Four time X-1R Pro Cup Series champion Clay Rogers made his return to the series known Saturday night at the Dillon Motor Speedway coming from the rear of the field to score the PEE DEE 250 win. Rogers win was no walk in the park as 2012 AFR Rookie of the Year winner Dalton Hopkins gave the former champion a close run to the checkered flag finishing in the runner-up position just .331 seconds behind after a bonze run through turns three and four. Eric Gerchak, making his series debut as a rookie, finished an impressive third to earn the final podium position. Defending series champion JP Morgan began his title defense with a solid fourth place finish after winning at the track a season ago. South Carolina native Gus Dean rounded out the top five finishers.
“Man, it feels good to be back in victory lane with this L&R race team here in the Pro Cup Series,” shouted an excited Rogers in Edlebrock Victory Lane. “We had a few problems in qualifying that caused us to start in the back, but I knew we had a good race car so it wasn’t as big as a deal as it could’ve been. I just focused on saving my tires because I’ll be honest I don’t know much about these particular Goodyear tires because I’ve never been on them until this weekend. Luckily I did a decent job at managing them and didn’t race JP (Morgan) too hard and we’re able to take home this check for $10,000 to kick off the season.”
The issues that Rogers speaks of were when his L&R Racing team were forced to repair break hoses on their #16 Commonwealth Building Materials Ford Fusion after qualifying while cars are normally impounded. The result of the penalty by series officials was Rogers taking the green flag from shotgun on the field with MAHLE pole award winner JP Morgan leading the field to green.
Morgan wasted no time in picking right where he left off a season ago taking the lead and opening a three car gap over Hopkins. Despite the smaller field side-by-side racing was abundant throughout the remaining positions over initial laps and throughout the night. Just eleven laps in was all it took for the KOOLMAT “Kool Move of the Race” to take place as eventual winner Clay Rogers made a daring three wide move to the inside of Gus Dean and Brady Boswell that advanced his #16 machine two positions moving from seventh to fifth in a single straightaway. Boswell and Dean would continue their side-by-side battle for next ten laps before the yellow flag would fly for the first time on lap twenty-one for the stalled machine of rookie Reid Wilson that paced practice earlier in the afternoon.
The #23 machine once again took control of the lead with Hopkins battling another Pro Cup Series returnee in the form of John Gibson for the number two spot. It only took thirty laps for the yellow to waive once again, this time for the spinning machine of veteran Bill Plemons Jr. who made slight contact with the wall. The restart brought the first lead change of the night as Clay Rogers took advantage JP Morgan’s slip-up through turns one and two. Rogers opened up his lead over the remaining laps before taking the competition yellow at the event’s halfway point on lap 125.
After picking up the Roush Yates Performance Products Halfway Leader Award, Rogers and the rest of the top seven lead lap cars redrew for their second half of the race starting positions. The results matched the initial green flag front row to start the race as, JP Morgan along with Dalton Hopkins to his outside, lead the field back to green flag racing. It took all of three laps and a little contact for Rogers to regain the lead position over Morgan after redrawing the number three pill. Never fading more than a car length away, Hopkins worked the high line on Rogers making several attempts for the lead.
In the meantime Air Flow Research Rookie of the Year contender Eric Gerchak was the driver on the move after being penalized during the competition caution for his crew not having fire suits on while working on an active pit road. The adversity didn’t seem to faze the Mooresville, NC driver as he made his way to the fourth position on lap 191 just before the final yellow of the night was displayed for possible fluid on lap 194.
The final restart would be the last chance for Hopkins, Morgan, and the rest of the field to make a play at the lead from Rogers as the final fifty-two laps went green and green to the finish. The win was Rogers’ thirty first of his career; one shy of tying Benny Gordon for second most wins all time in series history.
X-1R Pro Cup Series