In speaking with Steve Arpin after practice yesterday, Steve told me “he’d see me in victory lane on Sunday.”
That he did. Starting on the outside of the front row, Arpin made quick work of 16-year-old polesitter Max Gresham and went on to lead 138 circuits, scoring a convincing first victory in what was an emotional triumph for both driver and owner alike; Venturini Motorsports owner Billy Venturini scored his only career ARCA win as a driver on the Salem oval.
“I tell you what, this the most incredible feeling in the world,” said Arpin after emerging from his car, parked on the start/finish line after the checkered flag flew. “This race track is incredible. It was just a blast to drive around this place.”
When asked what the biggest challenge was for his No. 55 team that saw the gritty Salem oval covered in dust and asphalt chunks, the field involved in a number of incidents, and lapped traffic proving to be a factor all day long, Arpin was quick to identify the No. 16 car of Joey Coulter as his closest competition (Coulter led 23 laps but finished 14th after being spun late race by Tim George Jr.)
“I tell you what, that No. 16 car was good,” he said. “It was a shame he got wrecked because we got our car really good at the end. It would have been exciting to race with Joey.”
With Coulter knocked out of the running after his wreck on lap 187, Arpin was unmolested from the race’s final restart on lap 192 to the checkers – but that’s not to say there wasn’t a lot going on in the final laps. Craig Goess managed to get around Patrick Sheltra late to score a runner-up finish, his career best in ARCA competition, crossing the line just ahead of Justin Marks, who finished third and stayed tied for the ARCA points lead with Arpin. Sheltra had the best shot of anyone to steal the victory when he got a great run on Arpin on a lap 181 restart charge into turn 1, but contact with the No. 55 car cost him his right-front fender. Sheltra’s damage cut down a tire on his No. 60 in turn 4 on the final lap, but he nonetheless crossed the finish line in the top five.
A number of drivers in the top 10 in points suffered through rough days. Robb Brent had started the day with high hopes, but after qualifying outside the top 15 and struggling to make any progress throughout the day, the driver of the No. 36 got into a tangle with Ted Minor in the No. 89 that left both cars too damaged to continue. Brent finished 24th. Mikey Kile also endured a second hard hit in as many days; his backup No. 25 car cut a tire exiting turn 3 and pounded the wall in an incident that was literally an instant replay of his practice crash Saturday. Frontstretch spoke to team officials, who were unable to identify the seemingly identical problem that wrecked two team cars in two days.
George Jr., RCR development driver, also capped what was a difficult weekend for the organization’s development drivers all over the country. Radio troubles early in the event irked both the No. 31 team’s spotter and ARCA officials, who had difficulty on numerous occasions getting his car lined up. George was eventually black-flagged for not starting at the end of the field after receiving the Lucky Dog on lap 53. Things got worse as the day progressed, as George would tangle with and wreck Rick Ware Racing development driver Timmy Hill and Coulter, ruining top-10 finishes for both teams before the race was all said and done.
Lastly, Frank Kimmel turned in an eighth-place finish, but was never a contender for the win in front of a highly-partisan pro-Kimmel crowd at Salem (his driver introduction ovation was by far the most enthusiastic of the 33 drivers in the field). The No. 44 car actually spent much of the second half of the race a lap down.
The race’s presenting sponsor, ApplianceZone.com, stepped up early Sunday morning to provide sponsorship for two cars in the field, but that ultimately proved to be the kiss of death. Eddie Sharp Racing’s Brandon McReynolds (whose father Larry made the trip from the Sprint Cup race in Phoenix to see the event) ran in the top 15 throughout the first 60 laps of the race, but retired after only 64 circuits due to an overheating motor.
Meanwhile, Chris Buescher, a Roush Fenway development prospect who finished fourth in this race one year ago, suffered heavy damage to his front fenders on the race’s opening start after Arpin spun his tires, creating an accordion effect that sent Buescher hard into the rear end of Kimmel. The damage forced Buescher to pit under green on lap 5 to change a cut tire, putting him multiple laps down. Buescher ran times comparable to race leaders all day long, but finished 12th, three laps off the pace.
Polesitter Gresham finished sixth, while Alli Owens finished ninth, a career best short-track finish in ARCA competition.