It wasn't just the great field of cars; it was also the great line-up of stars who came out for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards Friday night at Lucas Oil Raceway. With "The King" Richard Petty coming through the back gate, Eric Holcomb, the 51st Governor of Indiana, was making his way through the front gate. Holcomb was born and raised in Clermont, Ind., right next to the track and decided to come out on his home turf to visit with friends and see some ARCA stock car racing. Governor Holcomb also joined the pre-race ceremonies on stage in the greeters line as the drivers were introduced to the audience.
In town for the nearby Brickyard 400, Petty made a guest appearance in time to see his grandson Thad Moffitt qualify for the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200. Uncle Kyle Petty was also in the house and stuck around to see his nephew finish a career-best 11th in the No. 46 Empire Racing Ford. Longtime Richard Petty crew chief Dale Inman was also on hand for the occasion as were Moffitt's parents.
Richard Petty ended up posing with several people who wanted their pictures with "The King," including 10-time ARCA Racing Series champion Frank Kimmel (cover photo). Between the two stock car icons, there are 17 national championships.
In the end, the biggest star ended up being Dalton Sargeant, who earned his third victory of the season in the No. 77 Cunningham Motorsports-Big Tine Ford. The Boca Raton, Florida driver also gained another 30 points on championship leader Austin Theriault.
"We definitely feel like we're still in this championship," said Sargeant. "We said if we could be within 200 points halfway, we'd be in position to get there. If we keep doing what we're doing and keep up the consistency, we can slowly but surely keep closing."
Sargeant hovered in the back half of the top-10 for the first 100 laps before he began his surge toward the front.
"I felt like we had a top-three car but I wasn't sure if we were good enough to win, but as the track cooled down, the car got better and better. The track just kept coming to us."
Sargeant's Chad Bryant-led team also gambled over a series of late-race cautions that put Sargeant in position to challenge for the win.
"We took the gamble to stay out…put four tires on it during that last caution with 20 to go. From there, we knew we had to race the 51 (Chad Finley), who was on the same tire strategy. As it turned out, we were able put win no. three on our checklist. To win at Indy is really big, and we're all very excited about what the rest of the season has for us."
Sargeant led the final eight laps en route to his fourth career ARCA Racing Series victory, giving him 317 total laps-led this season, more than anyone else.
Sargeant also went into a bit of a pause mode before the next event, the ModSpace 150 coming Friday at Pocono Raceway.
"I flew down to south Florida Saturday…gonna relax for a day or two before we head up to Pocono on Wednesday."
Michael Self led 29 laps in the No. 28 Sinclair Lubricants Chevrolet and finished second, a career-best for the Salt Lake City, Utah racer. Self, who finished fourth the week before at Iowa, had a prior career-best finish of third at Kansas Speedway in 2016.
"Second place is cool, but there's a little frustration there too," said Self. "I wanted to win for Sinclair so bad."
And in the closing laps, it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen as Self, who pitted for four General Tires with 70 laps to go, raced his way into the lead and began pulling away from everyone. But, no one planned on Mother Nature stepping in with rain drops just 25 laps from the finish. Having already taken his final set of tires, Self had no option but to stay out while Sargeant and Chad Finley saved their last set for what they hoped would be one more caution. With sprinkles in the air, both came down pit road for service with just 20 laps remaining.
"I'm just so proud of the MDM team…they fought hard for this one." Self continued. "In the first 50 we were so far off…I almost thought myself out of that one. We were so loose. We thought the track was going to tighten up more than it did, but it never really cooled off. But at the end of the race, we got four tires…they tightened me up and gave me the best car at the end of the race. We overcame a lot, but frustrated we didn't get the win, but proud of all the guys on this MDM Motorsports team."
Self remains upbeat going forward.
"We're having so much fun running ARCA…Sinclair's happy. With the motor package, the body package…I absolutely love it here. The racing is phenomenal. I had a lot of people call me and say that (LOR) was one of the best races they ever saw."
Chad Finley led the most laps Friday at Lucas Oil, leading 74 circuits on the way to his third-place finish in the No. 51 Auto Value-Air Lift-XLT Engineering Chevrolet. Finley started in the outside lane for the final restart.
"We just didn't get going having to start in the outside lane…and it killed us," said Finley. "By the time we got to the line, Sargeant was three rows ahead of us. We didn't get going. We were a little tight and were all day. On two tires, we were free and really good."
Championship leader Austin Theriault battled up front all night and finished fourth in the No. 52 EJP Ford.
"We're proud of the effort we put in all weekend," said Theriault. "We had a strong car and we were in position to run for it in the end, but circumstances don't always pan out. But the way the cautions worked, it turned out that the people who took the biggest gamble got in a better position."
While Sargeant went south for some R&R, Theriault jumped right back in with both feet.
"Same 'ole same 'ole. We're back in the shop…no hesitation. It's all work and focus. Our last run didn't damper anything one bit…it didn't change anything for us…we're right back at it this morning."
After 13 career ARCA starts -- all top-10s -- Theriault's average finish is 3.38. Eleven of his 13 races have been top-five finishes.
What turned into sensational and continual two- and three-wide battles, initially looked like an Austin Cindric runaway. Cindric's day started out with a bang, winning the General Tire Pole with a new one-lap track record of 22.199 seconds (111.248 mph). At the onset of the race, Cindric, in the No. 99 Pirtek Ford, jumped out to a straightaway lead and led the first 53 laps before his car stalled on the track. As it turned out, Cindric's battery failed after the alternator wire came loose. Cindric returned to competition but was involved in a frontstretch incident that damaged his car, ultimately ending his run 99 laps from the finish.
The ModSpace 150 from Pocono Raceway is next. Practice for the ModSpace 150 is Friday morning (July 28) from 9 - 10:30 a.m., with General Tire Pole Qualifying at 1:30 p.m. The ModSpace 150 is scheduled to get underway at 4, with the race airing on FS1 same afternoon at 6.
In addition to coverage on FS1, arcaracing.com will feature live timing and scoring and live chat of all on-track activities.
Tickets are now on sale at PoconoRaceway.com.