It would have been difficult to hold off Kyle Benjamin over the course of 200 laps Sunday afternoon at Winchester Speedway, and in the end it proved impossible. But it certainly wasn't out of the question, and it even looked possible until Zane Smith's car broke coming to the final restart inside of 20 laps from the finish.
With Smith gone from the mix, Benjamin, in the No. 28 MDM Motorsports Toyota, cruised under the checkered flag as winner of the 28th running of the Winchester ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards 200.
"This is the coolest track," said Benjamin. "It's a track I've always wanted to win at…and I've been trying for a while. It's nice to finally get it."
Benjamin almost didn't get it, however. He was the fastest car all day and led the most laps by a long shot, but he had one stubborn Zane Smith in front of him with the lapometer clicking away. Benjamin caught Smith with 40 laps to go and immediately went to work on the leader, looking on the low side lap after lap, and even drawing alongside a half dozen times, and each time Smith refused the challenge. Then a caution for debris brought the final yellow flag out coming up on 20 laps to go. Coming to the restart, Smith's car just didn't go, falling off with a broken transmission. Smith coasted to pit road, and climbed out.
Smith didn't provide much commentary, but he did say with a smile, "Transmission. It was all of a sudden on the restart. We'll just chop this one up and throw it away."
If Smith is going to toss this one out, you can bet that Benjamin will hold onto this win for a lifetime.
"Winchester is one that every driver wants to win," Benjamin said. "This is big for me….one I've always wanted. I'm not sure if we would have gotten around Zane Smith. I think we were better on long runs but he would have been tough to get by. He was really smooth and did a great job…I hate it for him. We were a little faster and I think we could have maybe gotten by off the corner…we were just waiting to get a run. If it would have happened, it would have been late in that last run. The MDM Motorsports guys were awesome today."
Christian Eckes, in the Venturini Motorsports-New York Bus Sales Toyota, stepped up in the end and got within five lengths of the leader, but fell back about a half-second at the final stripe. The Middletown, N.Y. rookie tied his career-best finish in second.
"This place is so cool...maybe the most fun I've ever had at a race track," said Eckes. "You have so many lines to work with. We started kind of slow in practice but once we got around other cars in the race, we were really good. We definitely had a great long run car…couldn't get fired off too well on the restarts. But 30-to-40 laps into the run, the car came to us. Not sure if we could have gotten to the 28, but we had a good of a shot as anyone."
Austin Theriault padded his championship lead, coming home third in the No. 52 Ken Schrader Racing Ford. Theriault fell back in the opening laps, but got going better toward the end.
"When we struggle like we did today and overcome it, it teaches us a lot," said Theriault. "We started the race way too free, but at the same time, the car wasn’t turning well either. You can't adjust for both so we went the route to where I could at least drive it, and tightened it up. Good day all things considered."
Sargeant, Theriault's closet competitor for the championship, lost ground to Theriault after he cut a tire and plugged the turn one wall. Sargeant, after several pit stops for repair, returned to competition but eventually fell from competition 37 laps shy of the finish.
Travis Braden finished fourth in Don Fike's No. 27 MatrixCare-Consonus Health Care Ford.
"I'm extremely happy," said Braden. "I wish we could start fresh from the get-go. We were a little tight in the center all day…I should have noticed that in practice. We were too soft on the right front…loose in, then in the center we'd lose the nose. But a great day for the RFMS 27 team…I appreciate the opportunity."
Gus Dean finished fifth in the No. 32 GREE Cooling Products Toyota for Win-Tron Racing.
Benjamin started the weekend off with a bang, earning a new one-lap track record Saturday in General Tire pole qualifying. On race day, the Easley, S.C. 19-year-old driver took off like a rocket at the onset and paced the first 137 laps as the leader. Then he got shuffled back to seventh on a pit stop that took longer than his front-running counterparts, but quickly raced his way back through the pack. By the time he got to Smith, who led 59 laps, Smith was puckered up and ready to fend off his greatest challenger, which he most certainly did before the drive-line failure.
Shane Lee, Chase Purdy and Bret Holmes finished sixth through eighth. Justin Fontaine finished a career-best ninth, the last car on the lead lap. Quebec's Raphael Lessard finished 10th, one lap town.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards travels next to the Illinois State Fairgrounds mile dirt in Springfield for the Herr's Potato Chips 100 Sunday, August 20. The mile dirt classic is live on MAVTV.