By: Daniel Vining, Twitter: @danielvining
PENSACOLA, Florida (March 9, 2019) — The ARCA Menards Series made its return to Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway on Saturday night in front of a packed crowd of fans eager to see ARCA racing back at the famed half-mile for the first time in 23 years.
Michael Self, driver of the number 25 Sinclair Toyota for Venturini Motorsports, cruised to the win after leading the final 29 laps of the 200 lap event, marking his fourth career win and first on a short track in the ARCA Series.
“This is a big deal for me,” Self said. “A short track in ARCA has eluded me. Even though I don’t think I am a great short track racer, I have had some success in the K&N Series on short tracks. For some reason is just hasn’t translated over here. Maybe this will kick start it.
“I had a lot of confidence in our car. The Venturini Motorsports team as a whole is really good. Whenever we go to one of these short tracks the rest of the year we should be in good shape. I wouldn’t want to be racing against them right now because I am not sure I would be able to beat them.”
Ty Gibbs finished second in his ARCA debut, driving the number 18 Monster Energy Toyota. Gibbs passed third place finisher Christian Eckes on the final turn of the final lap, but wasn’t satisfied with just a second place finish.
“I had a great car, but I think I lost it on pit road,” recalled Gibbs. “It was my first time doing a live pit stop so when I pushed the clutch in it just slipped forward and I think that’s what lost us the race…. I just wish we were in victory lane because I’m tired of finishing second.”
He added, “Second place sucks, but I’m taking away some nice nostalgia to have. We’ll move on to the next knowing knowing that our Monster Energy Toyota was bad fast tonight.”
It was an up and down race all night, mostly down,” said Christian Eckes after finishing third. “We started if good, we were forth or fifth early in the race. It’s just, and I don’t know why, our car just fell off really hard at about the lap 15 mark, and it was like that after the beginning of every run. I wasn’t able to really push as I hard as I wanted to after lap 15. My JBL Audio guys did a great job all day, we just need to be better when we come back for Salem. I have full faith in Kevin and the boys to get it tuned up for me.
Eckes feels that the lack of cautions, there were only two in the race, compounded his issues by not providing the opportunity to make further adjustments.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “In the back of my head I was like are we gonna make a green flag pit stop because we were that bad and we needed to make adjustments. There was only two cautions tonight, and it kinda set up the race perfectly strategy wise. We had a caution on lap 80 something then 140 something, so when you’re leading that’s a nice setup, but we wanted to work on it and try to get it as good as we can, we just didn’t have the opportunity or the time.”
Chandler Smith started on the pole then led early and often throughout the first half of the Pensacola 200. Smith fell back in the latter stages, however, and bounced back to a fourth place finish.
“We struggled overall to find a good balance,” said Smith. “I was trying to adjust to how we run in a Super Late Model here in practice and it kinda backfired on me. Everyone was able to roll off the center better than I was off of the brake pedal. We never could really find that good balance.”
The race was only slowed twice by caution flags, each for debris. The race took just one hour, 12 minutes, and 23 seconds and was completed at an average speed of 82.802 miles per hour, a record pace for a 200-lap race at Five Flags. The previous record, 75.205 miles per hour, was set by Gary Bradberry in 1994.
Self’s official margin of victory was 1.506 seconds over Gibbs.
The next race for the ARCA Menards Series is the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 at Salem Speedway on April 14. The race will be televised live on MAVTV starting at 2 pm Eastern. ARCARacing.com will have free live timing & scoring, track updates, and user chat for ARCA for Me members; new members can register at ARCARacing.com/login.
Some content courtesy of ARCA Communications
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