Monday, June 27, 2011
Eleventh-Hour "Thrash" Propels Cunningham to Win;
News & Notes from ARCA Racing Series at Winchester Speedway
(TOLEDO, Ohio) - Dakoda Armstrong spoke with a hint of surprise in Victory Lane Saturday night at Winchester Speedway, but not because he'd won after a thrilling pass for the lead on Lap 190. Had Armstrong been asked one week earlier if his No. 22 Cunningham Motorsports Dodge would even enter at the half-mile Indiana oval, he might not have answered affirmatively.
Armstrong talked about the hard work that crew chief Paul Andrews and the Cunningham Motorsports crew devoted to the car that gave him his third career ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards win.
"We weren't planning on running this race until Monday, so they thrashed at it and got the car ready to go," he said. "I've got to thank Cardinal Ethanol, Murex, and ICM. We wouldn't be able to come out here without them."
Armstrong noted key calls by the veteran Andrews late in the race, and admitted that Ryan Blaney's No. 25 Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet was the car to beat before his late tire woes. Nonetheless, he called the win a good one for his team, saying, "We'll definitely take it."
A native of nearby New Castle, Ind., Armstrong knew that passing at the track just 35 minutes from his hometown would be tough, but did not allow that to slow him.
"I thought it was going to be hard to pass here because it's one line around the top," he said. "Luckily, when cars starting falling off we were able to get a nice run off of the corners and get up under them."
In just under three weeks, on July 16 - incidentally, his 20th birthday - Armstrong will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut for ThorSport Racing as a teammate to Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter, two series veterans.
"They're great guys," Armstrong said. "I've met them all, and we've been gearing up for this race all year. I'm really excited to go up and jump in the truck. I wish I could be running ARCA at the same time, but I think we're going to focus on the truck race there. Hopefully, we'll have about six more races this year and try to get a full season in the Truck Series next year."
Armstrong's win made him the 101st driver in ARCA Racing Series history with three career wins, following Ty Dillon, who became the 100th earlier this season by winning at Talladega Superspeedway.
Dillon Extends Lead in Standings: Ty Dillon (No. 41 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet) finished fourth and extended his ARCA Racing Series points lead over Frank Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford) to 245 points, up from 210 after Michigan and 155 after Pocono. Chris Buescher (No. 17 David Ragan Ford/Roulo Brothers Racing Ford) stayed third, 260 points behind Dillon - the same difference between the two before the race.
Chad McCumbee (No. 1 ModSpace Ford) and Grant Enfinger (No. 36 Hoosier Tire Midwest/RaceTires.com Ford) are still fourth and fifth, and are followed by Tim George Jr. (No. 31 Applebee's/Potomac Family Dining Group Chevrolet). George was the only driver in the top 10 to improve his standings position after the Winchester ARCA 200. He finished 11th in the race.
Matt Merrell (No. 32 Champion Oil Dodge) fell to seventh, and Tom Hessert (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet) kept control of eighth. Chad Hackenbracht (No. 58 Tastee Chocolate Apples Chevrolet) and Sean Corr (No. 82 Roush Yates Performance/Roush Yates Engines Ford) remain the final two drivers in the top 10.
The official ARCA Racing Series point standings will be released Tuesday.
Dillon led 29 laps, up from 22 last week at Michigan, to increase his advantage in the Aaron's Lap Leader Award standings. His 216 total laps led this season are more than any other driver in the series. He has led laps in seven of nine races.
The rookie points leader discussed how his bid for a fifth win this season ended when he began to bottom out late in the race.
"It's unfortunate," Dillon said. "It doesn't happen to us often, but it's still a good points day. We qualified well and led a couple of laps. I'm happy. I just like winning, so it's a little disappointing to lead laps there at the end of the race and fall off so bad. We saved our stuff all day and rode and were hoping for what happened to happen, for guys to wear their stuff out and us be patient as usual to let the race come to us, but something happened there and we just got too loose."
Dillon talked about racing closely with Buescher, which was a theme throughout each stage of the race.
"We raced really clean together. At a track like this, to race like that and not hit anybody is pretty good. I just had a lot of fun doing that."
Hackenbracht Cruises to New Career-Best...Again: Chad Hackenbracht has risen so sharply in recent ARCA Racing Series races that there might be shock when he can no longer continue his run of earning career-best finishes, which he has done in five of his last six races dating back to May 15 at Toledo Speedway. However, he can't be blamed, as there's little room to move.
Hackenbracht finished third, an improvement on recent finishes - in order - of 11th (Toledo), ninth (New Jersey), 20th (Chicagoland), seventh (Pocono), and fourth (Michigan).
"We don't have any more room to go; I think a win might be coming up next," Hackenbracht said. "Man, I can't thank (competition director) Kevin (Reed) and (crew chief Rob) "Bucket" (Torrey) enough. We made two tires on that first stop and I didn't think it was the greatest call starting out, and then we got looser and looser as the run went on. Everybody was cutting tires, and we wound up getting the Lucky Dog, and that was just killer."
Reed and Torrey entered their roles with CGH Motorsports before the Talladega race in April, and then led Hackenbracht to finishes of 17th there and 19th at Salem before a sharp run up the standings. Hackenbracht was 27th in driver points after the Talladega event, and has risen to ninth place.
Saturday, he earned the CGS Imaging Hard Charger of the Race Award by improving a race-high 12 positions from the start. The award was Hackenbracht's second of the season (New Jersey) and helped him build his lead in the year's Hard Charger standings.
By leading Lap 100 - his last of six led laps - Hackenbracht also won the $500 Messina Halfway Leader Award, his second of the year (Chicagoland).
Buescher's Top-Five Run Nearing High: Chris Buescher finished second Saturday, his fourth runner-up effort this season. His seven top-five finishes without a win matches last season's high of top-fives for a winless driver - Frank Kimmel - and is one short of Kimmel's eight top-fives without a win over the 2009 season.
Having established himself as a threat at any short track he visits, Buescher may be able to wipe himself from 2011's winless list July 9 at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich., near Grand Rapids.
"We're looking for sponsorship to be able to go to Berlin and then some of these upcoming races," Buescher said. "We'll see what we can't figure out and hope to be there."
Hessert Performs Well in Front of Sponsors: Tom Hessert finished fifth in the Winchester ARCA 200 presented by Federated Auto Parts, a positive for him while racing in front of numerous guests from his car sponsor and the race's presenting sponsor.
"The guys in the pits did a really good job of getting us back out," he said. "We didn't have the best car; we had a couple issues that were keeping us from being better, but it was a good top-five for the Federated car at a Federated race. It's good to have a good showing for them. It's too bad we couldn't get a win, but in a couple weeks we'll go to Berlin and we always run really well there."
Venturini Drivers Add Top-10s to Team's Haul: Ryan Blaney (No. 25 Lauren Briant/Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet) had the car to beat in his ARCA Racing Series debut, first leading practice and winning the Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell, and then running first for 154 of the first 161 laps.
A flat right tire on Lap 162, however, damaged Blaney's run for a victory. He rebounded to finish sixth.
"We were trying to take it easy in the race, just trying to save our stuff," said Blaney, winner of the $500 Aaron's Lap Leader Award. "I think if we could have had 10 more laps after we blew a tire, we could have passed Ty for the lead and then we would have been one lap down and got that caution and been in business. It just wasn't meant to be.
"I ran the same line I did 50 laps in a row. I was just taking it so easy, especially to help that right front and to keep it from doing what it did. I don't know if our camber was off or what. But it was a great night. I've got to thank Venturini for letting me run this car and making it as good as it was. We'll get 'em next time."
The son of NASCAR and World of Outlaws veteran Dave Blaney found his first ARCA experience positive, and said that he hopes to make a few more starts this season.
"It's great to race in the ARCA (Racing) Series," Blaney said. "There are really good guys racing, especially here, a place like Winchester."
Another driver making his ARCA debut for Venturini was John Blankenship, a West Virginia late model competitor who will turn 30 next Sunday. Blankenship finished 10th in the No. 55 Chevrolet, giving Venturini 11 top-10s with nine different drivers this season.
Ohio Drivers Earn Career-Highs in Top 15: Chad Hackenbracht, a New Philadelphia, Ohio native, wasn't the only driver from the Buckeye State who earned a career-high finish at Winchester Speedway, which is just under 12 miles from Ohio's western border.
Napoleon's Jared Marks (No. 8 VR-12/Dodge Motorsports/Mad Croc Dodge) finished 12th in his second ARCA start, an improvement of one position from his debut at Toledo in May.
Oak Harbor's Levi Youster (No. 23 Fox Realty/Hixson Construction Ford) ended the race 14th, also an improvement of one position from his former career high, which he had achieved three times.
Toledo's Mike Young (No. 7 Arctic Racing Air/Dave White Chevrolet) drove home 15th, edging his 19th-place finish at Toledo last month.
Hylton Earns Season Best, Evans 18th in Debut: James Hylton (No. 48 Radon.com Ford) finished 17th, his best result in nine races this season. Terry Evans, a late model driver for Chad McCumbee Racing, finished 18th in his ARCA debut, driving the No. 14 Andy Belmont Racing/TheIndustrialDepot.com Ford as a teammate to McCumbee.
Berlin Rookies Look Forward: Ty Dillon and Chad Hackenbracht both looked forward to the July 9 Hantz Group 200 at Berlin Raceway when speaking after the Winchester ARCA 200, mentioning that their lack of experience hasn't taken away from their excitement for visiting a venue new to them.
"I'm pretty pumped," Hackenbracht said. "I heard it's kind of a weird track, but I'm excited and ready to learn."
Asked how he would prepare, Dillon reacted similarly.
"It's round and has no (backstretch) wall. I guess we'll just figure it out and learn it like these other tracks we haven't been to when we get there."
Family the Focus for Belmont: Even while placing two cars in the top 20 and helping Chad McCumbee maintain his position in the top five in ARCA Racing Series points, team owner Andy Belmont had his mind on another situation while at Winchester Speedway over the weekend.
Belmont's brother, Kevin, suffered crushed vertebrae in a heavy equipment accident Thursday in Pennsylvania. Kevin Belmont remains in the hospital, and Andy said he'll devote much of his time to being with his brother, a former ARCA competitor himself.
"We were planning on testing at Lucas Oil Raceway over the Fourth of July, but we'll probably head to Pennsylvania to see (Kevin)," Andy Belmont said. "It's family, so that's what we'll probably do."
Kevin Belmont, 46, has made 49 ARCA Racing Series starts since his debut in 2000, and finished 11th in driver points in 2001 and 2002.
Former ARCA Driver Bigelow Visits Hometown Track: Alan Bigelow, a former ARCA Racing Series driver who hails from Winchester, Ind., was at Winchester Speedway Saturday supporting his children Thomas and Stephanie, who were entered in the CRA FWD (Front Wheel Drive) Compacts race that took place after the Winchester 200.
Alan Bigelow made 14 ARCA starts between 1979 and 2001 and earned a 10th-place finish at Winchester in 1998. His father, Tom, raced in the Indianapolis 500 nine times and earned USAC National Sprint Car (1977) and National Midget (1984) championships.
Correction: Matt Merrell's car manufacturer was incorrectly represented in Saturday's post-race summary released by the Automobile Racing Club of America. The error has been corrected in an online version of the story and in this release.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards returns to action after the Independence Day holiday weekend, with a race Saturday, July 9 at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich., just outside Grand Rapids. The Hantz Group 200 is scheduled as the 10th race of 19 on the ARCA Racing Series schedule, and will begin at 8:30 p.m. with live timing and scoring coverage provided at ARCARacing.com. The event will be the 24th for the series at Berlin since 1958.
ARCA Racing Series practice begins at 2:30 p.m., and will last for 90 minutes. Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell follows at 5, and the ARCA Racing Series drivers will participate in an autograph session at 6:15, just before the race. ARCARacing.com will feature live timing and scoring coverage of all events.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards features 19 events at 16 tracks on its 2011 schedule. The series has crowned an ARCA national champion each year since its inaugural season in 1953, and has toured over 200 race tracks in 28 states since its inception. The series tests the abilities of drivers and race teams over the most diverse schedule of stock car racing events in the world, annually visiting tracks ranging from 0.4 mile to 2.66 miles in length, on both paved and dirt surfaces as well as a left- and right-turn road course.
Founded by John Marcum in 1953 in Toledo, Ohio, the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) is recognized among the leading sanctioning bodies in the country. Closing in on completing its sixth decade after hundreds of thousands of miles of racing, ARCA administers over 100 race events each season in two professional touring series and local weekly events.
Griffin Hickman, ARCA
(419) 574-2685 (mobile)
Don Radebaugh, ARCA
(419) 450-0611 (mobile)