Tires were the story of Friday’s ARCA race at Michigan, and in the end the Hoosiers proved to be exactly what it took to slow down the torrid recent run of Brennan Poole. Coming off two consecutive wins, Poole took the lead from polesitter Joey Coulter early and led the first 59 circuits. Until, that is, that tire wear reared its ugly head in the Venturini Motorsports camp. With the team’s three contending cars reduced to shorter runs due to tire concerns, the door was opened wide, and Chris Buescher bounced, holding off a very hard late race change from Alex Bowman to score his seventh career ARCA win by a nose. Matt Lofton, Brennan Newberry and Brandon Davis rounded out the top 5.
While tire issues were not unexpected given the speeds resulting from the repave at Michigan (Joey Coulter broke the track record during qualifying), they notably struck some teams harder than others. Besides Poole, Venturini drivers Kevin Swindell and Ryan Reed were also stuck the second half of the event fighting vibrations in their race cars resulting from Hoosier wear. Also, in what was a preview of the trouble that Nationwide Series regulars Danica Patrick and Brad Sweet would have the day after, the new surface also proved vulnerable to unassisted spin-outs; Nelson Canache went around early in the event, triggering a massive crash that collected Tom Hessert and Larry Barford Jr, the ugliest incident of the afternoon.
With Poole finishing three laps down in 11th despite leading the most laps, Chris Buescher moved to within 20 markers of the lead heading into Sunday’s race at Winchester. Frank Kimmel finished seventh and now sits third in points, 95 back of the lead.
It goes without saying that an exhilarating win by *Chris Buescher* that moved the No. 17 team to within striking distance of the points lead is a good thing, but this was a large win on a number of levels for the *Roulo Brothers* team. Though Buescher’s win was the seventh of his career and fifth in the past two seasons, all of those trophies had come on either short tracks or dirt tracks (four at Toledo alone), this was the first of his career on a superspeedway, a critical stepping stone for the team to contend for the championship given the strength of the Venturini and Cunningham camps on the longer ovals. In addition to Buescher’s win, teammate *Brandon Davis* shook off late race mechanical woes at Pocono a week prior to finish a career-best fifth in the team’s No. 99 entry.
*Alex Bowman* came within inches of scoring the win at Michigan, but arguably delivered the most impressive performance of the afternoon given the steps his No. 22 car took visibly on the race track to manage tires and stay on track for longer runs. Though Bowman made a noticeable slip in turn 2 with a few laps to go that likely cost him the win in running down Buescher, the Cunningham Motorsports development driver demonstrated early and often a firm grasp of tire management that kept his team in contention all afternoon. His was a performance worth noting.
*Coulter Motorsports* may not have gotten the result they were looking for with their No. 61 entry (*Joey Coulter* finished a distant ninth despite winning the pole), their full-time driver continued his recent run of momentum. *Matt Lofton* led 15 laps on Friday and scored his fourth top 5 finish in the last five races that has seen the No. 16 team surge from 10th to sixth in points, within striking distance of the top 5 should the CGH team of Chad Hackenbracht in front of them prove fruitless in finding sponsorship for the near future.
*Brennan Newberry* finished fourth in his ARCA debut, while John Blakenship finished a career-high sixth and Spencer Gallagher a career-high eighth.
Longtime driver/owner *Brad Smith* made his first ARCA start of the 2012 season driving Wayne Peterson Racing’s No. 0. He finished 25th, completing 56 of the 100 laps run.
All of the horsepower that *Venturini Motorsports* brought to bear at MIS proved to be all for naught, as Hoosier tire wear proved enough to force *Brennan Poole*, *Kevin Swindell* and *Ryan Reed* all off the lead lap for repeated pit stops to change tires in the second half of the race. Add into that Nelson Canache’s wreck, and the Irish Hills proved to be all but kryptonite for the most powerful and prolific team in the field on Friday.
*Chad Hackenbracht* and team showed up even without sponsorship at Michigan less than a week after a strong showing at Pocono. But, a happy hour wreck derailed that effort before the green flag dropped. With the team’s primary car destroyed, the No. 58 team had no choice but to roll out their short-track car (SPEED reported it was intended for use at Winchester this Sunday). Already lacking speed, the team also ended up encountering engine troubles that stopped the No. 58 on track under an early yellow. Hackenbracht and team would eventually get back on track and complete 88 circuits, finishing 21st but dropping to fifth in points.
Longtime ARCA veteran *Bobby Gerhart* lasted only 39 laps before the engine expired in his No. 5 car. The 27th place result marked Gerhart’s third DNF in only five starts in the 2012 season; Gerhart hasn’t endured that many DNFs in a campaign since his last full-time run in the ARCA ranks back in 2008.
*Nelson Canache* brought out the first caution flag of the race early on Friday with an unassisted spin exiting turn 3, but it was the aftermath that turned this incident from a spin to an incident. Though Canache managed to hold his line trying to slow his car down, *Tom Hessert III* had no way to avoid the machine and ended up suffering heavy sheet metal damage to the right side of his car that relegated him to a 24th place result, his first finish outside the top 15 in 2012 and first dating back to DuQuoin last summer. The wreck wasn’t over though…as Canache’s car continued down the banking, *Larry Barford Jr.* came barreling through on the bottom of the track and smashed into the rear end of the No. 35, utterly destroying his own race car in the process. The contact was hard enough even to break the windshield of Barford’s machine. Canache and Barford finished 32nd and 33rd.
*The Final Word*
• OK, SPEED doesn’t do ARCA all the time, but there’s no excuse for showing a video of Alex Bowman qualifying the No. 22 car when recognizing Joey Coulter for winning the pole.
• Tire management was the name of the game on Friday, and it was a hugely entertaining second half of the race to see some drivers forced to pit road repeatedly for tires and others that actually figured out a line and a pace to manage their rubber enough to get a shot at the victory. This is the type of episode that NASCAR racing has been missing these days, and is what made the second half of this event worth watching despite the depleted field and Brennan Poole’s early dominance.
*Next Up*: The ARCA Racing Series heads to the high banks of Winchester, Indiana for 200 laps on Sunday, June 24. The Herr’s Chase the Taste 200 goes green at 2 PM central time.
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