Grant Enfinger dominates to win second straight ARCA season opener at Daytona

B91x9nOIYAAhzCBGrant Enfinger is getting used to going to victory lane. So is the No. 23 car.

Enfinger won the Lucas Oil 200 presented by AutoZone, grabbing the lead on lap 53 and staying in front until the checkered flag fell at lap 80. It was Enfinger’s ninth career ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards win and second straight at Daytona International Speedway.

“This is an incredible feeling,” Enfinger said after pulling into victory lane with the No. 23 Alamo Rent-A-Car Chevrolet. It’s the second straight win for GMS Racing and the No. 23, which went to victory lane in ARCA’s final 2014 race with Spencer Gallagher. “It was definitely a nail-biter from my seat. I know it was an incredible race.”

Three Venturini Motorsports drivers finished in the top five. One of them, Daniel Suarez, finished second in the No. 15 Arris Toyota. The others were fourth place finisher Cody Coughlin in the No. 55 JEGS Toyota and Frank Kimmel fifth in the No. 25 Ansell-Menards Toyota. Brett Hudson earned a top-five, finishing third in his No. 09 Dodge.

Suarez, who will be racing full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015, said he spent some time earlier in the week thinking about where he wanted to be late in the race in order to get to the front; it just didn’t work out.

“I didn’t have enough speed or I didn’t have enough help from behind,” Suarez said. “It was a strong run for the first time in 2015 with Arris and Venturini and Gibbs and Toyota. Everybody is doing a good job.”

Hudson, from Owensboro, Ky., finished a career-best third after starting fourth in a career-best weekend for him.

“Luckily I got hooked up with Frank (Kimmel) in practice which got me a good time and got me in the fastest group for qualifying,” Hudson said. “I got rolling and put up a good lap. In the race I was just trying to keep my position. I tried to stay in line at the end and maybe they would get to racing and maybe I would have a chance to sneak by.”

Defending series champion Mason Mitchell finished sixth in his No. 78 Mason Mitchell Motorsports Ford Fusion.  Mitchell started 23rd.

Matt Kurzejewski was seventh in the Lexington Inn & Suites Daytona Beach Chevrolet with Scott Sheldon eighth in the No. 20 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet. Josh Williams was ninth in the No. 6 Southwest Florida Cable Construction-Go Puck Ford and Will Kimmel completed the top-10 in his No. 69 Vogtland Springs-AmericanMuscle.com-Accel Ford.

Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell winner Mark Thompson finished 14th in the No. 11 Phoenix Air Toyota.

Twenty-seven cars finished on the lead lap. There were three cautions for 23 laps, the last coming when the cars of Leilani Munter, Bobby Gerhart and Buster Graham were caught up in an accident. During that caution the No. 1 car of J.J. Pack caught fire, forcing him to stop his car and exit.  There were no injuries.

The race took one hour, thirty minutes and 25 seconds to complete for an average speed of 132.719 mph.

Coughlin led the first eight laps and made an impressive save late in the race when his car got sideways in the draft.

“We had a lot of fun,” the 19-year-old Joe Gibbs development driver said. “To be able to come out of here with a top five finish is cool. We were up front all day long. We had a wicked-fast Toyota.”

Frank Kimmel led 27 laps, Gerhart led three laps and Sheldon led laps 47 to 52. Enfinger, who led seven laps earlier in the race, led from lap 53 until the checkered flag.

Enfinger started 2014 with a win at Daytona. He would go on to win two more consecutive races to start the season and six before it was over. He was second in the final point standings.

“Everyone at GMS Racing has really stepped up their game,” Enfinger said. “It’s a pretty exciting feeling to be working with people like that. We have good things happening. This is an incredible opportunity and we have incredible equipment.”

Enfinger spent those last few laps – after the restart with 15 laps to go – with Suarez in his mirror. He said he drove most of the remaining laps checking the mirrors.

“I was very, very worried,” Enfinger said. “The 15 (Suarez) car was really good. Frank (Kimmel) had an incredible car. I feel like he was maybe equal or a little stronger than us. I was afraid they were going to gang up on us. But luckily we were able to get them a little bit separated and I was able to block them. The 15 did an incredible job. He could have passed us, but I was pretty hungry to keep him behind us until the end.”

Enfinger’s No. 23 Alamo Chevrolet was hugging the bottom during the closing laps.

“I felt like I needed to block the top but I didn’t feel like I needed to race at the top,” Enfinger said. “We got the lead when the 20 car, my teammate Scott Sheldon, he pushed us to the lead on the top. There was a lot of that.”

The Fairhope, Ala. driver is expected to race a full season with GMS Racing.

“ARCA deserves a lot of credit,” Enfinger said about the new ARCA Ilmor 396 engine package that he and 25 other cars had this week at Daytona. “I think the racing was better. I can’t remember a Daytona this exciting where there was two- and three-wide racing for the lead. There was two lines moving at all times.”

The ARCA Racing Series has a bit of a break before its second race of the season, which will be March 14 at Mobile International Speedway in Mobile, Ala.

Race Notes:
Margin of Victory: 0.140 second
Cautions: 3 or 23 laps
Time of Race: 1:30:25
Average Speed: 132.719 mph
Lap Leaders: Coughlin 1-8 (8); F. Kimmel 9-35 (27); Gerhart 36-38 (3); Sheldon 47-52 (6); Enfinger 39-46, 53-80 (36)

Lucas Oil 200 Race Results
Pos. Car # Driver Laps Status
1 23 Grant Enfinger 80 Running
2 15 Daniel Suarez 80 Running
3 09 Brett Hudson 80 Running
4 55 Cody Coughlin 80 Running
5 25 Frank Kimmel 80 Running
6 78 Mason Mitchell 80 Running
7 54 Matt Kurzejewski 80 Running
8 20 Scott Sheldon 80 Running
9 6 Josh Williams 80 Running
10 69 Will Kimmel 80 Running
11 77 Tom Hessert 80 Running
12 92 Daniel Hemric 80 Running
13 8 Austin Hill 80 Running
14 11 Mark Thompson 80 Running
15 98 Austin Wayne 80 Running
16 68 David Levine 80 Running
17 22 Blake Jones 80 Running
18 12 Tyler Audie 80 Running
19 30 Terry Jones 80 Running
20 88 Cole Powell 80 Running
21 82 Patrick Staropoli 80 Running
22 49 Brad Smith 80 Running
23 42 Bo LeMastus 80 Running
24 9 Thomas Praytor 80 Running
25 3 Karl Weber 80 Running
26 97 Bobby Hamilton Jr 80 Running
27 18 Bill Catania 80 Running
28 00 Barry Fitzgerald 77 Running
29 48 Sean Corr 77 Running
30 06 Ed Pompa 77 Running
31 2 Sarah Cornett-Ching 76 Running
32 40 Roger Carter 75 Running
33 58 John Lowinski-Loh 68 Running
34 10 Garrett Smithley 63 Engine
35 52 Clay Campbell 62 Overheating
36 1 J.J. Pack 55 Oil Line
37 17 Buster Graham 54 Accident
38 66 Leilani Munter 53 Accident
39 5 Bobby Gerhart 53 Accident
40 0 James Swanson 23 Engine

 

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