Article By: Don Radebaugh, ARCA Racing Series
What looked like a full course Austin Cindric runaway turned into a last-lap Austin Theriault takeaway Sunday afternoon at Road America.
Theriault, in Ken Schrader's No. 52 Toyota, steered through two last-lap incidents and came out the winner of the wild ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards Road America 100.
"We were lucky and smart today," said Theriault. "We made the least amount of mistakes. I knew those guys were fast in front of me and behind me. It came down to not overdoing it, especially on that last lap. Everybody was trying to win the race on the last lap. Turn one was a problem."
Turn one was especially a problem for Cindric who had dominated the race up to that point…that point of contact between he and Cole Custer who locked horns entering turn one on the final circuit. Custer got a nose inside of Cindric but the two touched headed into the first right-hander, causing Cindric to spin while Custer went for an off-track excursion.
Then Dalton Sargeant blasted through as the leader and looked to be on his way to Victory Lane.
"It was wild," said Sargeant. "The 78 (Custer) and the 99 (Cindric) got together and that opened it up for me."
Then turn five showed up.
"We ran off the track a bit and ran through some water coming down the frontstretch for the restart. There was no grip in five and it came around on us," Sargeant said.
When Sargeant's car "came around", Matt Tifft also got caught up in Sargeant's spin. At that point, Theriault came out the leader with Riley Herbst in pursuit. Herbst, in the No. 18 NOS Energy Drink-UFC Gym Toyota, initially got within three lengths of Theriault through all the excitement, but fell back to five lengths at the checkered flag, finishing second.
"It was an up and down day," said Herbst. "We started out with wet tires but should have went with the slicks. Thought we were going to steel one there on that last lap. We were gaining, but came up a half-lap short. Can't thank General Tire enough for the great tires and to the ARCA Racing Series for bringing us to Road America."
PJ Jones, subbing for AJ Fike in the No 27 MatrixCare-Consonus Healthcare-Liberty Village Ford, finished third after expertly sorting his way through the last-lap trouble.
"I had a great time out there," said Jones. "I really appreciate the opportunity to come here and race. A big thanks to the Fikes for letting me drive it."
Sargeant's Cunningham Motorsports teammate Shane Lee finished fourth in the No. 22 Big Tine Ford in his first road course attempt. Michael Womack, in his career-first ARCA start, finished fifth in the Champion Power Equipment-Mason Mitchell Motorsports Chevrolet.
Sargeant, in the No. 77 Big Tine Ford, finished sixth after he had got himself headed in the right direction in the nick of time. Sargeant started the race on rain tires, and opened up a big lead at the onset, staying out while most everyone else had come to pit road for slicks.
"We initially had a good start…opened up a big lead hoping the rain would come," Sargeant said. "We stayed out too long and had to come back through the pack after everyone pitted."
Sargeant threw one more gamble at it when his team elected to come down pit road for fresh tires just before the final restart, putting him back to 14th in the running order. Back under green, Sargeant made a gallant charge to the front.
"We gambled at the end," Sargeant said. "At the end of the day, it was our best shot. It was drag race all the way to the finish."
With rain in the area most of the morning, most of the cars started on wet General Tires. But the steady rain turned into a sprinkle and then it went completely dry during the opening laps. Cindric, who started from the pole, fell back on wet tires but once he came down pit road and changed over to slick tires, he quickly raced his way into the lead and pulled away from the pack, leading the most laps over the 25-lap/100-mile race. With a tight turnaround for the fast-approaching NASCAR Xfinity Series race, both Cindric and Custer were unavailable for comments. Custer and Cindric finished 11th and 12th respectively.
Austin Wayne Self finished seventh in the No. 33 Win-Tron Racing Toyota. Natalie Decker finished a career-best eighth in the No. 25 World Championship Snowmobile Derby Toyota for Venturini Motorsports. Self's Win-Tron teammate Gus Dean finished ninth in his road course debut in the GREE Cooling Products Toyota. Bret Holmes, also making his road course debut, finished 10th in the Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet.
Theriault not only increased his championship points lead with just five races remaining, the Fort Kent, Maine driver secured the Bill France 4 Crown championship at Road America.
"All the rain really presented some set-up challenges," Theriault said. "We were set up on slick tires…glad the rain didn't come back to us. Another great points day for us. Honored to be the Bill France 4 Crown champion. Once the leaders crashed, I thought we were going to come home third today. They were racing so hard for the win…each (Sargeant and Tifft) tried to brake a little deeper. From there, I just trusted in my spotters. I knew if someone came sailing in, at that point, I knew it was going to be for the win."
It's back to the dirt for the ARCA Racing Series with the General Tire GRABBER 100 coming to the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds Labor Day Monday, Sept. 4.