Back On Track
June 24, 2004 | 9:03 A.M. EST
St. Amant took the lead on Lap 158 and led to the finish of the Miller Lite 250 presented by Texas Brand Sauce at Lake Erie Speedway, beating Benny Gordon to the finish line by 1.37 seconds to take the first ProCup win of his career.
"All year we've had a fourth- or fifth-place car, but we knew coming to the race tonight that we had our best racecar by far," said St. Amant, who took home $11,000 for his efforts. "I probably had the worst season of my career last year since I've been racing. We finished last season with a good second-place run [in ASA] and we started this season in the ProCup Series with some good runs. I wouldn't have been disappointed if we didn't win because this is racing. No, actually I would have disappointed."
There would be no reason for St. Amant to be disappointed.
After starting third, St. Amant stayed in the top five for the first 75 laps, running fourth behind Jeff Agnew, Johnny Rumley and Mardy Lindley.
Agnew, driver of the No. 73 NGA Hooters Tour Chevy, was able to sweep around the outside of pole sitter Rumley, who picked up $1,000 for winning his fourth Advance Auto Parts Pole Award, on the first lap to take early control of the race. Agnew and Rumley remained nose to tail and quickly distanced themselves from Lindley, driver of the Hooters Air Ford, St. Amant and Benny Gordon in the first 50 laps. The torrid pace set by the leaders took its toll on much of the field as the lead duo lapped up to 10th place by Lap 80.
St. Amant and Benny Gordon, driver of the No. 66 Predator Performance Ford, were able to cut into the margin of the race leader after clearing Lindley and moving into third and fourth, respectively. That margin was erased completely when Joel Kauffman and Sam Fullone tangled to bring out the race's first caution on Lap 84.
Rumley and Gordon chose to stay on the track as caution waved, but Agnew, St. Amant and Lindley all elected to come in for service.
The Bullet Racing/Jegs.com team's decision to bring St. Amant in under the first caution of the night ended up being the move that would eventually put St. Amant in victory lane.
"I wasn't too sure about coming in," said St. Amant. "It wasn't my decision; it was the team that wanted me to come in. I kind of wanted to stay out and pit later."
After the restart on Lap 90, Rumley and Gordon picked up where they left off at Salem, beating and banging for the lead. But this time it was Gordon looking for away around Rumley, driver of the No. 8 Lucas Oil Ford. The two exchanged the lead six times over the next 71 laps.
St. Amant restarted sixth after the pit stop, but he quietly crept towards the front of the field.
St. Amant reeled in Mardy Lindley and Jeff Agnew to battle for the third position by Lap 133. St. Amant cleared Agnew and Lindley, who both also pitted on Lap 85, to take over third behind Gordon and Rumley. With the leaders still needing to come to pit road, St. Amant knew the race was in his favor.
"When I got to third behind the cars that didn't pit, I kind of took it easy to save my car," said St. Amant, who led a race-high 93 laps. "Sure enough, they pitted, and we had a great racecar for the last half of the race."
And it showed, literally.
As many of the leaders' brake rotors began to glow cherry red, St. Amant's car would show no signs of stress in the last half of the race.
The race's second caution waved at Lap 155, bringing Gordon and Rumley to pit road. Agnew made an unscheduled stop under the second caution after experiencing brake problems in the middle stages of the event. Agnew eventually retired from the event on Lap 213 after leading 84 laps.
Gordon and Rumley, who restarted fifth and ninth, respectively, after the caution, made a mad dash towards the front in the last 100 laps. Grodon cleared Mardy Lindley to take over second place on lap 201, but the DuBois, Pa., driver was nearly three seconds behind St. Amant. Rumley charged to fourth by Lap 200, but he was 7.760 seconds behind the race leader. Rumley and Gordon needed a caution to cut St. Amant's lead, but it never came. The race was slowed only twice for 12 laps of caution.
Gordon did, however, manage to cut St. Amant's lead in half in the final 50 laps, but his first Northern Division win was not to be.
"I'll take second after the way the season started," said Gordon. "This was the first time we've run this car, and it's better than the other one. I just have to thank Predator Performance and the car owners that give me this great equipment. Our season is going to continue to get better."
Lindley was also able to rebound after being involved in a first-lap accident at Salem and finished the night in third.
"We tried some things different this week, and it was the wrong track to try it at," said Lindley. "The car just got way too tight in the second half of the race. But after the way things have been going, I'm happy with third."
Although Rumley took the checkered in fourth, the Winston-Salem, N.C., driver was also happy.
"The temperature gauge pegged during the first run," said Rumley. "We took some tape off and it went back down, but I think we hurt the motor. It was chugging at the end of the race."
Brian Ross, driver of the No. 42 U.S. Insurance Group Ford, never threatened for the lead, but he was able to finish fifth.