SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Aug. 20, 2017) -- With a weekend away from his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series duties, Grant Enfinger opted for an ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards adventure at the Illinois State Fairgrounds mile dirt and turned it into a storybook ending.
Enfinger, in the Allgaier Motorsports-prepared 16 car, fought off ARCA championship leader Austin Theriault to win the Herr's Potato Chips 100 Sunday afternoon, then toasted his crew chief, Springfield's own Kelly Kovski in Victory Lane while the locals roared with approval.
"Everybody knows how special this is," said Enfinger. "We've all been rooting for Kelly (Kovski). Next year I'll be on the box and he'll be out here."
Kovski is still mending after being a struck by a race car that had careened off the track. Kovski crew-chiefed for Enfinger through much of his ARCA days in cars fielded out of Allgaier's Springfield race shop.
Enfinger, the 2015 ARCA national champion, won back-to-back ARCA races on the DuQuoin dirt but this was his first at Springfield.
"This is huge for me, especially to do it here in Springfield. The Allgaiers helped me throughout my career. We've been such close friends for so long. They all gave me a hand when I was coming up…this is very special for me."
Enfinger slipped under Christian Eckes for the lead on lap 63 of the 100-lap/100-mile race and stretched his lead to 10 lengths. But once Theriault got to second, the Fort Kent, Maine driver reeled in Enfinger over the closing laps, especially during the last five when they were bumper to bumper.
"We gave it all we had at the end," Enfinger continued. "We used up a little too much early on. Austin (Theriault) did everything right. He was better than us at the end…we just had track position."
Over the last few laps, Theriault got to Enfinger's bumper and tapped it slightly a couple times without upsetting Enfinger's line. In short, Theriault could have moved him, but didn't. He settled for second a length back in the Ken Schrader Racing 52 car.
"Every once in a while we were getting a better run off the corner," said Theriault. "We probably could have tapped him out of the way but coming home second in my first dirt track start is not a bad day."
In fact it was a great day for Theriault who, not only increased his championship points lead, but started the day by winning the General Tire Pole Award. Not too bad for his first time on dirt.
"It was quite a thing for a pavement guy to come here and get the pole. I'm proud of the effort from all these guys on this Ken Schrader Racing team. We were too tight at first but got the car pretty neutral for the end. I wasn't too sure coming in, but now I'm excited to get back to the dirt in a couple weeks."
Tyler Dippel survived a wild day and finished a well-earned third in the No. 33 Win-Tron Racing Toyota.
"I was having a blast out there…this thing was a rocket," said Dippel. "We got in two wrecks and the handling went away but we still finished third. Just want to thank all the guys at Win-Tron Racing for giving me such a great car."
Sheldon Creed, who got freight-trained at the end, fought back to finish fourth in the Mason Mitchell Motorsports 78 Chevrolet. It was Creed's first start on dirt in an ARCA car.
"We got caught up on the outside and fell back to eighth," said Creed. "That's just me learning. The car really came to life at the end. I just gotta thank Mason Mitchell Motorsports…you gotta feel pretty good about this."
Shane Lee, also making his dirt track debut, finished fifth in the No. 22 Big Tine Ford.
"Pretty good day out there…I really enjoyed it," said Lee. "We'll just take what we learned here and take it there (DuQuoin)."
Theriault led the first 32 laps before Enfinger took control for the next 13 laps. Then Enfinger pitted, handing the lead to local favorite AJ Fike who led the next 15 laps. Eckes then raced underneath Fike for the lead before Enfinger took the lead (from Eckes) for good on the 63rd lap.
Seven cautions slowed the race continuously for a variety of spins and wall bangers. There was also one red flag for a four-car pile-up in turns three and four involving Riley Herbst, Brad Smith, Mark Meunier and Alex Clubb. Herbst, Smith and Meunier were evaluated at track and released. Clubb, conscious and alert, was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation, and released.
Eckes, Tyler Speer, Fike, Will Kimmel and Dalton Sargeant completed the top-10, respectively.
The ARCA Racing Series travels next to Road America for the Road America ARCA 100 Sunday, August 27.