Bobby Gerhart celebrates in victory lane at Daytona for the eighth time, including the last three in a row. [Russ Lake Photo]
Gerhart Scores Unbelievable Victory In ARCA Action At Daytona
by Joe Jennings
Daytona Beach, Fla. - Bobby Gerhart scored an unbelievable victory in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at the Daytona International Speedway late Saturday afternoon. Starting last, the Pennsylvania driver staged an incredible comeback to cop a last-lap victory in the opening race of the season for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.
The Pennsylvanian's only lead came in the final yards and his margin of victory was .230 seconds. In winning, Gerhart went to victory lane at Daytona for the eighth time, including the last three in a row.
Running fifth when a late-race caution sent the 80-lap event into overtime, Gerhart pounced when the leaders stated running low on fuel. Pushed by runner-up finisher Drew Charlson the pair went to the outside when the engines of the four cars ahead of them balked with the finish line in sight.
"On that last lap, I had a great run down the backstretch," the victor said. "I thought I had nothing to lose, so I put it on the outside. When the leaders' cars blipped, I was in the right place at the right time. There are certain opportunities you get and when the right opportunity comes up, you go for it. I was helped when the No. 28 (Charlson) gave me a big shove (forward).
Gerhart took the pole position a day ago but when his engine failed ARCA's technical inspection, he was relegated to the 42nd starting spot. During a team meeting last evening, they elected not to give up and after installing another engine, Gerhart bounced back and topped the speed charts in the morning practice session.
Their last-to-first showing was a crowd pleaser and making it happen at the finish line thrilled the fans.
Said crew chief Billy Gerhart, "I learned from my dad and Bobby to never give up. We gambled during the race and we had we not gotten lapped, we might not have made it. And this race is the best one I have ever seen here."
The leaders had been conserving fuel for the final 15 laps, and during late-race slowdowns, they had been running on the apron of the track and shutting their engines off to save fuel, but when the race length had to be extended, they were out of luck.
Brandon McReynolds, Chris Windom and Will Kimmel headed the field for many laps with McReynolds leading 64 consecutive laps. He was scored in 11th place.
The frontrunners had pitted on the ninth lap while Gerhart and Charlson stopped two laps later, which made the difference. The winner pitted on the first lap for an adjustment and again 10 laps later, this time for fuel. He lost a lap with the first stop but through the "lucky dog" policy, he regained the lead lap and ran in top 15 for the first half of the race.
Gerhart drove the Lucas Oil Slick Mist Chevrolet.
Making only his second ARCA start, teenager Charlson, who drove the same RCR Chevrolet that Ty Dillon raced here a year ago, made a spectacular showing to finish second to the elder statesman of racing. The car is now known as the Aluma Aluminum Trailers Chevrolet.
"I stayed on Bobby's bumper and it is truly amazing," the Ohio youngster said. "For only my second start, this is amazing. Coming out of No. 4 (turn), I just stuck with him."
Kimmel held on for third place in the Enterprise Software Development Ford. "I thought I was in really good shape on the last lap but then I got held up by Chris Windom (low on fuel), and those two (Gerhart and Charlson) passed me. When Windom slowed, it broke my momentum, and you know what that means."
Fourth went to Steve Blackburn and fifth to Mark Thompson.
Trailing the front five were Max Gresham, Brennan Poole, Windom, Alex Kennedy and Tommy Hessert Jr.
Hard-luck driver McReynolds ended up 11th.
As the leaders took the checkered flag, mayhem broke out behind them and more than a dozen cars got together, spinning into the grass and across the track. No injuries were sustained.
Eight caution flags slowed the race for 25 laps.