"Did That Just Happen?" Bobby Gerhart Wins Thrilling Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona
Bobby Gerhart's day at Daytona International Speedway started early with the installation of an engine fit to ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards standards, and ended with the Pennslyvania driver setting the standard himself.
Gerhart led just one lap, but it was the 83rd and final one in a green-white-checkered finish, giving him his third consecutive Daytona win and his eighth overall in 25 starts since 1988.
The veteran started 42nd in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, forced to the back after his No. 5 Lucas Oil Slick Mist Chevrolet failed an engine vacuum leak inspection after Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell on Friday. Gerhart had qualified first, which would have given him his fifth pole at Daytona.
Gerhart slowly stalked through the field, pitting twice on Laps 1 and 10 to ensure he would have enough fuel to drive to the finish. That strategy ended up important, as race leader Brandon McReynolds (No. 4 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet) led 64 consecutive laps before running out of fuel as he drove around Turn 4 toward the checkered flag.
"Well, did that just happen?" Gerhart immediately asked upon entering the Daytona media center for his post-race press conference.
Gerhart touched on his Friday penalty from ARCA officials, admitting disappointment in the decision but saying that his second engine was just as stout as the first. After all, Gerhart led the final practice earlier Saturday morning. He said his decision to pit even earlier than he did last year - Lap 5 - had been in the works for a long time.
"(The second engine) ran the (speed) we had, so I said we've just got to put ourselves in position," he said. "At the beginning of the races, there's a strategy that (crew chief, owner, and brother) Bill and I talked about a long time ago. We decided to do it, win, lose, or draw, and the worst thing that could happen in that position is that we get a lap down. But we get the Lucky Dog and we're right back where we were. We looked at it and had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
"We kept digging. There were a lot of great cars again. The way it came, we kind of needed that last pit stop. That last lap, I had a great run down the backstretch and we were matched up with a real good car behind us. I said, ‘You know what? I've got absolutely nothing to lose here.' Nobody's going to remember me finishing fifth, so let's see what happens. That's what the fans come to see. It just happened at the right time, the leader took a little blip, and that was it."
That real good car, as Gerhart called it, belonged to Drew Charlson (No. 28 Aluma Aluminum Trailers Chevrolet), who finished second. Charlson's car was the one driven by Ty Dillon last season at Daytona to the Menards Pole Award and 11th place. Charlson entered with just one previous start.
Will Kimmel (No. 68 Enterprise Software Development Ford) finished third in his first race as the primary face of Kimmel Racing. Kimmel had earned just two other top-fives since his debut in 2008.
Sean Corr (No. 82 Empire Racing/United Way Ford) ended up the Menards Pole Award winner after Gerhart's lap was disallowed late Friday afternoon. He eased to a 0.109-second lead over Steve Blackburn as the field entered a single-file line after one lap. On the fourth lap he drove past Gerhart, who had dropped back to 43rd with his uncustomary early pit stop.
Milka Duno (No. 33 Milka Way Chevrolet) spun on Lap 6 to bring the race's first caution, and Corr continued to lead as many of the contenders behind him drove to pit road on Lap 9. Leilani Mϋnter (No. 12 The Cove Dodge) then crashed when she lost her left rear tire, bringing another caution flag.
Corr drove to pit road for fuel as he finished Lap 15, handing the lead to Duno's Eddie Sharp Racing teammate, Cale Gale (No. 6 Rheem Chevrolet). Gale led off of the Lap 18 green flag, but soon saw McReynolds taking charge. McReynolds, Ryan Reed (No. 15 JDRF Chevrolet), and Chris Windom (No. 32 Justice Brothers/Gillund Enterprises Toyota) all passed Gale, leaving him fourth on Lap 19.
Another car scraped the wall to bring a caution flag on Lap 20, with McReynolds, Reed, Windom, and Gale in front of Chris Buescher (No. 17 BeavEx/Reliance Tool/Gary Yeomans Ford Lincoln Ford). The green flag flew on Lap 24, and the field again entered a single-file line.
McReynolds, whose father Larry won the Daytona 500 twice as a crew chief in the 1990s (Davey Allison, 1992; Dale Earnhardt, 1998), seemed primed to write a piece of his own Daytona history. He led the same line of cars to the halfway point, holding a 0.117 lead on Reed at Lap 40 with Windom, Gale, and Buescher continuing to follow. Meanwhile, Gerhart had jumped to the top 30.
Will Kimmel, who had started 21st, climbed to the top 10 on Lap 47, as McReynolds continued to hold a lead of just over 0.1 second on Reed, Windom, Gale, and Buescher.
Seven cars were within a second in the line on Lap 51, and the makeup of that group changed only when Gale took his first and only pit stop for fuel on Lap 60. That move helped Buescher into fourth. A caution flag flew on Lap 69 for a Sloan Henderson crash, and Buescher improved to third when Reed drove to pit road on Lap 71 - with nine regulation laps remaining.
As the field drove under caution on Lap 74, McReynolds showed signs that he might not be able to drive to the finish, working his car to the apron, off the high Daytona banks. The green flag returned on Lap 76, with McReynolds hugging the yellow line to keep the field at bay. Buescher looked to the outside to advance from third, but Windom held him away. Buescher ended Lap 77 nearly side-by-side with Windom, but all hope would go out the window when he fell back driving the outside line.
Buescher then crashed on Lap 78, setting up a certain green-white-checkered finish to decide the race. McReynolds led Windom, Will Kimmel, and Steve Blackburn (No. 94 Harley Davidson Pikeville/Pop's Chevrolet) for the two-lap finish, starting with Lap 82.
McReynolds held the lead at the white flag, but started to wobble as he finished his final lap out of fuel. Charlson charged from behind in sixth to give Gerhart, running fifth, a push to the finish, and the two drove past the struggling McReynolds and the cars tied up in his wake. Brett Hudson (No. 09 Hudson Performance Drivelines Dodge) initially finished third, but was sent to the tail end of the lead lap for illegally passing Will Kimmel below the yellow line.
Frank Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Toyota) and Nelson Canache Jr. (No. 35 Venezuela Tourism Toyota) were assessed the same penalty; Hudson, Canache, and Frank Kimmel finished 21st, 22nd, and 23rd, respectively.
Blackburn finished fourth, just ahead of Mark Thompson (No. 66 Phoenix Air Toyota). Max Gresham (No. 9 Made in USA Chevrolet) was sixth, leading Brennan Poole (No. 25 Adcetera/The Ad Man Chevrolet), Windom, Alex Kennedy (No. 08 SprakerRacing.com Ford), and Tom Hessert (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota).
McReynolds ended 11th, one spot ahead of Reed, who he had led for many of his 64 laps at the front.
The five caution flags slowed the race for 25 laps. The event finished in one hour, 33 minutes, and 51 seconds, at an average speed of 132.745 mph.
The next race for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards takes place Saturday, March 10 at Mobile International Speedway. The race is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Mobile will host practice and Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell on Friday, March 9. The event at Mobile will be ARCA's first at the track.
2012 is the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards' 60th Anniversary Season, featuring 20 races at 18 tracks. The complete 2012 event schedule is available at ARCARacing.com.