Bill Baird Bags Atlanta Loot for 1st ARCA Win By Don Radebaugh Hampton, GA - Sturgis, Kentucky's Bill Baird capitalized on the misfortunes of Mike Swaim, Jr. and then held off Darrell Lanigan and Blaise Alexander on the final lap to win the ...
Bill Baird Bags Atlanta Loot for 1st ARCA Win By Don Radebaugh
Hampton, GA - Sturgis, Kentucky's Bill Baird capitalized on the misfortunes of Mike Swaim, Jr. and then held off Darrell Lanigan and Blaise Alexander on the final lap to win the Johnson Industries-EasyCare 300k Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was Baird's first career ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series victory in his 28th attempt. With a sizeable lead, Swaim had victory lane in sight when the High Point, North Carolina hot-shoe cut a right front tire seven laps from the finish and slammed into the outside retaining wall in turn four before coasting to a stop in the grass along the frontstretch. The former NASCAR Goody's Dash Series champion was unhurt but transported to Atlanta Medical Center for a precautionary examination.
That set the stage for the thrilling finish with Lanigan, Alexander, Frank Kimmel, Mark Gibson and Bobby Gerhart lined up directly behind Baird's Saturn Machine-Spee Dee Pop Chevrolet when the green and white flag appeared together to signal the ensuing one-lap shootout. In the final round, Lanigan peaked inside of Baird down the backstretch and again off the fourth turn but couldn't muster up enough steam to overhaul the eventual winner allowing Baird a margin of victory of only .156 seconds. "Whenever it's your first win, you take it anyway you can get it," said Baird in victory lane. "What a place to win. I had a terrible wreck here leading the race last August and broke my shoulder. That wreck really set me back and I always wondered if I could come back and run well here. The good thing about it, is that I get to go home and brag about it all weekend, and it's only Friday." Alexander finished a car length behind Lanigan in third ahead of Kimmel and Gibson to complete the top five. Gerhart's sixth place finish puts the recent Daytona ARCA 200 winner atop the point standings after two events.
After starting from the pole with a new track record of 186.591 mph, rookie David Keith, driving a Jeremy Mayfield-Michael Kranefuss owned Ford Taurus, led at the onset for 18 laps before the first of five cautions appeared when Rick Markle and Clay Young tangled in turns three and four. That shuffled the order considerably when most of the frontrunners came down pit road for service except for Alexander who elected to forego the opportunity. Alexander then led the next 21 circuits before giving it up to Lanigan who led twice for 29 laps. Rookie Christian Elder took his turn up front for nine rounds as did Joe Cooksey who led three laps before Swaim raced his Pontiac to the point on lap 80 of the 122 lap race. From there, Swaim showed the way for the next 35 laps and built a comfortable margin over Baird before his bout with the wall ended his day. Keith, a factor up front all afternoon, finished 10th after a late-race pitstop under green to cure a vibration eliminated his chance for victory. Veteran Bob Strait finished seventh in front of Cavin Councilor whose eighth place effort was a career-best on a superspeedway for the Naples, Florida driver. Dill Whittymore, with new sponsorship from the Mt. Olive Pickle Company, came home ninth.
Baird, the 1998 ARCA STP-Prestone Rookie of the Year, became the fourth first-time ARCA winner in the last five events at Atlanta Motor Speedway joining Harris DeVane, Kirk Shelmerdine and Swaim in that honor.
If nothing else, Swaim earned the Landrum Spring Hard Luck award for his troubles. Jim Lamoreaux, driving for James Hylton, won the Hoosier Tire Midwest Hard Charger honors for advancing the most positions, from 38th to 17th. Lanigan was the Auto Value Halfway Leader and Keith was the STP-Prestone Highest Finishing Rookie.
The ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series will now turn its attention to the short tracks with Salem Speedway next up in the lineup on April 18th followed by Anderson Speedway on May 9th. .
SERIES POINT LEADERS: Bobby Gerhart 465, Bill Baird 425, Mike Swaim Jr 365, Mark Stahl 325, Mark Voigt 320, Bob Strait 315, Frank Kimmel 305, Cavin Councilor 295, Jimmy Kitchens, Matt Hutter 275.