Rogelio Lopez Wins Music City 150 NASCAR Busch East Series Race
Nashville, Tenn. (July 22, 2007) – Rogelio Lopez, from Aquascalientes, Mexico, became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series oval track race when he took the checkered flag in Sunday's Music City 150 at Nashville, Tennessee's Music City Motorplex. Lopez, 27, took the race lead from Jamie Hayes on a lap 109 restart and only gave the lead back for one lap before reassuming it for good, beating series point leader Joey Logano and 28 other drivers for his first win.
"I want to dedicate this win to my dad," the 2006 NASCAR Mexico champion said after the race. "He was the first person to ever take me to a track and he was a past champion in Mexico in 1984 and 1985. He passed away four years ago, but I want to give him this win. Hopefully this will be the first of many."
This was the first East Series race held at the historic high-banked .625-mile oval. Lopez realized quickly that tire conservation would be the key to victory. In practice he worked on running the higher groove of the track and found that to his liking. His No. 03 Telmex/Lucas Oil Chevrolet wasn't good on fresh tires, which left it only fifteenth after qualifying. Lopez was confident that he would have a better race, though.
"We were good in the beginning of practice, but then we were having some problems with the sticker tires," he said. "I'm confident for the race, though. We'll have to save tires and race hard the last thirty laps. We have to save tires because this is one of those tracks where the tire wear is pretty high. I think we're going to be pretty good, running high on the racetrack to save tires and it'll pay off at the end of the race."
Lopez put his tire-saving strategy to work right at the beginning of the race, but started to assert himself after halfway. He dodged a wreck on lap 72 and instantly moved from tenth to fifth. Following that restart, he moved to second place on lap 83 and started hounding race leader Jamie Hayes. Caution on lap 103 put Lopez on the outside of Hayes' No. 52 car for the next restart.
"The 52 was really strong on the bottom but I think he was using his tires a little more than we were earlier in the race," he explained. "When I was right behind him, before the caution came out, I knew that I was catching him. My spotter was trying to get me to move up a groove because the car was working better there and it saved tires as well."
Lopez drove away from that restart with the race lead. He held that lead to the end with the exception of a single lap after a lap 131 restart when Hayes got his nose ahead of the Telmex Chevy before falling back into second place. Lopez then had to defend the lead through a pair of late-race restarts where he was alongside three-time winner Joey Logano.
"The car was really good on restarts," he said. "After we got the lead we still had better tires and we were pulling away each lap. When that last caution came out it closed things up a bit. I wasn't nervous, though. We're familiar with being in that position in the NASCAR Mexico Series. I knew that Logano had a strong car so I just had to focus on the restart and not miss a shift and move up as quickly as I could."
Lopez' win came after he suffered a streak of three bad races, but now he's turned things around.
"I know that we've been working really hard, but we needed to focus a little bit more on things and I think that paid back huge this weekend," he said. "We had a really strong car. I was struggling in time trials a little bit but I knew we had a strong car for the long runs. I was working on the outside line, saving tires for the end and I think that helped a lot. We were very strong on the top by the end. Logano and some of the other drivers near us at the end had really good cars, driving for really strong teams, but we had a good piece this week."
Not only was this Lopez' first Busch East win, but it was also the first for the Dave Davis Motorsports team and crew chief Fred Skaff.
"We've been working hard with the team and I'm very confident of them," Lopez said. "We're basically a brand new team with Fred and some other guys joining just this year. It was hard at the beginning of the year to get everyone on the same page, but I think this win comes at a good time for us. We were having bad races, but now we're moving back in the right direction in the points."
Lopez will try for two in a row when the Busch East Series returns to action on Saturday night at the half-mile Adirondack International Speedway in Lowville, New York.