Before being passed by Ty Dillon in the closing inches at Talladega Superspeedway nine days ago, nine-time ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards champion Frank Kimmel looked as prepared as ever to end a then 45-race winless streak, a drought which stretches back to September 13, 2008.
Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford) fell short, losing to Dillon (No. 41 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet) by 0.038 seconds, the closest final margin in the series since 2005. His second-place finish was his second since his last win and the 55th of his 413-start ARCA career, and stretched the second-longest dry spell of his career to 46 races.
Dillon, a rookie with three wins in his first five starts, may have led 50 laps - more than half of the 94-lap total - but what cannot be forgotten are the 32 laps that Kimmel drove out front, providing more than a glimmer of hope for those who hope to see one of ARCA's all-time greats back in Victory Lane soon.
Despite not winning, plenty of momentum is on Kimmel's side, and that's just another positive as the ARCA Racing Series travels to Salem (Ind.) Speedway for Sunday's Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200, the third race of 19 on the 2011 ARCA Racing Series schedule and the 89th ARCA race at the demanding 0.555-mile bullring oval since 1955.
Kimmel has an ARCA-record nine wins at Salem, two more than three-time ARCA champion Jack Bowsher and five more than the next closest competitor. The win on September 13, 2008, his latest of 74? That triumph, too, came at Salem, a track just 35 miles from his hometown of Clarksville, Ind., near Louisville, Ky.
"I always look forward to going back to Salem Speedway, because that's my home track," Kimmel said. "It's a short track, and my brother (and crew chief Bill) and I were brought up on short track racing. It's good to go back to your roots and there are a lot of great fans there. We'll have family and friends show up. I can't wait to get back."
Midwestern kindness and friendly feelings aside, Salem's high, 33-degree corner banks are taxing for any driver. Chad McCumbee (No. 1 ModSpace Ford) won the Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell in his first visit to Salem in 2005 and has finished in the top 10 in two of his four starts, and continues to find challenges at the track.
"Salem Speedway's an awesome race track," he said. "It's a lot of fun for a driver, and just a tough place to race. It's a really fun place to drive around. In my first trip to Salem, I captured the pole, so that was a good trip back in 2005 and it's been a pretty successful place for me.
"There's a lot of character to Salem Speedway. It presents quite a few challenges, you know. You really do race the race track, just like you would at Darlington or Rockingham years ago. It's tough to be there at the end."
Tom Hessert (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota) is one of ARCA's more experienced drivers at Salem, with six career starts, including top-10 finishes in each of his last four since 2009.
"Salem Speedway certainly can be one of the more challenging tracks on the tour," said Hessert, who finished fifth and third in two Salem starts last season. "It's so rough, and typically one lane, but if you get your car working right and you're comfortable there, it can be a lot of fun."
Kimmel is the series' most seasoned driver at Salem, with 23 top-fives and 28 top-10s in his 34 starts since 1992. He is followed by veterans Darrell Basham (28 starts; No. 34 Darrell Basham Racing Chevrolet) and Ron Cox (14 starts; No. 23 Hixson Construction Chevrolet).
Brett Hudson (No. 94 Hudson Performance Drivelines Chevrolet) finished fourth at Talladega and is entered again after eight previous ARCA starts at Salem. Hudson, of nearby Owensboro, Ky., cut his racing teeth at the Salem oval, making numerous late model and street stock starts since the beginning of his racing career. Hudson has five top-10s at the track.
Like Hudson, Bryan Silas (No. 11 Palm Beach Grading/Rockingham Speedway Ford) and James Hylton (No. 48 Radon.com Ford) have each made eight ARCA starts at Salem.
Steve Arpin won his first ARCA race last April at Salem, and Dakoda Armstrong won in September at a record speed of 87.63 mph. Armstrong is entered to race his familiar No. 22 Cunningham Motorsports Dodge, just a short drive from his home in suburban Indianapolis.
Notable entries include international drivers like Canada's Maryeve Dufault (No. 12 VR-12/Dodge Motorsports/Victory H2O Dodge) and Venezuela's Milka Duno (No. 63 Citgo Supergard Lubricants Toyota), and past ARCA Racing Series winners like Chris Buescher (No. 17 David Ragan Ford Ford) and Max Gresham (No. 25 Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet), who won the Menards Pole Award at Salem last spring before his first start.
Matt Merrell (No. 32 Win-Tron Racing Dodge), Tim George Jr. (No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet), and Grant Enfinger (No. 36 Hoosier Tire Midwest/RaceTires.com Dodge) are all entered, and will each look for their first career ARCA Racing Series victory.
On-track activity begins with a 90-minute practice at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30, and continues with Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell at 3:30 p.m.
The 200-lap, 111-mile Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 begins at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday, May 1, Live timing and scoring of all events will be presented by ARCA Nation at ARCARacing.com.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has crowned an ARCA national champion each year since its inaugural season in 1953, and has toured over 200 race tracks in 28 states since its inception. The series tests the abilities of drivers and race teams over the most diverse schedule of stock car racing events in the world, annually visiting tracks ranging from 0.4 mile to 2.66 miles in length, on both paved and dirt surfaces as well as a left- and right-turn road course.
Founded by John Marcum in 1953 in Toledo, Ohio, the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) is recognized among the leading sanctioning bodies in the country. Closing in on completing its sixth decade after hundreds of thousands of miles of racing, ARCA administers over 100 race events each season in two professional touring series and local weekly events.