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Aumann: Parker makes biggest splash at California in 2001

March 22, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

The son of a legendary bass fisherman, Hank Parker Jr. learned early on that if you use the right lure, you can catch anything you might have your mind set on.

Parker lured the rest of the field into a sense of complacency in the 2001 Auto Club 300 at California Speedway and wound up catching a break on fuel mileage that landed him his first victory in what is now known as the Nationwide Series.

Parker

Parker started 26th and lost a lap early because of a slow pit stop under green. At that point, he was running right behind leader Greg Biffle, which allowed him to accomplish two things. First, he got his lap back when the caution came out for oil on the track on Lap 81. Second, Biffle inadvertently helped Parker figure out a better racing groove.

"Greg let me get back on the lead lap, then I saw how much faster he was on that outside line than I was down low, so I started running the outside line like he was and it worked for us," Parker said in his post-race comments.

Kelly Denton and Robby Faggart spun immediately after the race restarted, and that allowed Parker and Jeff Purvis to top off their tanks under yellow with 62 laps remaining. It was a decision that Parker and crew chief Billy Nacewicz had discussed earlier in the day -- if the timing was perfect, they'd try and make it to the end of the race without another stop.

However, two things needed to go their way. One, the race had to stay green until the end. Two, Parker had to save as much fuel as he could in the tank of the No. 36 Chevrolet.

"We were within about a lap of making it," Nacewicz said after the race. "I told Hank he just had to draft anybody out there he could to save gas."

One by one, the leaders eventually turned onto pit road. First, Biffle came in for four tires and fuel. Then, Jeff Green made a splash-and-go stop. And finally, Kevin Harvick peeled off the track for the pits, allowing Parker to take the lead for the first time with 10 laps remaining.

Inside the cockpit, Parker was doing everything he could think of to conserve what fuel remained in the tank.

"I started watching the gauge and I let off [the accelerator] real early and I quit using any brakes," Parker said. "I tried to follow cars in front of me. I tried to be real smart and not get sideways and get that spoiler out in the air."

On the radio, Nacewicz and the spotter were trying to keep Parker calm and focused. Knowing all he had to do at that point was stay in front of Purvis -- who also was in extreme conservation mode -- Parker's mind began to wander, however.

"With four [laps] to go, I started to get pretty emotional," Parker said. "Then I said, 'Man, that's pretty stupid. You've still got four to go and you're probably going to run out of gas.' It was pretty hard to choke back the tears."

The engine never skipped a beat, allowing Parker to beat Purvis to the line by 5.458 seconds to earn his first series win in his 72nd start. However, Parker's attempt at a post-race victory celebration on the mainstretch ended prematurely when the tank finally went dry.

"Believe me, I can do better doughnuts than that," Parker said. "I just didn't have enough gas to do it right."

Green finished third, followed by Kevin Lepage, Harvick and Biffle (Complete Results). Green definitely was surprised -- and more than a bit impressed -- that Parker was able to make such a risky gamble pay off.

"I don't know how those guys ran that far on gas," Green said. "They don't have the same fuel cell I've got. Hank Parker did a good job and they played the strategy right."

Parker averaged a race-record 155.963 mph and won $87,545 for what he called an "unbelievable" victory.

After the season, the team was sold to Wayne Jesel and switched to Dodges for 2002. Parker followed his California success with a win at Pikes Peak. That also was the year Parker made his only Cup start, finishing 33rd at Rockingham for Ray Evernham.

However, the team shuttered its doors during the offseason, leaving Parker without a full-time ride for 2003. He drove a part-time schedule that year before getting a full-season deal with the Trucks in 2004. Parker scored two top-five finishes and four top-10s, but that team also went out of business.

Parker -- then 29 -- decided to switch careers, getting out of the racing business for good. For the past seven years, Parker has worked for family owned Dry Creek Production, a Denver, N.C.-based media company that created the Hank Parker 3D outdoor sports television series.