By Don Radebaugh, ARCA Racing Series
They may not have had the best car, but they had the best strategy. Christopher Bell bolted on four fresh General Tires during the final caution; then, with a bold, bonsai move on the high-side, charged from the eighth starting position to the front over a green-white-checker finish to win the thrilling ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards SCOTT 150 Thursday night at Chicagoland Speedway.
Bell, in the No. 25 Venturini Motorsports-Musselman's Apple Sauce-JBL Toyota, had barely a top-five car but got a big break with 10 laps to go when leader Michael Self, who led 29 laps, cut a right-front tire and brought out the final caution. Bell, under the direction of his crew chief Dave Leiner, came down pit road for his last set of tires, which gave the Norman, Okla. driver the magic he needed to get the lead.
"I was getting nervous," said Bell. "I knew we were running out of time...I'm just glad I was able to capitalize on those tires. Today was big for me. I was able to practice for the (NASCAR) Truck race and race this car. Don't know if we had the fastest car but my crew kept four tires laying there for us to bring it home. Obviously an awesome advantage to have tires over everyone at the end."
It also gave Venturini Motorsports, which grew its roots in the Chicago area, a hometown win and the team's first victory of the season.
"Really special day," Bell said. "The Venturinis have always been really fun to race with. To be able to win again for them and to see how happy they were in victory lane was really special."
Bell, the current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series leader, used the ARCA race as practice for Friday night's Truck race.
"Don't know how it happened…I was just told I was going to run the ARCA race and I'm glad I did. I know that it helps me for tomorrow…just gives me the confidence I need going into tomorrow."
Bell, with a big surge on the outside on the last restart, was running second by the time the pack came off turn two. With a big head of steam, Bell dived to the bottom and drove underneath leader Austin Theriault for the lead. Theriault, in the Unicover Ford, finished second, two-lengths away after leading one lap.
"I was really tight and then Christopher Bell passed me," said Theriault. "Can't thank everyone enough at Ken Schrader Racing. We've been working so hard to get our intermediate program better. We knew some of it was aero and some was the car…we had to balance the two. We've turned the corner. We wanted a solid run this weekend and we got one. We ran over some debris in that last caution and smashed the front bumper in. With all the variables and all the damage, I'm pretty happy with second place."
Brandon Jones, in the No. 8 Australian Gold Toyota for MDM Motorsports, finished third after leading the first eight laps from the General Tire Pole.
"I thought we were going to have a Michigan repeat," said Jones, who's won the last two ARCA races at Michigan. "Honestly, it was just too loose in the end…just couldn't hold onto it. Everything was there…just needed a little more in the end. This was one of the more competitive races we've had here in ARCA and I was grateful to be in it tonight. I was cooling the tires under caution…just needed to get the rears cleaned off a little better. We had one of the more dominant cars here today."
Ty Majeski showed his might early on, driving past Jones for the top-spot to lead the ninth lap. Majeski, in the No. 99 Treeo's Ford for Cunningham Motorsports, dominated much of the race with 50 laps led before Self surfaced at the front and drove away from everyone. Self, in the No. 88 Sinclair Lubricants Chevrolet for Mason Mitchell Motorsports, built a three-seconds lead before his right-front tire went down causing extensive damage to his car. It also gave Bell the chance to get four fresh tires and ultimately compete for the win.
Travis Braden, in Don Fike's No. 27 Ford, led 12 laps in the back half of the race after forgoing a pit stop for track position. Braden held tough until the final caution came out, which allowed several front-runners to pit for tires. Braden fell back to 11th in the final running order.
Noah Gragson finished fourth in the No. 15 Switch-Venturini Motorsports Toyota.
"It was definitely challenging," said Gragson. "We were 10th on the final restart and got up to fourth. We needed a little bit better track position. Very thankful for the opportunity. We'll take this and move onto to the Truck race tomorrow…hopefully win it and get in the playoffs."
Chad Finley finished fifth in the No. 51 Auto Value-Air Lift-XLT Manufacturing Chevrolet. Dalton Sargeant, Majeski, Shane Lee, Myatt Snider and Bret Holmes completed the top-10 respectively.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards travels to Kentucky Speedway next for the Crosley 150 Friday night, Sept. 22, Live on FS1.