Champ Back In Victory Lane
by Mark Keeler – Announcer/PR New Smyrna Speedway
New Smyrna Beach, Florida (5/5/12)
The Bright House Challenge Series Super Late Models returned to their birthplace on Saturday night for the 4th race of the 2012 series and 100 green flag laps around Florida’s fastest short-track. Heading into Race #4 it was no surprise that Orlando’s David Rogers #11 was on top of the point standings. Arguably it was also no surprise that Rogers was winless in the first 3 races of 2012. In 2011 Rogers logged three runner-up finishes in-a-row to start the season before visiting Victory Lane in the fourth race at the New Smyrna Speedway. With three races complete in 2012, he had two runner-ups and a third place finish through three before Saturday night’s race at the high-banked half-mile.
In Qualifying, it was Race #2 winner Rich Clouser #9 who bested the field, with a fast-lap of 17.461 at an average speed of 103.087mph. Orlando veteran Brad May #10, who in recent years has spent more time away from the track than on it, has been a pleasant surprise in 2012 competing in two out of the three events and turned in the second fastest lap at 17.526 seconds.
Rogers was third quick with Dade City, Florida veteran Joe Winchell #64 fourth and the youngster that has been lurking just outside the winners circle this year, 17 year old Anthony Sergi #20 rounding out the top five qualifiers.
With the field pacing behind the Gary Yeoman’s Ford Pace Truck, Winchell visited Pit Road, giving up his fourth starting spot prior to the green flag. “I kinda over engineered this thing for time-trials so we had to go in and make some adjustments.” Winchell explained, “We were just too tight”. So Winchell would drop to the tail and start the race from the 10th spot.
Clouser led the opening 36 laps and looked to be on his way to his second win in the three races, but Rogers had other ideas. May jumped out of line a few times to get alongside Clouser for the lead but was never able to hold momentum down the straight-aways. Rogers saw similar fate while pressuring May for the runner-up spot.
Less than a dozen laps in Winchell pulled into the top five after getting past Scott Heckert #72 in turns one and two. Heckert inherited the fourth starting spot when Winchell dropped to the tail and held on there for the opening few laps before Sergi made his way by.
After spending the opening dozen laps entrenched in a three car battle up front that saw Rogers all over the rear of May’s car, Rogers was able to pull into second on lap 16 and the hunt was on for the lead. Clouser had opened up about a 3 car-length advantage but it was short-lived as Rogers quickly reeled him in.
After dropping to third May quickly found himself in the clutches of Sergi to hang onto that spot. Sergi took the low line a few times trying to get by May and while they were battling for third, Winchell reeled them in and without hesitation jumped alongside Sergi for fourth and grabbed that spot with a quarter of the race complete. Winchell had a few car lengths to catch May while Sergi stayed with him.
Up front, Rogers looked high and low on Clouser for 20 laps before getting a great run down the backstretch and into turn three, completing the pass to lead lap 36.
After a handful of laps fighting to get alongside May, Winchell was able to take third and Sergi quickly jump out of line to battle side-by-side with May for fourth. Again May would put up a fight, staying door to door with Sergi for a few laps before dropping back to fifth.
Just shy of the half-way point, Winchell and Sergi began a battle for third that would last for the duration of the event.
The only caution of the event slowed the field on lap 60 as Caesar Bacarella #24, in his Bright House Challenge Series debut, spun coming off of turn four.
The restart allowed Sergi to get by Winchell for third. However just two laps later, Sergi got sideways out of turn four and had to chase his car down the track to save it, allowing Winchell to pull back by. Although no other positions changed hands over the final third of the race the action was heated as Clouser pressured Rogers for the lead and Sergi pressured Winchell for third.
Rogers hung on to take the win, his first Bright House Challenge Series victory of 2012. With consistent runs and now a win in the opening four races, Rogers extends his Points Lead to 11 points over Clouser. “That’s what Points are all about is just being consistent.” said Rogers, “Rich is gonna keep you honest.” he went on to say about Clouser who once again looks to be Rogers toughest competition in the hunt for the Championship once again in 2012. “Anytime we can finish between David Rogers and Joe Winchell… I feel like I’ve accomplished something.” said Clouser about his runner-up finish. On leading the opening laps, Clouser said he knew Rogers was coming for him, “He’s got a long run car… I knew he was coming.”
Winchell recovered from the pre-race Pit Stop and a late race pass from Sergi to take down a strong third place run but felt like Rogers and Clouser were just to strong out front, “When these two get out front you’re not gonna catch ‘em.” And although he was focused for 100 laps on winning the race, Winchell had another “competition” on his mind Saturday after the race, informing the fans about the “Brownie Cook-off” that was taking place in the Pit Area between himself and Jenn Clouser (wife of Rich) “Rich may have beat me out here, but I’m gonna win this thing.” And we are told that Winchell did indeed take that win.
The next race for the Bright House Challenge Series is set for June 16th back at the New Smyrna Speedway.
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