Grant Enfinger completed just 12 laps and finished next-to-last (39th) in last year’s season-opening ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway.
The only way for Enfinger to go was up.
And up he went indeed, as one year later, he rallied late in the race to capture Saturday’s season-opening Lucas Oil 200 at DIS.
“This is pretty special,” Enfinger said. “I felt like we were owed a few here. It was so heartbreaking a few years ago to lose some real close ones, so to get this one, Iowa and Mobile last year, really means the world to me.”
Enfinger essentially had a career season in just a part-time effort in 2013. While he started just eight of the season’s 21 races, he won two (Iowa and Mobile) and compiled four top-5 and five top-10 finishes.
Now, with hopes of running the entire ARCA schedule for just the second time in his career, the 29-year-old native of Fairhope, Ala., kicked things off in the best way possible.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” Enfinger said. “I think we’re going to be running for this thing (ARCA championship). I feel really strong about this team. We’re like the little engine that could, we have a lot of heart.”
Saturday’s finish was a far cry from his three previous starts at the legendary 2.5-mile high-banked track: 30th in 2010, ninth in 2011 and 39th in 2013.
“It means a lot to us,” team owner Howard Bixman said. “We work real hard every day. This is for my dad, he went in the hospital yesterday.”
Enfinger’s win marked the first time Ford has won an ARCA race at Daytona since Ryan Newman did so in 2001.
He also became the 37th different winner in 51 season-opening ARCA races at Daytona.
While Enfinger celebrated, Frank Kimmel once again left Daytona frustrated. While the series’ winningest driver (80 in 470 starts) finished runner-up at Daytona for the third time in his career, he came up short once more.
“We overachieved a lot today,” said Kimmel, who has seeking his 11th ARCA championship this season. “The guys worked so hard but we just didn’t have enough speed with the car when we needed it.”
Perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the race after Enfinger’s win was the third-place finish by Clay Campbell – as in Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway.
Having just turned 54 on Feb. 7, Campbell was competing in just his fourth-ever ARCA race, driving a car owned by legendary NASCAR driver Ken Schrader.
“I couldn’t be happier being able to drive the Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet for Kenny Schrader,” Campbell said. “This is an icon and for me to drive this car and finish this well, I’m tickled to death.
“We were lucky enough to get through some of the skirmishes and that’s what we you’ve got to do. You’ve got to finish it and you’ve got to be there at the end to have a shot, and we did that.”
Campbell plans on racing again in April at Talladega. What about racing on his home track?
“I’ve got a day job there,” Campbell said with a laugh.
Rounding out the top-5 were Tom Hessert in fourth and Tyler Reddick in fifth.
Two names that received a lot of attention were youngsters Dylan Kwasniewski, who started from the pole and controlled much of the first half of the 85-lap race before fading to a 14th-place finish, as well as Chase Elliott (son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott), who finished ninth.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.