Joe Graf, Jr. (No. 77 Big Tine Ford) nudged two drivers out of the way on the final two green flag lap to score his first career ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards win in the Primera Plastics 200 at Berlin Raceway. Graf edged Zane Smith (No. 41 LaPaz Margarita Miz/ICON Vehicle Dynamics Toyota) at the finish by 0.041 seconds, about three feet.
Graf had to work his way past Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota), who himself had recovered from a spin while battling for the third position at lap 141. C. Smith pitted for right side tires and quickly knifed his way through the field to take the lead from Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) at lap 163. C. Smith led until lap 200 when he was nudged out of the way coming to what should have been the checkered, but starter Denise Engle instead waved the caution flag setting up a one lap dash to the finish. C. Smith would go on to finish seventh.
On the final restart at lap 206, Graf led the field to the green but spun his tires, which allowed Zane Smith and Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Healthcare Ford) to move around. But heading into turn three, Graf dove to the bottom side of the track and made contact with Z. Smith, moving him up the track and allowing Graf to take the win at the stripe.
“I can’t thank my guys at Chad Bryant Motorsports enough,” Graf said in victory lane. “We were a little off the first half of the race. We made some adjustments and got the Lucky Dog twice and we were there at the end. I believe we should have won a couple of them by now. I spun the tires on the restart but it’s every man for himself on the last lap.
“I didn’t mean to get into the 20 coming to the checkered the first time,” he said. “I wanted to get to him and move him and I got into him a little too hard. No one was driving into turn three at the end harder than I was.”
For his part, Zane Smith was frustrated with what he saw on the final lap.
“I can’t believe it,” a disappointed Smith said after he climbed from his car. “I wasn’t even the first one he did that to,” he said as he pointed to the damage on the left side of his car.
Braden finished third, with General Tire Pole Award winner Carson Hocevar (No. 35 KBR Development Chevrolet) in fourth, and Gus Dean (No. 32 Gree Cooling Products/Baker Distributing Chevrolet) in sixth.
Eckes looked to have the race in hand throughout the middle stages. He pitted with the rest of the leaders at lap 97, but whenever took four tires he took just right sides. Eckes pitted again at lap 129 and took four tires, then quickly knifed back through the field. He retook the lead at lap 151 and held it until teammate Chandler Smith took the lead at lap 162. Eckes was forced to pit with a flat left front tire as a result of contact. He eventually finished eleventh.
Sheldon Creed (No. 28 United Rentals Toyota) finished sixth and retained the point lead.
There were seven cautions for 44 laps. Six drivers exchanged the lead seven times. The average speed was 62.350 miles per hour.
-ARCA Racing Series Press Release and Photo