Andy Loden Finally Visits Victory Lane at Hickory Motor Speedway
By Adrian Sanders ASandersRYRE@carolina.rr.com
Andy Loden, driver of the #29 Monroe Roadways Chevrolet has been in contention for a win at Hickory Motor Speedway 3 times since last season's end. Loden made his debut in Late Model Stocks at Hickory when he competed in the 2005 Fall Brawl, grabbed the pole and ended up 5 th . He then led several laps in the UARA Late Model race on March 18 th until a spun lapped car ended his night early. And just last week at Hickory's season opener, Loden was leading with 6 laps to go when an engine problem sidelined him for the night. But it is this night that Loden wants to remember as the start to a good season as he grabbed the pole and led almost every lap of Saturday night's 50-lap Bojangles Late Model feature.
Loden brought the field to the green flag with #10 Andy Mercer on the outside pole followed by #44 Chris Chapman, #41 Jesus Hernandez and #14 Randy Burnett. Andy Mercer got a great start at the drop of the green flag and was able to take the lead from Loden on the outside as they barely touch going into turn 3. Characteristically, Loden's car takes a couple of laps to settle in and come to him and by lap 3 he was ready to reclaim the lead as he dove to the inside of Mercer coming out of turn 4. The two ran side by side until Loden prevailed and took the lead on lap 5. Keith Bumgarner was on the move by lap 8 in his #95 Country Chair Ford as he tries to take 5 th from Randy Burnett, but almost immediately the caution flag flies for the spun car #33 of Patrick McVay in turn 2.
Loden brings the field around for the restart with Mercer still in tow. The top 5 settle single file for about a lap until Bumgarner decides to take a look again on Burnett taking over the 5 th spot on lap 10. Bumgarner continues his roll through the field as he catches #41 of Jesus Hernandez on lap 12 and takes over his 4 th place spot on lap 14. By lap 19, Bumgarner pulls up to the bumper of 3 rd place running #44 Chris Chapman and takes his spot coming out of turn 2. Andy Mercer began to feel the heat from Bumgarner by lap 28 as the top runners began feeling their way through lapped traffic. Caution comes out again on lap 29 as #77 Clint Mills loops his car around coming off turn 4.
Loden brings the field back to green but as the old saying goes, “Cautions Breed Cautions” as the yellow flag is displayed again on lap 34 when #21 Brian Connor spins in turn 4 after making contact with the #35 Image First Design Car of Chris Lewis. This time, the green flag is out for 3 laps before caution is displayed again when #99 Chris Bristol gets into #7 Charlie Barham sending him spinning.
Loden continues to lead with Andy Mercer in 2 nd as the field comes back around for the green flag. This time Loden decides to run the low line until his car comes to him, fending off any runs from the #10 of Mercer. Loden pulled out to about a 1-car lead as it appeared to be clear sailing until the field took the white flag. #64 Nick Losito spins coming out of turn 4 bringing out the yellow flag and setting up the field for the season's first green, white, checkered finish in the Bojangles Late Models Division.
Andy Loden brings the field around for the green flag once again protecting the low line from any battles for the lead on the low line. Keith Bumgarner takes one look on Mercer in turn 2 but is unable to make the pass. Andy Loden hangs on and takes the checkered flag followed by #10 Andy Mercer, #95 Keith Bumgarner, #44 Chris Chapman and #41 Jesus Hernandez.
Andy Loden had this to say in Victory Lane:
“FINALLY………That was a tough one! This feels awesome. I didn't think I was ever going to win here, this is a tough little track. I worked harder for this win tonight more than any win I have ever had before. The car wasn't as good as it could have been, but the engine sure was….that baby runs. Hopefully this isn't April Fools. I want to thank my entire crew for their hard work, Alan Johnson for a great engine and my sponsor Monroe Roadways.”
It was an emotional win for Andy Mercer as he took the checkered flag for his first win of the season in the Limited Late Model Division. Exactly one year ago, Mercer visited Victory Lane with a somewhat heavy heart as he dedicated the victory to his best friend and cousin who had just welcomed a new baby that was almost 3 months pre-mature. Now one year later, a healthy one-year-old baby boy named Dawson was there to greet Mercer when he pulled into Victory Lane for his first win of the 2006 season. Mercer was followed by #92 Marc Davis, #14 Brandon Cox, #44 Matt DeBenedetto and #15 Nathan Dellinger.
The Hobby stock cars made their 2006 debut with #14 Michael Sidden taking the victory over #3 Tim Reece, #11 Jimmy Whisnant, #-1 Ronald Dale McNeil and #44 John Ebeling.
Hickory Motor Speedway will be in action next Saturday April 8 th with door-to-door action in the Bojangles Late Models, Limited Late Models, Pro-4, J&J Roofing Street Stocks, Advance Auto Parts Super Trucks, and Hobby Stocks. See you there!