Salem, IN -- by Don Radebaugh - It was a good old-fashioned short-track slugfest played out between two former champions on the final two laps. And it was just what the doctor ordered for the standing-room-only Salem Speedway audience as they...
Salem, IN -- by Don Radebaugh - It was a good old-fashioned short-track slugfest played out between two former champions on the final two laps. And it was just what the doctor ordered for the standing-room-only Salem Speedway audience as they stood tall and watched Tracy Leslie, in Jack Bowsher's familiar #21 Ford Taurus, overhaul Frank Kimmel on the final corner of the final lap to win the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 here Sunday afternoon at the historic high-banked Indiana oval.
Following a late-race caution that set the stage for the dramatic 2 lap green-white-checker conclusion, 1998 ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series champion Kimmel slipped underneath '88 ARCA champion Leslie just as the veteran racers took the green flag for the final time and raced off into turn one. Undaunted, Leslie regained his composure, or never lost it, sized up the new leader, and soared underneath Kimmel at the opposite end of the speedway on the final lap.
With the checkered flag in hand, Leslie and Kimmel were double-wide and even-up through turn three until Leslie edged his Ford ahead of Kimmel's Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet off turn four just in time to take the checkered flag. Kimmel settled for second .201 seconds behind the winner with three-time ARCA champion Tim Steele finishing third ahead of Maurtco Powder Coating Chevy teammates Mark Gibson and Joe Cooksey in fourth and fifth. It was Steele's first ARCA appearance since the '99 October Talladega event as well as his first Salem appearance since September of '97.
Leslie, typically quite reserved, pored out plenty of emotion in victory lane. "I can't believe it," gleamed the ecstatic winner. "We started way back today and I knew we were good enough to win if we could just get there. Frank Kimmel is a veteran and he raced me like one today. Good and clean. I'm not saying I didn't rub him a little there at the end but it was just good hard racing. I just love this place. I absolutely love it. I feel great for Jack Bowsher. Not too many people have sacrificed for this sport as long as he has, and to hand him the victory just feels great. We've got some new guys on our team and we're really starting to pull things together. Man I love this place. Bring on Anderson."
Leslie started 18th on the grid and methodically raced his way forward while polesitter Brian Ross led Steele, Dill Whittymore, Kimmel and Shawna Robinson around the speedway for nearly 100 laps before pit stops shuffled the order continually for the remainder of the race. Through the course of nine caution periods and plenty of opportunity for pit service, the lead changed hands 12 times throughout the afternoon before the final curtain call.
Norm Benning, in the SoBe Beverage Chevrolet, matched his career-best ARCA finish of sixth and led for 6 circuits while '99 champion Bill Baird charged from the last position in a back-up car to finish 7th, the last car on the lead lap. Ross lost the lead lap when a tire went flat on his Biomet Chevrolet but recovered to finish eighth ahead of Robinson who rebounded from a spin off turn two to finish ninth in her career-first ARCA short-track start. Kirk Shelmerdine, also in his career-first ARCA short-track start, impressed the locals with a solid 10th place finish in Ken Appling's Broadway Motor Company Chevy. Whittymore, who ran in the top three for most of the afternoon and led 21 of the 205 lap contest, fell out after completing 146 laps with a punctured radiator caused from an altercation with Baird in turn 2.
Baird won the Auto Value Halfway Leader Award as well as the Hoosier Tire Midwest Hard Charger honors for advancing the most positions while Ross was the Prestone Highest Finishing Rookie.
Shelmerdine walked off with the point lead ahead of 12th place finisher Bob Strait and Robinson who is tied with Ross for third as the series heads to the quarter-mile Anderson Speedway oval for a May 14th 300 lapper where an entry from NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader is expected.
CURRENT POINT LEADERS: 1 thru 15 - Kirk Shelmerdine 420, Bob Strait 410, Shawna Robinson 360, Brian Ross 360, Joe Cooksey 350, Bill Baird 335, Tracy Leslie 330, Norm Benning 320, Bobby Gerhart 320, Cavin Councilor 310, Frank Kimmel 305, Andy Belmont 295, Mike Harmon 285, Mark Gibson 270, Curt Piercy 255.