TOLEDO - After leaving Salem Speedway and the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA Fall Classic, Chris Buescher has an 85-point lead atop the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards standings, greater than any leading driver's advantage through 18 races this year.
Immediately following Lap 48 of Saturday's race, though, such a scenario might have been completely unexpected. Buescher (No. 17 Roulo Brothers Racing Ford) found himself caught up in a Turn 4 accident with substantial rear end damage, among other issues. Having taken the lead from Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell winner Chase Elliott on the first lap, Buescher had led every lap but found himself driving to pit road. He came back onto the track 15th, the last driver on the lead lap.
Buescher rebounded to finish second, though, passing Elliott with less than 10 laps to go to take the first spot behind race winner Tom Hessert. On a night when Buescher's championship hopes could have taken a severe blow, he actually improved his chances and made the race one to remember.
"It was too eventful for me, that's for sure," Buescher said. "We were really, really good right off the start there. Chase Elliott, I think he was really toying with me for the first couple laps, but he raced me really clean and I tried to return the favor there late in the race. It was a lot of fun with him so I've got to say thanks to him."
Buescher drove to pit road several times following the Lap 48 incident for service from his Roulo Brothers Racing crew. He did not need much time to pass his main championship rival, Frank Kimmel, who assumed second place behind Elliott after the initial crash. On Lap 87, with Kimmel falling back, Buescher passed him for seventh place. By the race's halfway point at Lap 100, Buescher was in the top five.
At night's end, Buescher had clinched the Bill France Four Crown and extended his lead over Kimmel by 25 points. Buescher has now gained 70 points on Kimmel in the last two races after leaving the Illinois State Fairgrounds with a 15-point advantage on August 19.
"The Roulo Brothers did a really nice job, but we ended up with a torn-up race car," he said. "We took second place and got the Four Crown, so that's always good, really good news for us. We still gained some points. All in all, these guys did a nice job battling back. We had our radiator leaking and lost water pressure there. It took everything we could do to keep it cool, so it was a very nice job. I just wish we could have gotten a Ford in Victory Lane here."
Now, one week and two races in October will decide the ARCA Racing Series title. The October 14 event at the DuQuoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds and the October 19 season finale at Kansas Speedway place Buescher at tracks where last season he finished first and second, respectively.
"We need to do what we've been doing," he said. "We're showing up with fast cars every week and it's showing. This was about the roughest night we've had in a long time and we ended up second, so we're doing the right things. We're trying really hard. We just need to get a sponsor on this car to help out."
All Top-Fives for Buescher in Four Crown Run: With his second-place finish at Salem Speedway, Chris Buescher clinched the Bill France Four Crown Award over Frank Kimmel and Alex Bowman. Buescher earned 765 race points in the competition.
The award, depictive of the series' versatility, is a separate point fund that tests drivers on four very different tracks. This year's Bill France Four Crown included events in four different months on the calendar: the June 15 race at Michigan International Speedway; the July 1 road course event at New Jersey Motorsports Park's challenging Thunderbolt Raceway; the August 19 dirt mile race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield; and Saturday's short track showdown at Salem.
The award is certainly important for whom it's named after - Bill France Sr. - but also for what it represents: variety. No other touring series requires drivers to compete on as many different styles of tracks as the ARCA Racing Series does. The award truly captures the essence of ARCA competition.
Buescher won at Michigan just weeks before finishing third at New Jersey. His low point was still a strong fifth-place finish in Springfield. By earning top-fives in each Four Crown race, Buescher became the first Four Crown winner to accomplish that feat since Parker Kligerman took two wins and two runner-up finishes to win the 2009 prize.
Kimmel was the only other driver to drive to top-10 finishes in every Four Crown race. He finished 40 points behind Buescher. Bowman was third, 55 points from the top. Spencer Gallagher (-150) and Brennan Poole (-180) rounded out the top five.
Buescher Continues to Gain: As referenced above, Chris Buescher's 85-point lead atop the standings is greater than any other lead by a first-place driver in the 17 races prior to Saturday's Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA Fall Classic presented by Federated Car Care.
Frank Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Toyota) finished fourth, only two positions behind Buescher, but lost more ground than those positions would indicate. Buescher qualified second to earn 10 bonus points while Kimmel was outside the top three, and Buescher also led laps to earn a five-point bonus there. Still, at just a 4445-4360 deficit to Buescher, Kimmel is in a fair position with two races remaining at tracks where he has a combined seven wins (five at DuQuoin, two at Kansas).
Brennan Poole (No. 25 Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet) finished eighth and remained third, 175 points out of the lead. Alex Bowman (No. 22 St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Dodge) finished fifth and stands fourth, 220 points under Buescher.
Chad Hackenbracht (No. 58 CGH Motorsports Chevrolet) remained fifth, but Matt Lofton (No. 16 Strutmasters.com Chevrolet) closed his gap to the top five with a 10th-place finish. He now stands just 20 points short of Hackenbracht for fifth place.
The rest of the top 10 also remained unchanged: Spencer Gallagher (No. 23 Allegiant Air Chevrolet), Nelson Canache (No. 35 Venezuela Tourism Chevrolet), Tom Hessert (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet), and Josh Williams (No. 02 Southwest Florida Cable Construction Chevrolet) fill the seventh through 10th positions, respectively.
ARCA will release the full and official standings Tuesday. The unofficial top 10 is posted at ARCARacing.com.
Hessert Leads First Oval Laps of '12 in Win: Before Saturday, Tom Hessert had led in just one race in the 2012 ARCA Racing Series season. Back in July, Hessert led six laps at New Jersey Motorsports Park, the road course in his home state. He took the lead on Lap 123 Saturday and did not look back, accounting for 78 laps and the Aaron's Lap Leader race award to go along with his second career victory.
On the spotter's stand for Hessert was team owner Ken Schrader, who received heavy congratulations from his counterparts for his first ARCA win in two seasons as Hessert's car owner.
"Kenny was here and it's always good to have him at the race track. It's very cool to have him here when we won. I wouldn't have it be any other way."
Hessert confirmed today in a radio interview that he will race at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds on Sunday, October 14. Schrader even invited him to run in a dirt modified race in Terre Haute, Ind. two days before that. Hessert's status for the October 19 season finale at Kansas Speedway is uncertain.
Bowman Takes Rookie Lead after Tight Arrival: Alex Bowman finished fifth in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA Fall Classic just hours after landing in Salem, Ind. to complete a rare racing doubleheader.
Bowman made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut over 200 miles to the northwest at Chicagoland Speedway earlier Saturday afternoon, and had to hustle to arrive at Salem before the green flag. He finished 17th at Chicagoland at 5 p.m. Central, or 6 p.m. Salem time, and almost immediately boarded a helicopter and then a private plane to travel to southern Indiana. Bowman's plane landed at Salem Municipal Airport, just behind Turns 1 and 2 at Salem Speedway, at 7:18 p.m. Fans watched his plane touch the ground as the first several drivers were being introduced. Bowman took a golf cart to pit road, where he signed in with an ARCA official and then waited for his turn to be introduced to the crowd.
Though Dakoda Armstrong - like Bowman, a past Salem winner for Cunningham Motorsports - had qualified 10th, Bowman had to start at the back of the field because of the driver change.
"Man, it's been a long day," Bowman said after the race. "From everybody at Turner Motorsports to everybody at Cunningham Motorsports, I just can't thank all the guys enough. I struggled a little bit in the Nationwide race and came out here and started off struggling. We were really free, but Paul Andrews and the guys got the No. 22 St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital Dodge all tuned up there at the end. We drove around the whole field the best we could to get to fifth, and we were the fastest car on the race track, but it is what it is.
"It's cool to see Tom win another one. He's a great guy and has been a really cool competitor and good friend off the race track."
Bowman was the top-finishing registrant in the Team Messina Rookie Challenge for the race, his ninth such honor this year. Though Brennan Poole has more rookie points when all 18 races are counted, Bowman holds the lead in adjusted points. He has outscored Poole 422-418 over each driver's best 15. Bowman had entered the race with a 12-point deficit in the adjusted standings.
Six Races, Six Top-10s in Elliott's First ARCA Year: Sixteen-year-old Chase Elliott (No. 9 Aaron's Dream Machine/HendrickCars.com Chevrolet) finished a busy week with a third-place finish at Salem Speedway. He led 41 laps.
Earlier in the week, Elliott had traveled to Chicago for media obligations as one of NASCAR's Next 9, highlighting the top drivers in NASCAR's developmental divisions. On Friday, though, Elliott shifted his focus to the ARCA Racing Series, participating at an autograph session in downtown Salem with 12 other drivers. The next day, he posted the fastest practice speed and earned his first Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell.
"It started off good but didn't end the way we wanted it to," Elliott said. "We had a great car. I couldn't have asked for a better car tonight. The way the cautions fell, they didn't really fall our way but you can't do anything about that. The way I ran the tires, I was hoping to get two more there at the end and really get after it hard, but that was just my fault. You live and you learn. We'll just have to come back and be stronger."
Elliott finished his first ARCA season with three top-fives and six top-10s in six starts, with the highlights a second-place finish at New Jersey Motorsports Park in July and Saturday's pole win and third-place run. He ended happy to have made some improvements throughout the year.
"It was a lot of fun," he said. "I feel like we made, from the first race at Mobile and the first race here at Salem, a lot of gains. We had a great run at the road course and a good run here tonight, so I feel like we're making gains. If we can just continue to improve, then next year we'll come back even stronger."
Race runner-up Chris Buescher said Elliott raced him clean while running second to him over the first quarter of the race. Buescher tried to return the favor when passing Elliott for second in the final 10 laps, and Elliott took note.
"I appreciate it," he said. "He raced me clean all night. This is a race track where you have to give and take and the last thing I want to do is mess up what these guys have going for a championship. For him to get in that wreck and come back and rebound like that was extremely impressive. They made the right call on pit strategy and did the right things with their tires."
Kimmel Fourth but Leaves Tires Behind: Frank Kimmel finished fourth at his home track, but did not have the chance to take on new tires late in the race and potentially improve his position.
"The car was pretty daggone good most of the night," Kimmel said. "We stayed out too long on tires and it caught us and we got a lap down. We came in and put on four to get our lap back and drove right back to the front there. We were getting caught up pretty quick there but just ran out of time there at the end. We had two more tires there in the pits. We thought with about 30 to go, hopefully, we'd have a caution and be able to put the two on and try to make a run at it, but it wasn't to be."
The last 48 laps of the race went off without incident, and the veteran commented on the clean racing at the usually tumultuous Salem oval.
"I think it just goes back to how good the equipment is," he said. "These young kids are good race car drivers. They're all bringing really good race cars and we just don't see a lot of silly failures anymore."
On Gridiron or Grid, Mingus Competitive: Mason Mingus (No. 32 811 Call Before You Dig Toyota) arrived at Salem Speedway later than most drivers Saturday morning, traveling in from his home state of Tennessee after playing a high school football game the night before.
The 17-year-old, a student at Franklin Road Academy, helped his team to a 29-28 victory over a school from Kentucky. The next morning, he flew to Salem Speedway and arrived just before the 11:15 a.m. driver meeting in the track grandstands. He then finished sixth in his 12th start of 2012 for Win-Tron Racing, tying his career high.
"Yeah, it was definitely a busy two days," Mingus said. "We had a great game last night. It came down to the very end. We had to play all four quarters all out and won by one. Then we get on a plane this morning and flew here. I got here just in time to go to the driver meeting. I'm definitely exhausted at this point, but we had a good run going. We needed one more caution. We got hurt on the start and fell back and it cost us a lap. We fought it. We had two tires; I think us and Kimmel might have been the only people with two tires still in the pits, so it's too bad we didn't have one more caution. I think we would have had something for them. We had a great race car."
Mingus will turn 18 this November and plans to return to the ARCA Racing Series in 2013.
"We're ready to come back here next year. I think we'll have a car to win."
Duno Captures Second Hard Charger Award: Milka Duno (No. 94 David Leiner Racing/Milka Way Toyota) started 26th and improved to 13th by the checkered flag in Saturday's race, and her 13-position improvement helped her earn the CGS Imaging Hard Charger Award for the event. Duno earned the honor once prior to Saturday, at New Jersey Motorsports Park in July.
"It's a great feeling to win the CGS Imaging Hard Charger of the Race Award, especially at a challenging track like Salem," Duno said in a team press release. "We've been doing really well gaining positions in the races and (crew chief and team owner) Dave Leiner and the team have been working very hard. We need to work on our qualifying runs and if we can get more out of the car there then we'll have a chance to finish up in the top."
Career Highs for Several in Top 20: Outside of Tom Hessert and Mason Mingus, six drivers in the top 20 surpassed or matched career-best finishes in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA Fall Classic.
Frank Kimmel II (No. 09 Casite.com/Motor Honey/Roush Yates Performance Parts Ford) finished seventh to match his result at Salem from last fall. He led 34 laps around the middle of Saturday's race, and at one point lapped even his own father.
Ed Pompa (No. 10 Classic 3/Fast Track Dodge) was 16th, Tim Walter (No. 2 MPBToday.com/racersfood Dodge) was 19th, and Ronnie Souders Jr. (No. 87 Power Bore Cylinder Sleeves Chevrolet) was 20th; all of those performances were career bests.
Debut drivers finishing in the top 20 included Evan Pardo (No. 40 Carter 2 Motorsports Dodge) in 14th and Caleb Armstrong (No. 15 Mudd Advertising/Drive for Savings Chevrolet) in 15th.
"Driving an ARCA car took a lot of getting used to and I was a couple seconds off from where I needed to be in practice, but Carter 2 Motorsports was really patient with me and coached me, which helped me pick up a second in qualifying," Pardo said in a team press release. "As the race started I was just trying to find a groove and get comfortable but by the end of the race the No. 40 Dodge was set perfect and it showed as we ran with the third-place car. I would like to thank everyone for their hard work: C2M and my sponsor, Life Partners Inc. I had a blast and can't wait to do it again."
The third debut driver in the field, England's Jack Clarke, finished 30th.
Fans Supportive at Salem: Salem Speedway co-owner Beverly Thompson said campers started to arrive at the southern Indiana facility on Monday, and general manager Richard Deaton said the facility hosted its largest camper turnout for an ARCA Racing Series event. That was evident on Saturday before and after the race, as the camper lots were near capacity, just like the grandstands. Many fans stayed after Saturday's race to enjoy a live concert behind the main grandstand.
Another Attempt at DuQuoin: Points leader Chris Buescher is the defending race winner as the second dirt race of the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season is up next, on Sunday, October 14 in DuQuoin, Ill.
Practice for the Southern Illinois 100 presented by Federated Car Care will begin at 9 a.m. and last for one hour, with Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell starting at 11. The 100-lap, 100-mile race will take place at 1 p.m. All times are Central. ARCARacing.com will feature live timing and scoring coverage throughout the day, and ARCA Racing Network hosts Charlie Krall and Tim Clagg will deliver a live audio call for the race on the site. The race had been scheduled for Labor Day, but was postponed because of severe weather in southern Illinois.
2012 is the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards' 60th Anniversary Season, featuring 20 races at 18 tracks. The complete 2012 event schedule is available at ARCARacing.com.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has crowned an ARCA national champion each year since its inaugural season in 1953, and has toured over 200 race tracks in 26 states since its inception. The series has tested the abilities of drivers and race teams over the most diverse schedule of stock car racing events in the world, visiting tracks ranging from 0.375 mile to 2.66 miles in length, on both paved and dirt surfaces as well as a left- and right-turn road course in its most recent season. This year, the series visited Alabama's Mobile International Speedway and Minnesota's Elko Speedway for the first time.
Founded by John and Mildred 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 three professional touring series and local weekly events.