Brennan Poole fought back from one lap down in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at Salem Speedway to do in one race what many ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards drivers try week after week to achieve: Win.
Poole, who drove the No. 55 Renton Coil Spring/Midas Chevrolet for Venturini Motorsports in his ARCA Racing Series debut, gave Venturini a second consecutive spring win on Salem's high-banked, 0.555-mile oval.
"I just feel blessed to be in this car and get the Venturinis to Victory Lane," Poole said. "It's incredible. My first time at Salem, and my first time in an ARCA car, and I've just got to thank God, man."
Steve Arpin won in the team's No. 55 car last season; that car was turned over to Max Gresham and the No. 25 Venturini team today.
Poole is the first driver to win his first ARCA Racing Series start since Patrick Long at New Jersey Motorsports Park on September 13, 2009. He passed Tom Hessert on Lap 176, and held the lead over the final 31 laps in a race that was extended to 206 laps because of a late caution period.
"We went a lap down, and I was able to get the lap back, and we got around the 52 car there late in the race," he said. "The car was good enough, and we had a little bit of tire, and we were able to pull away from everybody there late in the race."
A 20-year-old from The Woodlands, Texas, Poole started second to Menards Pole Award winner Ty Dillon (No. 41 UNOH Chevrolet). The 200-lap race opened with 20 laps of caution after light rain in southern Indiana throughout the morning left the track slightly damp and in need of drying.
Poole fell to third on the first lap of green flag racing when passed by Chad McCumbee, but gained the position back on the backstretch on Lap 27.
Almost immediately, the top pack of Dillon, Poole, McCumbee, Tom Hessert, and Gresham encountered lapped traffic, but navigated around it. Poole challenged Dillon for the lead on Lap 38, and the group passed Milka Duno one lap later.
Dillon held a 0.652-second lead over Poole after 40 total laps, and the group passed Sean Corr to leave just 15 cars on the lead lap at Lap 45. Dillon extended his lead to 0.764 second, but Poole closed by a half-second over the next five laps and started to truly pressure the pole winner.
Frank Kimmel, Grant Enfinger, and Chris Buescher tangled together on the backstretch on Lap 52, leaving Buescher to be towed off and Enfinger with heavy damage. Kimmel would rebound.
The green flag flew on Lap 60, and Dakoda Armstrong - last fall's Salem winner - began to challenge Gresham for fifth place. Armstrong spun on Lap 69, though, collecting Salem Speedway veteran and Kentucky native Brett Hudson.
Dillon stayed in the lead with Poole following, but the two made light contact on Lap 79, allowing Gresham to come all the way to the lead two laps later. Dillon, meanwhile, fought his car as it pushed up the track, and lost several spots. Poole experienced trouble, too, falling back to eighth.
The drop by the initial leaders allowed Hessert and a recovered Enfinger to battle for the lead, but Gresham maintained an advantage of about three seconds just after Lap 90. Lapped traffic again played a role in slowing down the lead pack, and by the time Gresham and Hessert passed Kimmel on Lap 100, Gresham's advantage was down to 0.979 second.
Hessert took the lead on the backstretch of Lap 104, putting Poole one lap down at nearly the same time. Hessert lapped Dillon two laps later. Meanwhile, Enfinger was behind Gresham in third, followed by Tim George Jr. and Matt Merrell at Lap 110. Duno, back on the lead lap, had used an impressive drive through four-wide traffic just four laps earlier to move to sixth.
Merrell bumped Enfinger for third on Lap 118, and then Gresham for second the next lap. Enfinger, still feeling the effects of the earlier incident, brushed the wall in the second turn of Lap 120 from fourth place.
As Merrell approached Hessert's lead, only one lapped driver was in his way: Poole. At that time, Dillon and teammate Tim George Jr. moved into fourth and fifth, respectively, approximately six seconds behind the lead.
As Dillon challenged Gresham for third, Merrell passed Hessert to take the lead on Lap 127. Dillon, though was only four seconds behind. By Lap 140, he lowered that deficit to three seconds, and then passed Hessert on Lap 145 for second.
By this point, Enfinger was one lap down, and Merrell caught him in the second turn of Lap 146, allowing Dillon to catch up as the two cars battled. Dillon passed Enfinger two laps later, and had Merrell all to himself. George worked hard to slow Merrell and help his teammate, and the next hurdle for the two leaders was Dufault on Lap 150. Dillon caught Merrell five laps later, but Merrell maintained the lead out of Turn 4. One turn later, though, Dillon lost his right front tire and he and Merrell crashed, sending Josh Williams to the lead.
"We had a really fast car," Dillon said. "We were coming back through the field with fresh tires. I just overdrove a little bit and blew a right front. I overheated it. These guys never gave up on the UNOH Chevy; she was really fast."
Williams started first at the green flag on Lap 171, just ahead of Hessert and Poole, who had rebounded. His lead would be short-lived, though, as upon the ensuing green flag Hessert sped to the front and drove away from Williams. Poole also passed Williams, taking second.
Poole passed Hessert on Lap 176, and led by more than a full second one lap later. Even amid several multi-car incidents over the final laps, Poole was able to maintain the lead, and Dillon and Kimmel both rebounded into the top five after George and Hessert made contact on Lap 198. The race was extended to 206 laps after late cautions, and Poole stuck to the lead through every lap. Dillon and Kimmel had a chance to challenge on the final restart, but Poole drove away to win in his ARCA debut. His final margin of victory was 0.643 second.
Poole was quick to thank Arpin, who won last April at Salem, for his advice.
"I want to shout out to Steve Arpin," he said. "I talked to him before I came out here and he helped me out. His tips were pretty good."
Dillon finished second, just missing on his bid to win four of his first six ARCA starts.
"I hate to lose, but second place isn't bad after all the stuff we went through," Dillon said.
Kimmel, a nine-time ARCA winner at Salem, was third. The result was his 24th top-five in 35 ARCA starts at Salem. Bryan Silas, making his ninth career Salem start, finished fourth to match his career high. Merrell ended the race fifth.
Williams was sixth, Hessert seventh, Armstrong eighth, McCumbee ninth, and Enfinger 10th. The race was slowed by eight cautions for 70 laps. The full results from the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 are now available on ARCARacing.com.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards returns to action at its home track, Toledo Speedway, on Sunday, May 15.