That’s how it was for much of Saturday afternoon at Rockingham Speedway, as Rogers won his third straight USARacing Pro Cup race at The Rock.
Benny Gordon, who led some laps late in the race, finished second, followed by Matt Lofton in third, Jeff Agnew fourth and John Gibson rounding out the top five.
Chase Elliott, 14-year-old son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, had a rough day, going two laps down early due to a loose window net. He finished 12th after completing 192 laps.
With 40 laps remaining in the 200-lap race, series champion and defending race winner Rogers found himself in a heated battle with Benny Gordon for the lead.
Gordon’s Sanuel Metals Ford closed on the bumper of Rogers’ USG Sheetrock Ford as they barreled down the frontstretch and into Turn 1.
But then Rogers easily pulled ahead of Gordon as they raced off the second turn and headed for Turn 3.
This seesaw battle continued for several laps around the historic 1-mile track, with the two racers even rubbing sheet metal as they exited Turn 4. Rogers’ Ford briefly kissed the wall.
“After that (incident), the motor changed pitches,” said Rogers, who led five times for 153 laps.
“I think it cracked the tail pipe or something and, man, it got hot in that race car after that. You’re in the throttle a long time here and there is a lot of motor compartment heat. When you’ve been inside these cars, the crush panels get bent up and the exhaust gets bent up, it can turn into trouble real quick.”
Gordon, who finished 10.576 seconds behind Rogers, admitted the incident was his fault.
“That coming off of four, I didn’t hear my spotter,” said Gordon, who led twice for 31 laps. “He said he was outside and I was just up on the wheel and wasn’t paying attention. I floated up a little bit, so that was my bag there. I’m glad we didn’t crash both of us.
“We always lean on each other. That’s the bad thing about being as good a driver as he [Rogers] is ‘cause I will hit him and he will do the same to me, because he knows he can get away with it and we won’t wreck each other. That’s what makes it fun.”
On Lap 171, Gordon dove under Rogers at the start-finish line and they headed into the first turn side-by-side. Rogers, however, emerged from the second turn in first.
The break Rogers needed to thwart Gordon’s efforts came on Lap 177 when the fourth and final yellow flag waved for debris. That provided Rogers with the opportunity he needed to acquire four new tires.
Gordon, meanwhile, overshot his pit, a miscue that cost Gordon second. He had to restart the race in third with 19 laps remaining.
That gave the advantage to Rogers, as Gordon had to pass Matt Lofton before he could set Rogers in his sights.
“Clay just had a really good car on new tires and my car was good on old tires,” Gordon explained after the race as he poured cold water on himself. “I did not need that caution ‘cause I had him. I mean, I wasn’t pushing it. I had 20 laps to go. I know I had him. I was just going to keep the pressure on him and make a move with maybe five to go or something and the caution came out.”
Rogers’ third straight victory at “The Rock” and his 25th career win also netted him the $4,000 WIX Challenge bonus for earning the pole and winning the race, for a total payday of $12,000.
It was the first time the bonus had been claimed this season. Rogers averaged 110.235 mph in a race slowed by four caution flags for 26 laps, also regained the USAR points lead from Caleb Holman, whose Food Country USA Chevrolet blew an engine after 63 laps.
“About two laps before it blew, it went down to seven cylinders,” Holman said.
“It’s gotten to the point with these motors that I’m going to run it until stuff starts flying out of it, and that’s what happened.”
Two drivers made their USAR Pro Cup Series debut in the season’s fourth race.
Chase Elliott, son of 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion Bill Elliott, finished 11th, while Johanna Long placed 14th.
Elliott qualified seventh, but lost a lap just shy of the 20-lap mark when he had to pit under green to replace his window net which had come loose.
He also faced other issues during the event.
“We just didn’t get the car set up very well for him,” said Bill Elliott, who spotted for his son. “We were wearing the left-front tire too bad to the outside by misjudging the camber, but we didn’t know. We had a lot of mistakes we shouldn’t have made. He could run good when he had good tires under the car.”
The 14-year-old Elliott said he and his team knew the longest event in which he had ever competed on the largest track on which he had ever raced would be a learning session.
He said he didn’t know why his window net came loose early in the race.
“I checked it to make sure it was latched,” the young Elliott said. “I’m not sure how it came loose, but it did. That’s just something we’ve got to work on.”
In the grand scheme of the race, the early mishap wasn’t that much of a factor anyway, Chase Elliott said.
“The car wasn’t handling good enough to stay where we were. We were going to go laps down,” Chase Elliott said.
“Even when we went back out we went laps down to the 16 car [Rogers]. We’ve got a lot of work to do. The (other) guys have done this a long time and we just need to catch up and, hopefully, we’ll get there.”
The USAR Pro Cup Series takes a week off before returning to action May 29 at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va. After four races this year, Rogers and Holman have two victories apiece.
Contact sports editor David Vantress at 997-3111, ext. 14 or via email at email@example.com.