the race's actual start at 12:47 am on Sunday morning and most of them were also around when the race took the checkers at 3:15 am.
It wasn't just the fans who had to sit and wait around during the long rain delay. After getting strapped into their cars, the drivers had to unbuckle and then sit around themselves during the late night affair.
Some slept. Some played cards. Some others ate. But many entertained the crowd and had a little fun with the help of USAR announcer Gene Crane.
Several times, Crane ventured down into the monsoon that engulfed the track for a little chatting with some of the drivers who were just hanging out in the haulers.
“Sometimes I think I need to be sleeping,” laughed Clay Rogers during the break. “We were sitting here taking times on the wreckers and seeing who was faster. I guess that means I should be taking a nap. But we do anything we can to pass the time.”
Gill celebrated his win with donuts and by climbing on the car in Victory Lane. (Horne)
Rookie Matt Carter was pretty impressive in his Pro Cup rookie season. (51 Photo)
Michel Ritch was questioned on the interesting question make that adorned the front of his car.
“We've been almost all the brands this year, so we thought we'd try a Ford this time around,” said Ritch, whose car adorned a question mark sticker where the manufacture would normally go on the front of his car just below the grill. “I don't know if it done me any better. We qualified 19th.”
Ritch finished 34th.
Jimmy Spencer Jr., whose father was in attendance on Saturday, took a little jab at himself when Crane asked
Ritch's car was adorned by a "?" instead of a manufacturer. (51)
about his plans for next season.
“I'm trying to get sponsored by MayTag because I've got this spinning thing down pretty good.”
LAST YEAR'S CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM CLOSING UP?
Last year's ProCup Series champion Shane Huffman told Speed51.com that it looks like, unless a viable marketing sponsor can be found, that his team home for the year four years, XTRA Motorsports, will likely close shop and no return for the 2005 season.
“It is sad as hell really,” said a disappointed Huffman after finishing second in the race and fourth in the point standings. “It is a shame that an organization of this caliber can't get any money to run.
"Carol Watts and Everett and Rhett Durham took a chance when they brought me into this deal. We struggled mightily the first year, but the third year we won the championship. We were just little off this year, but we made the best of it. We may go our separate ways next year, but it's been a great ride, and I wouldn't trade these guys for anything."
“What do you do?. They've given me four great years. I got the best guys in the world here. I wouldn't trade one of them for a million bucks.
“If we gotta go our separate ways, we will. It ain't what I want to do and it ain't what they want to do, but circumstances are kinda forcing us to do that.”
Hooters racing may not be in the cards for Huffman next year.
LAMB & ROBINSON TEAM TAKES PIT CREW CHALLENGE
A nearly severed thumb couldn’t keep the #06 Lamb & Robinson team from capturing the BFGoodrich Tires Pit Crew Challenge.
The team, along with driver Bobby Gill, beat out Shane Huffman’s XTRA Motorsports Team and Clay Rogers’ East Coast Motorsports to win the $4,000 prize despite the jackman nearly severing his thumb earlier in the week.
“I really appreciate people thinking we are the favorite,” said Jamie Mosley, the team’s crew chief and front time carrier. “These guys on this team worked really hard. We work about two or three times a week on our stops. We felt like at the beginning of the year we could pass them easier in the pits than on the track sometimes. It paid off.
“Our pit practice got cut a little bit short because our jack guy got his thumb caught in the jack. That cut our practice a little bit short this past week. We were trying to focus a little more on the stops for this for these guys.”
Mosley said the team will split the money with the crew members.
The Lamb& Robinson team won the Pit Crew Challenge this year. (51 Photo)
“It’s their money. They earned it. They’ve been working on this all year long.”
The crew members include: Mosley (front tire carrier), Floyd Cruch (jackman), Scott Prillaman (front tire changer), Joseph Christian (rear tire changer), Ron Bennington (rear tire carrier) and A.L. Kip Andleton (sign board).
PIT CREW CHALLENGE TAKES TOLL
Mardy Lindley’s Hooters Air team pulled off one of the best stops of the night during the challenge, but Lindley’s car didn’t pull off.
When the jack dropped, the car just didn’t go. It broke.
It was bad news for Lindley, who was using the same car that he was planning to use in the race. Many of the teams used their backup cars for the event. Not Lindley. And it nearly cost him.
“I guess we can actually consider it pretty good luck,” said Lindley. “It was the rear end that broke. It was the pinion in the rear end. It probably would have happened early in the race and put us out and we didn’t need that, so maybe it is a little bit of good luck that it happened.
“We had a good stop going too. These guys have done a good job for me all year long. I just hate it that it happened
Mardy Lindley (left) watches as his team goes to work on fixing their car just hours before the start of the race. (51 Photo)
for them. Maybe we got the back luck out of the way though.”
Lindley came back and finished 14th during Saturday's race.
LONG DAY FOR AGNEW
Things weren’t all that great for Jeff Agnew on Saturday either. The Hooters Golf #73 broke early in practice and the team spent the rest of the afternoon getting things straightened out.
“We broke a harmonic balancer early in practice,” said Agnew. “So we went to the backup car and it just wasn’t doing it for us. So we decided to switch motors and put the backup motor in the primary car. We didn’t get too much practice in so we are just going to have to come from the back.”
Agnew came back and led 31 laps and finished an impressive eighth after starting dead last in 36th.
Agnew's team was hard at work changing over their two cars. (51 Photo)