Atlanta: Race report

In Closest Arca Re/Max Finish, Lusk Edges Blount HAMPTON GA (3-9-02) by Don Radebaugh - It was the classic clash of young titans in search of their career-first big-time win. It was also the closest finish ever recorded in 50 years of ARCA...

In Closest Arca Re/Max Finish, Lusk Edges Blount

HAMPTON GA (3-9-02) by Don Radebaugh - It was the classic clash of young titans in search of their career-first big-time win. It was also the closest finish ever recorded in 50 years of ARCA RE/MAX Series competition.

Damon Lusk, with heavy raindrops pelting the Atlanta Motor Speedway, edged out rookie Chad Blount at the final stripe by .001 seconds to win Saturday's thrilling Pork The Other White Meat 400. The margin of victory was as close as today's high-tech transponders can measure.

With threatening skies overhead, Blount, on the inside, raced Lusk door to door and inches apart for what would become the final few laps. With nearly three-fourths of the race complete, the skies opened up as the leaders raced back around to the line for a photo finish, which would ultimately determine the winner.

"I was wide open trying to beat Chad," said Lusk. "When Chad and I came back (during the last lap) I didn't see any rain; all of a sudden, my window was covered. I did everything I could not to spin out. I blocked Chad a couple of times and he knew what I was doing. He saw the rain coming too. That was awesome. Finally got one."

After a brief but heavy downpour, jet dryers attempted to dry the track before another shower soon engulfed the 1.54-mile superspeedway eliminating any chance to get back underway.

Blount's stout run came in the only Dodge in the line-up after the Walkerton, Indiana second-generation driver won the Old Milwaukee Pole with a new one-lap ARCA/AMS track record.

"I got underneath him (Lusk) and I didn't want to take any chances on wiggling somebody for a win," said Blount. "But hey, we'll take this unsponsored Ernie Elliott-powered Dodge home with a second place finish. It's good for the points deal."

In fact, it's better than good as Blount, after his fourth place finish at Daytona, is the new point leader over Lusk heading to Nashville Superspeedway in April.

As exciting as the finish was, it could have been all for not as Frank Kimmel dominated the early going until the defending series champion cut down a right-front tire and slammed the wall in turns one and two. Although it effectively ended his day, Kimmel's bad luck clearly opened new doors for several potential race winners, most of whom were rookies.

One of those rookies was 2001 NASCAR Goody's Dash Series champion Cam Strader who steered his Homestyle Bakes Pontiac to the finish in third. "Finishing third is just like a win for us," said Strader. "This is my first ARCA RE/MAX race; my first time being in a 3,400 lb. car on radial tires."

United Kingdom rookie Michael Vergers finished fourth in Bob Schacht's BruichLaddich Ford in front of Jason Jarrett who finished fifth in the Biomet-Damon RV Chevrolet. Jarrett, who had pitted out of sequence with the leaders earlier, was quickly charging to the front on fresher tires but the rain all but eliminated his chance for victory.

At the onset, outside polesitter Kimmel charged into the lead and checked out on the field dominating the first 51 laps before his demise. Blount would then take control and lead for two laps before Jarrett took his turn at the head of the pack. Jarrett led the next 28 laps before Blount again took the lead on lap 82. In need of pit road service, a caution flag, one of 6 in the race, provided the opportunity the leaders were looking for as rain clouds approached. However, Lusk's crew got him out first before the race would again go green. When the race resumed, Lusk, in Steve Palac's Dynatek-One Race America Chevy, opened up a five car advantage but it evaporated quickly when Blount soon tracked down the leader in time for the ensuing late-race duel.

Andy Belmont, in the Spirit Gas-AOL-Southern Pan Services Ford, maneuvered his way from the 35th starting position to finish a solid sixth ahead of Billy Venturini, who raced his Sports Authority Chevy from the 18th starting position to finish seventh.

Tina Gordon, in only her third RE/MAX Series start, finished eighth in Mark Thompson's 3M Post-it Note Ford. The rain worked to the advantage of the Cedar Bluff, Alabama driver as her machine was beginning to fall back with mechanical gremlins after running as high as fourth in the late going. Top rookie contender Shelby Howard finished a respectable ninth while Doug Stevens, in only his second start, completed the top-10 finishers in the Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford.

For Lusk, the victory came in only his 19th attempt with veteran and former ARCA RE/MAX champion crew chief Keith Strunk directing. In addition to the Old Milwaukee Pole, Blount picked up the Loctite Halfway Leader award and the ARCA Highest Finishing Rookie honors. Ron Cox, in the PPR-AmeriHost Inn Chevrolet, won the Hoosier Performance Tire Hard Charger award for his 12th place finish after starting 29th.

CURRENT TOP-10 POINTS AFTER ATLANTA: 1) Chad Blount 460; 2) Damon Lusk 440; 3) Jason Jarrett 375; 4) Andy Hillenburg 340; 5) Billy Venturini 305: 6) Frank Kimmel 300; 7) Mike Buckley 295; 8) Tina Gordon 290; 9)Todd Bowsher 285; 9) Shelby Howard 285.

-arc-

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About this article
Series ARCA
Drivers Mike Buckley , Frank Kimmel , Andy Belmont , Chad Blount , Michael Vergers , Andy Hillenburg , Tina Gordon , Jason Jarrett , Shelby Howard , Doug Stevens , Billy Venturini , Damon Lusk , Ron Cox , Todd Bowsher , Mark Thompson , Bob Schacht