Grant Enfinger dominates to win second straight ARCA season opener at Daytona

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Grant Enfinger earned his second consecutive ARCA Series season-opening race, dominating en route to victory in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway.

Enfinger led at the halfway point of the 80-lap race around the 2.5-mile high-banked racetrack.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Enfinger told FoxSports1 after the race. “A few weeks ago there was a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t know when I was going to get back in a car. … I can’t say enough about GMS racing and this opportunity they gave me. We’re going to savor this one for a while.“

Xfinity Series rookie Daniel Suarez, who will compete for Joe Gibbs Racing, finished a strong second.

“A few days ago, I was thinking where do I need to be have to be to win this race and normally that would be second place,” Suarez said. “Ten laps to go, I said, ‘Well, here we are, second place, let’s try to win this thing.’

“I was trying to pass the 23 car in the last couple laps, but I just didn’t know how to make that pass. I’m not sure exactly what I did, but I’m happy with a second place.”

Outside pole-sitter Cody Coughlin, 19, finished fourth in his first-ever race at Daytona.

“We had a lot of fun in my first time at Daytona,” Coughlin said. “To come away with a top-five finish is cool. We were up front all day and could taste the victory, so it’s a little bit bittersweet in that aspect. We had a wicked fast Toyota today, I learned a lot and next time we’ll get the checkers.”

ARCA veteran and 10-time series champion Frank Kimmel once again fell short of his bid to finally win at Daytona.

Kimmel, who has earned 80 ARCA wins in his career, finished fifth, adding to the three-runner-up finishes he’s had in career starts at DIS.

A pit road problem cost Kimmel the win. He was leading the race just short of halfway when he came in to pit.

The connector part of the fuel can came loose, dumping the entire contents of the fuel on the gasman and on the ground.

Kimmel had to come back around to take another can, dropping him from the lead to 34th position.

Wrecks were few and far between, but one must be noted.

On Lap 54, Leilani Munter bounced off the left rear of Blake Jones, sending her into Terry Jones and then bounced off and into Buster Graham and Bobby Gerhart.

Gerhart needed assistance to get to the ambulance. It seemed he was pretty shaken up, but he said he was fine after being discharged. Gerhart finished 39th.

“The tape will tell it all,” Gerhart said. “I’m not pointing any fingers or placing any blame. There’s not a lot of room for error when you’re three-wide. Everybody was just at the right place at the wrong time.”

J.J. Pack appeared to run over debris from the five-car wreck that punctured the fuel line on his car, leading to a spectacular fire. Pack was uninjured.

NOTES:

* Mark Thompson, who at 63 became the oldest driver to ever win a pole in DIS history (in Friday’s qualifying), finished 14th.

* Former NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series driver Bobby Hamilton Jr. finished 26th in his first race of any series in nearly four seasons. It also was Hamilton’s first race in an ARCA car since 1999.

* Vancouver, B.C. native Sarah Cornett-Ching made her Daytona debut, ultimately finishing 31st out of the 40-car field. She fell behind in the first two laps, and was forced to pit to fix a motor issue.

Competing in the first of what she hopes to be at least 10 races on the ARCA circuit this season, Cornett-Ching came back on the track

* Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell qualified fifth, but suffered overheating problems that left him with a 35th place finish.

FINISHING ORDER:

1 Grant Enfinger

2 Daniel Suarez

3 Brett Hudson

4 Cody Coughlin

5 Frank Kimmel

6 Mason Mitchell

7 Matt Kurzejewski

8 Scott Sheldon

9 Josh Williams

10 Will Kimmel

11 Tom Hessert

12 Daniel Hemric

13 Austin Hill

14 Mark Thompson

15 Austin Wayne Self

16 David Levine

17 Blake Jones

18 Tyler Audie

19 Terry Jones

20 Cole Powell

21 Patrick Staropoli

22 Brad Smith

23 Bo LeMastus

24 Thomas Praytor

25 Karl Weber

26 Bobby Hamilton Jr.

27 Bill Catania

28 Barry Fitzgerald

29 Sean Corr

30 Ed Pompa

31 Sarah Cornett-Ching

32 Roger Carter

33 John Lowinski-Loh

34 Garrett Smithley

35 Clay Campbell

36 J.J. Pack

37 Buster Graham

38 Leilani Munter

39 Bobby Gerhart

40 James Swanson

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Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).