DuQUOIN, Ill. (Sept. 4, 2017) -- Fort Kent, Maine's Austin Theriault put an exclamation point on a picture-perfect day for Ken Schrader Racing Monday afternoon at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds mile dirt.
Right after bossman Ken Schrader wheeled his own No. 9 Federated Auto Parts Modified to Victory Lane -- holding off Tony Stewart for the win -- Theriault steered Schrader's No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota to the winner's circle in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards General Tire GRABBER 100, the 64th edition of the Southern Illinois 100.
Theriault, from outside row one, out-hustled leader Shane Lee into turn one during the second green-white-checker attempt and pulled away while Lee got the chrome horn from Sheldon Creed. While Creed and Lee banged around back and forth, Theriault drove away from everyone, winning by just over a second at the final stripe.
"We got a good restart," said Theriault. "I had to get him on that restart…other than that we would have ended up in the fence."
Both Lee and Creed could have ended up in the "fence" when Lee got a shot from behind from Creed before Lee paid it back with a shot of his own.
"It was just hard racing there, all going for the win," said Creed. "My plan was to push the 22 (Lee) and get him in front of the 52. It didn't pan out like we wanted. Me and Lee were going for our first win…it was just hard racing."
Creed, in the No. 78 United Rentals-Mason Mitchell Motorsports Chevrolet, came home second, a career-best for the Alpine, Calif. driver.
If it ended up a decent day for Creed, it was pure heartbreak for Lee who, not only led the most laps (48), had a three-second lead inside of 10 laps to go before late-race cautions bunched up the field for two back-to-back green-white-checker (GWC) restarts. Lee had a different version of what happened on the final restart.
"I knew when he (Creed) started third behind us, I knew our day was done," said Lee, who backed up to sixth in the final running order. "He always drives like that. We took the best car and finished sixth."
The green-white-checker finish that preceded the final GWC played out even worse for several potential winners. It happened when the field got three-wide in turn one and then ran out of room coming off turn two. The crash involved General Tire Polesitter Will Kimmel, Tanner Thorson, Brandon Grosso, Tyler Dippel, Riley Herbst and Ryan Unzicker. While Kimmel, Unzicker and Grosso were able to continue, the rest were through for the day. The biggest beneficiary in the ordeal was Gus Dean who managed to clear the carnage with an evasive, bonsai-style move on the bottom. Dean also held on to finish third in the No. 32 GREE Cooling Products Toyota.
"A lucky day like this is what we needed," said Dean. "I'd rather be lucky than good."
Dean fought a variety of issues all day from radiator problems that caused him to start in the back to brake issues during the race.
"With the brake issues we had, I had to back up the corners, but this Win-Tron team kept fighting and got our situation much better. I was really lucky with that wreck…I just barely got underneath that."
Unzicker, who also caught a piece of the crash, finished fourth in Bill Hendren's RJR Transportation Toyota.
"The car really came around at the end," said Unzicker. "The track really took rubber and we started getting tight. We had a ton of tire left…I might have saved too much but all in all it's pretty cool to be standing here."
The win, his fifth of the season, helped pad Theriault's championship lead with just four races remaining.
"It's almost unbelievable when you think about it," Theriault added. "The 22 and the 78 were fighting for the bottom and I saw an opening…that's when we got a run on the outside. There's a lot of patience that goes with these dirt races. You have to adjust your lines corner to corner…gotta be able to hang it out there and keep it there. Today was not easy but it was fun. The line was all over the place, which makes it fun. But we didn't walk away with this one."
Grosso finished fifth in his career-first start in a second Ken Schrader Racing entry with Lee finishing sixth in the Big Tine Ford. Kimmel soldered home in seventh in the FASS Fuel-Team Construction-Laramee Jewelers Ford with Dalton Sargeant trailing in eighth in the Big Tine Ford. Local favorite Joe Cooksey, with his engine going up in smoke, finished ninth in the Hot2Go Pizza Ford. Tom Hessert finished 10th in the Musselman's Apple Sauce Toyota.
Kimmel led the first 18 laps from the pole before Creed took control on the 19th circuit. Then Unzicker raced his way into the lead for seven laps before Creed came back to the front. But once Lee took control on lap 59, he was able to pull away from the pack as necessary before the late cautions changed everything.
The ARCA Racing Series heads to Salem Speedway next for the Eddie Gilstrap Motors ARCA Fall Classic Saturday, Sept. 9, the 102nd ARCA race at Salem since 1955. Several throwback paint schemes are expected while Bill Kimmel, Sr. has been named the Grand Marshal.