Chandler Smith took the checkered flag in the ARCA Menards Series’ Shore Lunch 200 at Madison International Speedway (WI) Friday night after leading the lion’s share of the night, but the win was anything but easy.
The Georgia driver started on the pole after setting a track record in qualifying and led the first 150 laps of the 200-lap event around the Wisconsin half-mile before losing the top spot to Ty Gibbs. However, a wild sequence of late-race events set up an action-packed conclusion, with Smith taking the lead for good from ARCA points leader Michael Self with 11 laps to go.
“I definitely had to earn that one,” Smith told Speed51 in victory lane. “The good Lord was looking down on us, and our cards played out in our favor. We had to be a little aggressive, but it definitely took a lot of patience throughout the race.”
Smith’s first break came just five laps after he lost the lead, as a brief rain shower passed over the speedway. Before the red flag was displayed, Smith came to pit road for fresh tires, forfeiting the second position.
All but two other lead-lap cars remained on the track through the red flag period. However, quick track-drying efforts after the shower’s departure allowed the race to resume, and Smith’s competition pitted once the red flag was rescinded to match Smith’s strategy, giving him the lead.
“Dude, it was a heck of call, but I don’t think anybody knew we were going to come in and have to come to pit road,” said Smith. “Like I said, I think the good Lord was looking down on us tonight and it played in our favor.”
The battle was not over, however. Self would take the lead on lap 170, charging from fourth to first on the restart following the rain delay. Smith fell to third, but moved back into second after Christian Eckes spun while battling with Self for the top spot.
Self would maintain the lead on the next restart, but Smith quickly chased down his Venturini Motorsports teammate. Smith took the lead on lap 190, just before the caution flag flew for the final time as Hailie Deegan suffered a mechanical failure.
On the final restart, Self spun his tires and Smith checked out for the win.
“I just had to save the best for last, even when you didn’t know when was last,” said Smith. “I was really hoping we’d get a late caution like we did and I’d get a solid restart. I think [Self] ended up spinning his tires and we took off from there.”
Despite coming up short in the end, Self was pleased with his team’s run after a challenging day of his own. Self and his team struggled for speed throughout practice, but ultimately rallied for a runner-up finish.
“I’m really proud of our No. 25 Sinclair Oil guys,” said Self. “I thought today was going to be catastrophic. We were not very good in practice. I take a lot of blame for that. As I continued to watch video throughout the day today, I realized I was making a lot of mistakes. I just didn’t have this place figured out.
“We needed a long run,” added Self. “We needed 75 laps, and that’s when we were the best. We were the best car on the track at those points, but we weren’t on the restarts. For us to come and have a day that I thought could have gone terribly and come home second, that’s definitely a positive.”
The pivotal moment for Self’s race took place when he and the majority of the lead-lap cars pitted following the rain delay. Self was the last car off pit road, but all of his competitors passed through the stop sign held by the ARCA official at pit exit. Thus, Self moved ahead of them to restart fourth before charging to the lead.
“I got that big penalty this past week, so I’m trying to be on my best behavior,” Self joked. “I’m trying to pay attention. As soon as I saw that, I said, ‘I did it! I did something right! I paid attention at the meeting!’
“The guy was standing there shaking his head, and I was like, ‘I see you, I got you, man.’”
While Self was able to make light of a penalty handed out after his win last weekend at Michigan International Speedway (MI) which cost him 50 championship points, he did not believe the strong run tonight dug him out of the hole that penalty created despite being the championship leader.
“You want those points,” said Self. “We could have a horrible race at any point, like what happened at Nashville or Daytona, and that tightens things right back up. We have to avoid those days. You’re not going to overcome a 50-point loss.”
Sam Mayer rounded out the podium, while championship contenders Travis Braden and Bret Holmes finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Carson Hocevar finished sixth, followed by Eckes after his spin and Gibbs, who was in position to win before a late-race penalty for failure to maintain his lane on a restart relegated him to eighth.
Joe Graf, Jr. and Corey Heim rounded out the top ten.
Unofficial Results – ARCA Menards Series
Shore Lunch 200 – Madison International Speedway – Oregon, Wisconsin
|9||77||Joe Graf, Jr.|
|11||10||Tommy Vigh, Jr.|
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: ARCA Menards Series