Chad McCumbee led the final 51 of 107 laps at the Illinois State Fairgrounds to win an extended Allen Crowe 100, the first of two dirt races for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards this season.
McCumbee's win is his third overall in 65 series starts, and his first in his last 32 starts over four seasons. The North Carolina driver last won at Pocono Raceway on June 9, 2007.
McCumbee's No. 1 Modspace Ford looked like the dominant force throughout the afternoon on Springfield's clay, leading two long stretches for a total of 72 laps.
"To win this race is huge, and to do it the way I did it, this car was on a rail," McCumbee said. "I was taking it easy there to start with and when the opportunity came to lead, I took it, and I kept seeing them getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. The ModSpace Ford was awesome."
Curtis Turner, Al Unser, Jack Bowsher, Ramo Stott, A.J. Foyt, and Dean Roper all won at the Springfield fairgrounds before ARCA's first sanction at the track in 1983. Since then, Tim Steele, Frank Kimmel, Ken Schrader, and many others have added their names to the long list of Springfield winners, all preceding McCumbee.
"This is a historic race, and something that's been a part of ARCA history for a long time," McCumbee said. "To have our name in the book is really special."
The door opened for McCumbee when Ty Dillon (No. 41 Hemelgarn/CIPT Chevrolet) suffered a flat right rear tire and fell 14 positions from the lead and two laps behind the pace just past the halfway point of the race, at Lap 57. Dillon had won his sixth Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell in 2011 and appeared to have a car to beat as he pursued his series-leading eighth victory.
Dillon led the first lap to start the race, but two-time reigning World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Josh Richards (No. 25 Joy Mining Machinery Chevrolet) tucked right behind the rookie points leader and moved to the front for the second lap. Richards and Dillon led McCumbee, who had started third, and the top three eased away from the rest of the pack over the first nine laps.
McCumbee passed Dillon for second on Lap 10, with Richards in front by 0.921 second at that point. Richards passed the lapped car of Levi Youster in Turn 2 on Lap 12, but not without McCumbee gaining some ground. The two leaders started to separate from Dillon, and McCumbee then found his way around Richards on Lap 17.
McCumbee moved his lead on Richards to over a second by Lap 21, with Dillon holding the third position over Will Kimmel (No. 68 Messina Wildlife Management/Menards Ford) and Tom Hessert (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet).
While the word "space" is a key component of the sponsor's branding on his Andy Belmont Racing Ford, it also described the widening gap McCumbee was opening over Richards. By Lap 26, he led by 4.459 seconds, or nearly the length of the entire frontstretch on the one-mile clay oval.
McCumbee led by seven seconds at Lap 30, and eight on Lap 31. With a nine-second advantage four laps later, the caution flag flew when Joe Mueller crashed into the Turn 1 wall. Tim George Jr. (No. 31 Applebee's/Potomac Family Dining Group) led Lap 38 off of pit road; Dillon, his Richard Childress Racing teammate, assumed the point on the next lap and led Will Kimmel, Hessert, Chris Buescher (No. 17 Reliance Tool/David Ragan Ford Ford), and Kelly Kovski (No. 39 Central Illinois Security/Schluckebeier Farms/Modern Paving Chevrolet) to the Lap 41 green flag.
Dillon moved away from the field easily with plenty of action taking place behind him. Kovski and Frank Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford) passed Buescher for fourth and fifth on Lap 44, and McCumbee, who had fallen to seventh off of pit road, took sixth the next time around.
Hessert passed Will Kimmel for second on Lap 47, and McCumbee moved up another spot, passing Kovski behind him just moments later. Though Dillon seemed to be pulling away yet again, two intense battles took place in his wake.
McCumbee passed Frank Kimmel for fourth on Lap 51. With Dillon up 0.572 second after the next lap, the caution flag flew again for an accident. Under the yellow flag, Dillon, Hessert, Will Kimmel, McCumbee, and Frank Kimmel comprised the top five.
Racing was on again at Lap 57, and almost immediately, Hessert and McCumbee showed their noses for the front. Hessert drove inside of Dillon to take the backstretch lead, and McCumbee worked his way inside of Kimmel for third. McCumbee kept improving, passing Dillon before the third turn. He was not finished, as he sped past Hessert for the lead out of the fourth turn.
Behind McCumbee's impressive charge, Dillon struggled. Through the previous caution period, Dillon had moved to the inside of the track to cool his tires down and unknowingly struck something that gave him a flat right rear tire. Now, under green flag conditions, the points leader was losing control. He drifted up the track in the first two turns and struggled down the backstretch, losing a lap to the leaders before he could even enter pit road, and another when he left his pit as McCumbee passed him to close Lap 60.
Hessert also passed a renewed Dillon to set his sights on McCumbee, but McCumbee led by 2.29 seconds after Lap 62.
Ryan Unzicker crashed in Turn 3 on Lap 63 to bring another yellow flag, and McCumbee led the field through a long caution period before the Lap 71 restart. Dillon's lapped car sat 15th, positioned on the track between McCumbee and Hessert but two laps down.
Behind the two race leaders, Frank Kimmel in third, and Grant Enfinger (No. 36 Hoosier Tire Midwest/RaceTires.com Dodge) in fourth, Chris Windom - a West Lafayette, Ind. driver making his first ARCA start in Win-Tron Racing's No. 32 Dodge - had moved to fifth place.
Kovski, normally Enfinger's crew chief at Springfield-based Allgaier Motorsports, drove past Windom for fifth on Lap 73, going three-wide and actually sending Enfinger up the track in Turn 4. Kovski took fourth and Enfinger fell to 10th, but ahead of them McCumbee was running away with the race. He found himself with a 2.951-second lead on Lap 79, and a five-second advantage four laps later.
Windom charged back into third over Frank Kimmel on Lap 87, just as McCumbee's lead was approaching six seconds. Brad Smith had trouble driving out of Turn 2 on Lap 90, though, bringing the race's fourth caution flag and eliminating McCumbee's dominant advantage.
A four-lap shootout to the finish looked to be the way the Allen Crowe 100 would end, as McCumbee led Hessert, Windom, Richards, and Will Kimmel in a single-file line. McCumbee took the white flag at the conclusion of Lap 99 up by nearly an entire second, but George and Enfinger made contact in Turn 3 to bring out a fifth yellow, holding the checkered flag and McCumbee's would-be victory celebration.
Following a track clearing effort, McCumbee and the field took the green and white flags together to start Lap 107, starting a one-lap shootout for the win. McCumbee drove away easily, winning by 0.751 second.
Andy Belmont, a team owner who had not won in the ARCA Racing Series in over 300 starts as an owner since 1995 and a total of 174 starts as a driver, expressed relief amid his Victory Lane celebration given the late-lap uncertainty of restart after restart.
"It's been one of those seasons where we've been there all year long, and we just never caught the break," said Belmont. "Really and truly, I thought when the caution came out on the 99th lap it was going to get taken away somehow, some way. I'm just beyond tickled. I love this place, and always have."
McCumbee sounded the same way as he talked about circling the clay under yellow with only one lap of green flag racing left.
"I was a nervous wreck," he said. "I was sitting there thinking that I knew it was going to work that way; things just happen for me like that. But the car was so good."
With the win, McCumbee moved into the lead in the Bill France Four Crown standings. The Bill France Four Crown, a season-within-the-season contest unique to the ARCA Racing Series, will reward the driver with the best combination of finishes on four very different tracks during the 2011 season: New Jersey (road course), Michigan (speedway), Springfield, and Salem (short track). The September 17 race at Salem will decide the Four Crown winner; McCumbee leads Dillon and Kimmel.
Hessert's second-place finish was his sixth consecutive top-10 and third straight top-five.
"Our third top-five in a row for the team is cool," said Hessert. "Chad was really good and had the best car today, and that was very apparent. We were just a little bit off him. It was a good day for the Federated Auto Parts car and Billingsley was on the car, so that was really cool. We'll work on it some more and go on to DuQuoin and try to beat (McCumbee) there."
Windom finished third, just ahead of Will Kimmel in fourth and Will Vaught (fifth). Before today, none of the three drivers had ever finished in the top five in an ARCA Racing Series event.
Kovski finished sixth, ahead of Frank Kimmel, Buescher, Richards, and Chad Hackenbracht (No. 58 Tastee Apples Chevrolet).
The race finished in one hour, 20 minutes, and 30 seconds, at an average speed of 79.738 mph. The five caution flags slowed the race for a total of 30 laps.