Hampton, GA, 11-20-00 - Veteran Bob Strait, who spent most of the Georgia Boot 400 a lap down, roared back with a vengeance and raced underneath Shawna Robinson on the final restart with less than three laps remaining to win the thrilling rain-delayed ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series finale Monday afternoon at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Robinson had a commanding lead over Kerry Earnhardt with less than ten laps remaining when the final caution came out for Mario Gosselin who hit the backstretch inner retaining wall after getting bumped from behind by Dan Pardus. That allowed Strait, Justin Labonte, David Keith and Damon Lusk, all of whom were on the tail-end of the lead lap just ahead of the leader, to race back around and line up directly behind Robinson and Earnhardt for the restart.
With the green flag waving for the final time, Robinson steered high to block Earnhardt heading into turn one. That opened a hole to the low side for Strait who charged underneath both Robinson and Earnhardt heading through turns one and two. By the time the pack raced onto the backstretch Strait, in Mark Thompson's Dauphin Tech Ford, held the lead over Robinson and Earnhardt who were by now beginning to feel the heat from Labonte, Keith and Lusk. Labonte, who started 37th in his father Terry Labonte's Slim Jim Chevy, raced around Robinson in time to make one final charge at the leader, but fell short by less than a half second at the final stripe. For Strait, it was his 16th career ARCA victory while Labonte picked up the runner-up honors in only his third ARCA start.
"We got behind in the early part of the race and kept fighting our way back," said Strait in victory lane. "After we got our lap back, we elected to put two tires on instead of four because the car was a little tight. That helped me get right down on the bottom on the restart and gave us what we needed there at the end. I actually saw a puff of smoke come out of her (Shawna Robinson) pipes on the restart. I don't know if she missed a shift or what happened, but it kind of slowed her up. I saw Kerry (Earnhardt) run up on her. I pulled down underneath. From there we had enough momentum to carry us by both of them. That last yellow was definitely the break we needed. If that hadn't happened, we wouldn't have won the race."
Keith, in the Sadler Brothers Shoney's Inn Ford, finished a close third while Lusk, driving for Bob Schacht in the Racing for Christ Ministries Ford, finished a convincing fourth in his first Atlanta start after leading 18 laps earlier in the event. Robinson, who led 66 laps of the 162-lap race, finished fifth. "I'm definitely not happy," said a disappointed Robinson. "It was so close. There was no doubt we were the class of the field. Darn, I needed this one; I need a sponsor for next year. I still don't know what it's like to go to victory lane. Gear-wise, I don't think we were really great on restarts." Regardless, Robinson became the first female driver to ever compete in a full ARCA season as well as finish in the top-ten in points. Earnhardt finished sixth, the last car on the lead lap.
Three-time ARCA champion Tim Steele led 33 laps and was a contender all day until an altercation with Robinson off turn two ended his day 44 laps from the finish. Steele, leading at the time, got a nudge from Robinson who was attempting to position her Michael Kranefuss Ford Taurus to the outside of Steele. The incident dropped Steele from second to third in the final point standings. "I got turned around coming off turn two -- pretty simple," said Steele. "I'm sure it wasn't intentional, at least I hope it wasn't. She hasn't won a race all year so I'm sure the pressure's on."
Race fans were treated to 15 lead changes among eight drivers during the event while six cautions slowed the race for 47 laps. The severest accident happened on lap 80 when Matt Mullins made heavy contact with the backstretch wall. Mullins was conscious and alert following the incident, but was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center for precautionary measures.
Rookie AJ Alsup, in the Trac Scan Chevy, finished sixth one lap down while Brian Ross finished eighth in the Loctite-Damon RV Chevy. As a result of Ross's top-ten finish, the Plymouth, Indiana driver secured this year's Prestone ARCA Rookie of the Year award. Billy Venturini, in his father Bill Venturini's Permatex Chevy, finished ninth ahead of Lance Hooper who completed the top-ten finishers in Bill Terry's Ingles Markets Pontiac.
The next event for the ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series will be the championship awards banquet at the Regal Cincinnati Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio Saturday, December 9. <pre> FINAL ARCA TOP-10 POINTS: FRANK KIMMEL 4980 BOB STRAIT 4720 TIM STEELE 4665 BRIAN ROSS 4470 BOBBY GERHART 4330 SHAWNA ROBINSON 4265 MARK GIBSON 4065 JOE COOKSEY 3965 NORM BENNING 3950 ANDY BELMONT 3765