In Kentucky bluegrass, ARCA's New-Man cinches superspeedway glory
by Don Radebaugh
Sparta, KY, 8-26-00 -- The boss was watching, and rookie Ryan Newman knew it. And if the boss was checking off on the scorecard, then the South Bend, Indiana driver, making only his third ARCA start, may have scored a perfect 10.
Newman, aboard Roger Penske's Alltel Ford, won the pole, led the most laps, and in the end, held off three-time ARCA champion Tim Steele in a thrilling last lap shoot-out to win the Blue Grass Quality Meats ARCA 200 Saturday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway.
Penske, fresh from a Bristol Motor Speedway Winston Cup commitment, arrived at the track just in time to see his star pupil suit-up and buckle-in before he would join the eventual winner in victory lane for post-race celebration. Penske then high-tailed it back to Bristol in time to watch his Miller Lite Winston Cup team win with Rusty Wallace aboard.
The Alltel crew used their resources as well as pit strategy to get Newman up front and keep him there by pitting just twice but only once for new tires during the 200-mile event. "The race car was perfect," said Newman after the race. "I can't complain at all. We didn't change a single thing except add fuel and change tires. Hoosier had a great tire and it lasted a long time. We decided to pit on lap 25 and nobody else pitted with us. At that time, I understood what our strategy was, but I thought that more people would come with us. We understood that the tires would be great on long runs. After that, it was just common sense, just to gas and go and stay out front."
And that's exactly what the open-wheel graduate did all the way to the checkered flag with Steele trailing in second by less than a second in the HS Die-Softech Ford. AJ Henriksen raced the Engineered Components Ford to third in the final running order recording his career-best ARCA finish with Billy Venturini, in the Permatex-Jeff Wyler Chevrolet, finishing fourth. Bobby Gerhart, in the Greektown Casinos Chevy, completed the top-five finishers.
Newman had a 10-length lead over Steele with 4 laps to go when Bob Strait, who was running third in Mark Thompson's Midway Island Ford, cut a tire and spun down the frontstretch. Strait would soldier on to a seventh place finish eventually but the incident, in the meantime, brought out the caution flag setting the stage for one final green flag lap to determine the winner. But after leading 83 of the required 134 laps, the determined Newman was not about to give it up now and never allowed Steele to get close enough to strike.
Frank Kimmel, in Larry Clement's Advance Auto Parts Chevy, led for 51 laps and twice passed Newman for the lead before cutting a left rear tire late in the event forcing the current point leader to lose two laps on pit road for repairs.
Bob Schacht, in the Racing for Christ Ford, raced with the leaders all day and steered to the final stripe in sixth with Strait trailing as the last car on the lead lap. Mark Gibson, making his 200th career ARCA start in the especially prepared Cornwell Quality Tools Chevy, raced in the top-five for much of the event until the Winder, Georgia veteran lost a lap pitting for fuel under green when soon thereafter the caution came out. Gibson still finished eighth in front of Trussville, Alabama's Marc Brenner in ninth. Shawna Robinson, who completed the top-10 finishers in her Kmart-Pacific Garden Ford, was a continual factor for victory until the Des Moines, Iowa native, like Gibson, got caught on pit road under green pitting for fuel right before the caution appeared.
Newman picked up $24,500 for his efforts, prize money that included the $3,000 ARCA Pole-Win Bonus for winning from the pole. Brenner, who started 32nd in the Outdoor Channel Chevy, won the Prestone Highest Finishing Rookie Award as well as the Hoosier Tire Midwest Hard Charger honors for advancing the most positions. Gibson teammate Joe Cooksey, in the SunSpeed.net-Maurtco Powder Coating Chevy, was the BSR Second Round Fastest Qualifier.
CURRENT POINTS: FRANK KIMMEL 3775, BOB STRAIT 3565, TIM STEELE 3545, BRIAN ROSS 3345, BOBBY GERHART 3275, MARK GIBSON 3240, SHAWNA ROBINSON 3135, NORM BENNING 3020, ANDY BELMONT 3015, JOE COOKSEY 2830.