Illinois: Race report

SPRINGFIELD, IL (8-17-03) By Don Radebaugh -- They held him off for a while but not long enough to keep ARCA RE/MAX Series veteran Frank Kimmel out of the record books at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. With a near-capacity crowd on hand,...

SPRINGFIELD, IL (8-17-03) By Don Radebaugh -- They held him off for a while but not long enough to keep ARCA RE/MAX Series veteran Frank Kimmel out of the record books at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

With a near-capacity crowd on hand, the four-time series champion made history Sunday afternoon on the Springfield, Illinois mile-dirt oval with a record fourth consecutive victory in the Allen Crowe Memorial 100.

The wins sets Kimmel apart from the motorsports world as the only driver ever to win four straight national stock car championship events at the renowned central Illinois fairgrounds oval.

"We're not sure if we could have gotten around Bob Strait, but it looked like he broke a transmission or something, and we were able to capitalize," said Kimmel in victory lane. "You know to win one of these races on the mile-dirt's was always a dream of mine, but to win four in a row at Springfield -- I never dared to dream that big, but here we are. What a great effort from the whole Advance Auto Parts-Pork crew. I rate these wins at Springfield and DuQuoin right up there with my victories at Charlotte, MIS and Atlanta."

Kimmel, who also won the Old Milwaukee Pole award, maneuvered underneath St. Joseph, Missouri driver Doug Keller for the lead on lap 78 of the 100-lap, 100-mile race and pulled away by nearly 4 seconds at the final stripe to earn his 48 career series victory in his 251st attempt.

Keller, in his own Keller Motorsports Pontiac, finished second to Kimmel for the second consecutive year.

"Our car just wouldn't stay on the bottom as well as Frank's would," said Keller. "If you continually open up the inside line here, they're eventually gunna sneak under you. We did the best we could with what we came with. Second place two years in a row here to Frank isn't too bad."

Mark Gibson steered his Williams Brothers Lumber Chevrolet from 15th to third in the finishing order with Ron Cox, in the Invisible Glass Pontiac, trailing in fourth. Norm Benning, on seven cylinders, raced from the 33rd starting position to a career-best fifth place finish in the Tobin's RV & Boat Cleaner-Heubner Tire Chevrolet.

The outcome, however, may have been much different had not Bob Strait's axle failed while leading late in the race. Strait, who started outside pole, led the most laps and was doing a masterful job holding off Kimmel before his Hendren Motorsports Pontiac failed to pick up proper speed on a restart. Strait, who led 40 laps overall, cruised around at a slow speed for a lap before pulling off for good 25 laps shy of the finish. Up until that point, the crowd thrilled in the two veteran ARCA RE/MAX Series campaigners as they raced nose to tail and side by side for several circuits with Strait continually denying Kimmel the lead.

Kimmel led the first ten laps before a caution period allowed drivers to make their one mandatory pit stop during which Strait beat Kimmel off pit road. Back under green, Keller, who didn't pit, led while Strait, Kimmel, Jason Jarrett, Cox and Gibson, all of whom pitted, quickly raced back through the pack towards the front. Keller led up through lap 31 before making his mandatory pit stop handing the lead to Strait who had since raced up into second. From there, Strait fought off continual challenges from Kimmel lap after lap. Kimmel briefly took the lead on lap 60 only to give it back to Strait a lap later. Then Keller again emerged as a serious player and passed Kimmel for second off turn two. By now, Strait had increased his advantage over Keller and Kimmel by five lengths. Then Strait's machine stumbled on a late-race restart while Keller, Kimmel, Cox, Gibson and Ryan Unzicker, making his career-first start, raced on by. Keller held Kimmel off up through lap 77 before Kimmel made his winning pass for good down the main straightaway.

Unzicker finished a solid sixth in a second Hendren entry with Jarrett, who pitted several times trying to cure overheating troubles, hung in there for seventh. Billy Venturini was also on pit road throughout with overheating issues but still managed an eighth place finish the family-owned Chevrolet. Bill Eversole, in the Think Pink Energy Drink Chevrolet, was the last car on the lead lap in ninth position with late model standout Terry English, making his career-first start, completing the top-ten finishers, one lap down.

In addition to Kimmel's winning purse, the current point leader picked up the National Pork Board Pole-Win bonus. Strait picked up the Landrum Spring Hard Luck Award while Jarrett's crew won the Gladiator of the Race honors for their persistence and quality service on pit road during the race. Jim Hollenbeck, who started 32nd and finished 15th, won the Hoosier Tire Hard Charger Award for advancing the most positions.

CURRENT ARCA RE/MAX SERIES POINTS AFTER SPRINGFIELD (8-17-03) 1. Frank Kimmel 4200; 2. Jason Jarrett 3625; 3. Mark Gibson 3465; 4. Billy Venturini 3375; 5. Shelby Howard 3315; 6. Brent Sherman 3275; 7. Ron Cox 3070; 8. Todd Bowsher 3000; 9. Christi Passmore 2985; 10. Bill Eversole 2935.

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Series ARCA
Drivers Frank Kimmel , Jason Jarrett , Shelby Howard , Billy Venturini , Ron Cox , Brent Sherman , Mark Gibson , Todd Bowsher , Norm Benning , Doug Keller , Christi Passmore , Ryan Unzicker
Teams Williams