After finishing 39th last year, Grant Enfinger wins ARCA opener at Daytona

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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.

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Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).