Earnhardt Takes ARCA Re/Max Atlanta Finale HAMPTON GA, by Don Radebaugh - Still reeling over the tragic loss of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, race fans nationwide nurtured their sorrow through ARCA RE/MAX Series driver Kerry Earnhardt, the...
Earnhardt Takes ARCA Re/Max Atlanta Finale
HAMPTON GA, by Don Radebaugh - Still reeling over the tragic loss of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, race fans nationwide nurtured their sorrow through ARCA RE/MAX Series driver Kerry Earnhardt, the eldest son of the seven-time Winston Cup champion, who drove to victory lane Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Pork The Other White Meat 400.
Earnhardt, while the healthy crowd stood and roared with overwhelming approval, posted his fourth RE/MAX Series win in only his 11th attempt. In victory lane, Earnhardt attributed his victory to Blaise Alexander who was killed in a racing accident at Lowe's Motor Speedway in October.
"It was hard losing Blaise," said an emotional Earnhardt. "That race (Earnhardt's win at Lowe's) wasn't a victory to me; it was a loss. This victory was to celebrate Blaise's life and the racer he was. This race here in November, this is Blaise's. This is his race; he was with us and that's why we won."
The expert pit service from his well-oiled Dale Earnhardt, Inc. pit crew, the same crew that services the Pennzoil Chevy in Winston Cup competition, probably didn't hurt either. The DEI guys continually out-performed all others throughout the 162-lap race and kept Earnhardt in a position to win. From there, Earnhardt answered back with 75 laps-led including the final 19 in his Diamond Cut Jeans-sponsored Chevrolet. In the end, Earnhardt finished more than six seconds ahead of his closest rival Shane Hmiel who finished a solid second in the GoARMY.com Chevrolet in his career-first RE/MAX Series start.
"When you run with names like Earnhardt and Kimmel you really have to work hard to stay up with those guys," said Hmiel. "This is our first step in the big cars and we feel we have had a great showing. Dad was on the radio with me the whole time helping to keep me focused." Hmiel is the son of renowned Winston Cup crew chief Steve Hmiel who now works for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
2001 ARCA RE/MAX Series champion Frank Kimmel capped off a solid week with a third place finish after leading 59 laps in the Advance Auto Parts-Pork Ford. In addition, Kimmel, on Thursday, won the Old Milwaukee Pole Award with a new one-lap track record (188.854 mph), his 11th pole of the year.
Rookie sensation Stuart Kirby charged from the tail-end of the field in Bob Schacht's Combos Ford to finish fourth. Kirby's crew, in an effort to compete with Earnhardt's, gambled with a two-tire stop on the final pit stop while all the other front-runners took four. And although Kirby won the race off pit road and led eight laps, the strategy did not pay off with a win. Nonetheless, it was Kirby's fifth top-five in eight starts. Tim Steele, who struggled with a loose car all afternoon, finished fifth in his own HS Die-Softech-Willy's Carburetor Ford.
In all, there were 17 lead changes among five drivers including Hmiel who led 14 circuits while Garfield, Minnesota driver Rick Thoennes led the other six. Seven cautions slowed the race for 45 laps for a variety of one and two car incidents, although no drivers were injured. ARCA RE/MAX Series runner-up point finisher and Rookie of the Year Jason Jarrett finished sixth ahead of veteran Ed Berrier in seventh, the last car on the lead lap. Damon Lusk, one lap down, finished eighth with Robert Burroughs trailing in ninth. Thoennes completed the top-ten finishers.
Kevin Belmont, who started 37th in the Fisher Marine Construction Ford, won the Hoosier Tire Hard Charger award for his respectable 14th place finish while Kimmel picked up the Loctite Halfway Leader award.
The next event for the ARCA RE/MAX Series, just concluding its 49th season of competition, will be the championship awards banquet at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center just south of Cincinnati, Ohio on Saturday, December 8.
FINAL 2001 ARCA RE/MAX SERIES TOP-10 POINTS: 1) Frank Kimmel 7080; 2) Jason Jarrett 6000; 3) Andy Belmont 5470; 4) Ron Cox 5070; 5) Norm Benning 4750; 6) Todd Bowsher 4690; 7) Chuck Weber 4560; 8) Donny Morelock 4495; 9) Tim Steele 4300; 10) Mike Buckley 3470.