Talladega: Race report

Menard takes Talladega TALLADEGA AL (9-27-03) ARCA RE/MAX Series rookie Paul Menard overcame a variety of challenging issues throughout the week to win the action-packed Food World 300 Saturday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. Menard,...

Menard takes Talladega

TALLADEGA AL (9-27-03) ARCA RE/MAX Series rookie Paul Menard overcame a variety of challenging issues throughout the week to win the action-packed Food World 300 Saturday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.

Menard, in Andy Petree's Turtle Wax-Monaco Coach Chevrolet, worked his way to the front from the back and then held off Billy Venturini to earn the hard-fought victory in only his third series start and first-ever at Talladega.

"This is unbelievable," said Menard in victory lane. "I never saw this place until I got here Thursday morning for pole qualifying. I never had so much fun. This place is incredible. Just a big thanks to Andy Petree for giving me a great car to work with and having the faith in me to get the job done. He's not only a great crew chief, but he's one heck of a coach. Thanks to all the guys on the crew for believing in me. This is the biggest win of my career. I can't wait to run this place again."

Menard's storybook week started off with a bang when the Eau Claire, Wisconsin driver posted the quickest speed in qualifying. However, it went downhill in a hurry when his time was later disallowed in post-qualifying inspection after his quarter panels failed to meet a minimum height requirement. Consequently, the team worked into a provisional starting spot that would place Menard 38th in the lineup. Undaunted, Menard gathered up his wits, dodged the typical Talladega close calls and worked his way into the lead by lap 62 of the 113-lap race. Once out front, several top contenders took shots at the eventual winner but to no avail as Menard turned back every attempt.

Venturini, in the Alabama Auto Show Pontiac, finished second inches away with Tony Ave trailing tight behind in third in the KDS Controls/Cen-Tex Apparel Pontiac, a career-best for the Indianapolis, Indiana driver. Frank Kimmel finished fourth in the Advance Auto Parts-Pork Ford ahead of Christi Passmore who finished a career-best fifth in the GAP Roofing-Royal Trading Ford in her first Talladega start.

Outside polesitter Bobby Gerhart beat Old Milwaukee polesitter Kyle Busch to the first corner at the onset and led the first 7 laps before getting shuffled back in favor of Chase Montgomery who took control on lap eight. From there, Montgomery flexed his restrictor plate muscles big time and led up through lap 55. By then Gerhart had already been caught up in an accident with Mark Gibson, which took both top contenders from the mix before Montgomery's day would soon come to an end with wheel bearing failure. Then David Stremme, making his first series start in Chip Ganassi's Coors Light Dodge, surfaced as a bona fide threat and led six laps before giving it up to Menard for good 52 laps from the finish.

The typical Talladega two- and three-wide racing kept things exciting and close throughout the 300-miler. It also provided the breeding ground for some multi-car wrecks, one of which took out several top contenders on lap 68 when defending race winner Keith Segars cut down a tire and spun coming through turn four. The spin triggered a multi-car pile-up which eliminated several would-be contenders including Busch, Boris Said, Ken Weaver, Matt Hagans and Shelby Howard to name a few. Both Segars and Weaver were transported to local area hospitals, conscious and alert, for further evaluation. Segars was released later that night while Weaver was held overnight.

Late in the race, Stremme, after pressuring Menard for the lead, bounced off Passmore as the two battled for position within the top five. The incident forced Stremme to pit under green to repair right-side body damage. From there, an additional stop and go penalty for speeding on pit road effectively eliminated any shot at a victory.

Mark Thompson, making his return to ARCA RE/MAX Series competition, finished a solid sixth in the Reformed Products Ford in front of Bill Eversole who steered the Think Pink Energy Drink Chevrolet to the finish in seventh in his first Talladega start. Keith Murt finished eighth in the Murtco Chevrolet with CW Smith trailing in ninth in the Panasonic Chevrolet. Greg Sarff, in the Quaker Steak & Lube Ford, started 32nd and finished tenth earning the Hoosier Tire Hard Charger award for advancing the most positions. Darrell Basham, who cut down a tire early on and made contact with the wall, won the Landrum Spring Hard Luck award as a consolation.

The next events for the ARCA RE/MAX Series will be Thursday night, October 9 under the lights at Lowe's Motor Speedway before wrapping up the season at the South Boston Speedway short-track on October 18.

CURRENT TOP-10 ARCA RE/MAX SERIES POINTS: 1) Frank Kimmel 5515; 2) Jason Jarrett 4785; 3) Mark Gibson 4445; 4) Billy Venturini 4415; 5) Shelby Howard 4380; 6) Brent Sherman 4370; 7) Bill Eversole 4115; 8) Todd Bowsher 4010; 9) Christi Passmore 3980; 10) Ron Cox 3860


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Series ARCA
Drivers Boris Said , Frank Kimmel , Greg Sarff , Tony Ave , Chase Montgomery , Bobby Gerhart , Darrell Basham , Shelby Howard , Billy Venturini , Ron Cox , Brent Sherman , Mark Gibson , Andy Petree , Keith Murt , Paul Menard , David Stremme , Christi Passmore , Matt Hagan , Mark Thompson , Kyle Busch