Michael Self made it two-for-three on the ARCA Menards Series season after winning the rain-shortened Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at Salem Speedway. After a short rain during driver introductions, the rain would fall hard on Lap 101/200, and the Park City, Utah driver would be the beneficiary from Mother Nature for his fourth career ARCA win.
The Five Flags Speedway winner from last month took the lead from polesitter Carson Hocevar on lap 27 and would set a torrid pace early. In the opening 88-lap green flag run, he would go on to put all but the top four cars at least one lap down and at one point, own a half lap lead over the second place driver.
“That was awesome, what a race car,” Self told Speed51.com. “The number 25 Sinclair Toyota was absolutely on rails. It’s so rare that you come to Salem, a place that’s abrasive and have a car that maintains a neutral balance for a hundred straight laps and Shannon gave me a car to do that today. I’ve never driven anything like that here. It was an absolute blast and a pleasure to drive. A fun race from start to finish, a clean race and great race for us obviously.”
After Self came down pit road after the first yellow on lap 88 for tires, he found himself in second behind Chandler Smith in what looked like to be a strategy call with rain looming. However, Smith then hit pit road just before the restart, giving the lead back to Self. The rain would start to fall two laps after the restart, thus ending the race just one lap after halfway.
“I’d have to ask everyone else what their thoughts were because we came in and Chandler made sure no one else could get back on the lead lap,” he stated. “He made sure there were only going to be three cars on the lead lap, racing for the win today. I actually didn’t think he was going to come down pit road, but I knew we were going to go back to green for at least a little bit, it wasn’t raining hard enough and he never would’ve hung on with no tires and us on two tires. We would’ve blown his doors off in turn one at this place, nothing against him, it’s just how this place is.”
Chandler Smith would go on to finish fourth after coming down pit road. He said it came down to pit strategy and he would not have had a chance if he were to stay out.
“We were going to try winging it and try getting the win like that, kind of like how Michael did. But of course it didn’t work out in our favor. If we ran the whole race, we definitely would’ve had something for him. I feel like we were definitely the car to win, especially there at the end of that deal. We got really, really good.”
The race was without one of ARCA’s top contenders, as Venturini Motorsports teammate Christian Eckes was unable to race after falling ill. Self talked about his teammate in victory lane.
“It’s a little bit of a bittersweet day with Christian (Eckes) not being able to race. He was really good yesterday in practice, probably as good as we were. Christian’s become a really close friend of mine and a championship competitor. It sucks, to be honest, that we wasn’t able to be here. I want to race Christian and be a teammate and a mentor to him going forward. I know he’s not feeling great today, but he’ll be back and he’ll be fast.”
After exiting the season opener at the Daytona International Speedway early, Self has now won the last two ARCA Menards Series races. He admitted short tracks weren’t his specialty, so being able to win at Salem and Five Flags has his team rolling with momentum when the series travels to the bigger tracks on the schedule.
“It keeps your momentum up,” Self said. “Places that I don’t necessarily think I’m great at; short tracks haven’t been my specialty, so to win at two short tracks in the season feels really good. It speaks volumes to what Shannon’s doing with our cars and how I’m learning. I’m kind of looking forward to getting to Charlotte and being able to go intermediate racing. That’s going to be my specialty. We keep this momentum up at these short track races and get to those intermediates, that’s what I’m excited about.”
The ARCA Menards Series rolls on to Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville on May 4th for the Music City 200, along with the North/South Super Late Model Challenge for the Super Late Models.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI) - Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo credit: Speed51.com