By Don Radebaugh, ARCA Racing Series
It was survival of the fittest tonight at Kentucky Speedway. It was also a daring four-wide move that included Austin Theriault on a late-race restart that paid off handsomely for the Fort Kent, Maine driver. In the end, Theriault, in the No. 52 Cross Insurance Ford, held off Sheldon Creed and Zane Smith over a green-white-checker finish to win the wild Crosley Brands 150 Friday night, his seventh ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards victory of the season.
"We had good position on the bottom and could run wide open down there," said Theriault. "You could run two, three, four wide for a while but eventually the speeds were too high to sustain it. The guys above us were taking the air off each other. Fortunately, we got the lead before anything else happened. Thanks to the 22 (Shane Lee) for giving us the good push Daytona style to help get the lead."
The four-wide scramble happened on a restart with 14 laps to go. Riley Herbst came to the line as the leader but soon found himself three-wide with Dalton Sargeant and Chase Purdy headed off into turn one. With those three cars bouncing off each other, another hole opened up on the bottom through which Theriault, to make it four-wide, charged into the lead. With the leaders washing up the track, cars began wrecking behind them to bring out yet another caution, one of seven during the race.
Then on the next restart, Herbst spun after making contact with the left rear corner of Creed, which triggered another multi-car wreck and set up the thrilling green-white-checker finish. Back under green for the two-lap shootout, Creed got within a few feet of Theriault's rear bumper in turn three coming to the checkered flag, but drove in so hard he washed up the track and opened the bottom up for Smith, who dived underneath Creed for second. Smith, in the No. 8 LaPaz Margarita Mix-MDM Motorsports Toyota, got to within two lengths of Theriault coming to the checkered flag, settling for second, his third runner-up run of the season.
"That final lap…that was the best we ran all night," said Smith. "On the final restart, that thing was pretty hooked up, especially in dirty air. I never heard 'four-wide' more from my spotter than I did tonight."
Smith recovered nicely from a brush with the wall in opening laps that got the Huntington Beach, Calif. driver behind early on.
"I made a lot of mistakes tonight…hate it for MDM. They gave me a great car. I really wanted that one. I touched the gray on the initial start…it was like ice up there. Maybe I'm just trying too hard."
If Smith felt disappointment, Creed could certainly relate. Creed, in the No. 28 United Rentals Toyota for MDM, dominated much of the race, leading 68 of 100 laps before giving it up in the end. Creed also had to fight back to the front after a lengthy pit stop resulting from a failed jack that shuffled the Alpine, Calif. driver way back.
"I had a great race car to work with," said Creed. "We pretty much dominated the race, but the cautions just kept coming, but that's how it goes. We just had a really good race car. I could conserve a lot and go when I needed to. Wish we could have gotten alongside the 52 to change up his line. The restarts were crazy. I got kicked sideways there at the end. The MDM guys gave me the car to win with and that's all you can ask for. I really like the hard compound General Tire brought. It didn't fall off and it got faster…lasted a long time."
Theriault held off the pack over the final 14 laps. He also padded his championship lead unofficially by 405 points with just the Kansas Speedway finale remaining.
"Just so much thanks to Ken Schrader Racing and all the guys who made this dream season come true," Theriault said. "We don't always have the fastest cars but we stay consistent. We've basically run the whole season with two, three cars. I feel like as a team, we've had to work a little smarter, just picking up scraps wherever we can find…maybe sweat a little more. It feels good to compete against guys spending more money. It's what I like about ARCA…you can compete on a lesser budget if you race smart."
Cunningham Motorsports teammates Dalton Sargeant and Shane Lee, both driving Big Tine Fords, finished fourth and fifth respectively. Sargeant led 12 laps before getting a piece of that final wreck.
Ty Majeski, who led one lap, finished sixth in a third Cunningham car. Herbst held on for seventh with Travis Braden trailing in eighth. Rookie Blaine Perkins, in his career-first start, finished ninth. Justin Fontaine was 10th.
The 65th season for the ARCA Racing Series concludes at Kansas Speedway Oct. 20 with the Kansas ARCA 150.