All-time ARCA RE/MAX Series Salem Speedway winner Frank Kimmel entered Saturday’s Eddie Gilstrap Motors ARCA Fall Classic at Salem determined to end a two-year winless streak at his hometown track. But in the end, he was out-foxed by rookie Blake Bjorklund, who faked low and went high en route to his career-first series triumph.
Bjorklund, who currently leads the 2006 Rookie-of-the-Year standings, passed Kimmel with less than two laps remaining to claim the victory in the hard-fought, action-packed thriller, which left a jam-packed grandstands on their feet for final 50 laps.
“We’ve been really hungry for a win, especially after finishing second at Chicagoland last weekend,” said Bjorklund. “I want to thank my crew; they’re awesome and gave me a really great car. We’ve really been on a roll lately and I hope it can continue. It was really neat to battle Frank Kimmel for the last couple of laps there, and to pass him on the outside really says a lot about the strength of our car tonight.”
Bjorklund, by virtue of the victory, became the 17th different winner in 21 races this year and 12th first-time winner, records in both categories.
After working Kimmel on the low side for 60-plus laps, Bjorklund, on the final restart, steered for the unprotected high-side in turns one and two, and completed the pass in turns three and four as the leaders came to the white flag. From there, Kimmel could only watch as Bjorklund, in the #32 Country Joe Racing-Red Line Oil Dodge, drove away.
Although Kimmel, who led the most laps with 83, gave it everything he had, the seven-time and defending ARCA RE/MAX Series champion settled for second in the No. 46 Pork the Other
“I felt pretty comfortable going into this deal,” said Barnes. “Especially after Toledo. Early on we had a flat tire and I tried to hang on to it for as long as I could but when it popped I ended up doing a complete 360 in front of the entire field. After spinning, it really rattled me and made the rest of the night pretty stressful. Still, we’re pretty excited about backing our win up with a fourth-place finish tonight.”
Rookies’ Michael McDowell and Gary Sherman finished sixth and seventh. Bobby Gerhart finished eighth in the Lucas Oil Chevrolet after starting 26th, earning Hoosier Tire Hard Charger Honors. Todd Bowsher finished ninth in his 150th career start, followed by Rookie-of-the-Year contender Ryan Howard, who hovered in the top-five for much of the race.
Bean, who finished 11th, led 64 laps and earned the Hurst Fastest Lap of the Race Award.
Bjorklund's crew chief Mike Chaffee earned the SK Hand Tool Crew Chief of the Race honors.
From Salem, the ARCA RE/MAX Series steers toward Talladega Superspeedway for the Food World 250 on Friday, October 6th, airing same-night on SPEED at 8 p.m. Eastern.
The 54th consecutive season for the series concludes at the new Iowa Speedway on October 15th with the inaugural Iowa ARCA 250 LIVE on SPEED.
Rookie Justin Allgaier, in the Hoosier Tire Midwest-AG Tech-USAF Chevrolet, finished third with local Louisville, Kentucky hero Chuck Barnes, Jr., in the Crown Spray Power Chevrolet, trailing in fourth. Venturini, in the Texas Corral-Hawk Saw Blades Chevrolet, finished fifth after leading 16 laps.
Barnes, Jr., on the heels of a recent win at Toledo Speedway in his first series attempt, cut a left rear tire early in the race and spun on lap 25 exiting turn two. However, efficient pit work from the CE Clower-owned team kept Barnes on the lead lap and very much in the game.
Blake Bjorklund won his first ARCA evenet on Saturday night at Salem. (ARCA photos)
White Meat Ford. He also padded his point lead with just two races left on the 2006 tour.
“We finished well,” said Kimmel. “And we gained some points, which is what we needed to do. The 32 was just a little bit faster than us at the end. He did a great job today. And, I’ll tell you what, our guys did a super job too. We came into this race hoping to gain as many points as possible before ARCA goes to Talladega in October, and I think we did just that.”
Bjorklund inherited the lead for the first time on lap 60 when early race leader and Pork Pole award winner Dexter Bean pitted under caution. Bjorklund led up through lap 94 before heading for pit road for service, handing the lead to Billy Venturini, who had already pitted. Bjorklund quickly made his way back into contention, following race leader Kimmel’s bumper for the last 70 laps. Bjorklund drove to the inside of Kimmel on several occasions but was unable to make the pass until opting for the outside lane in the end.