It was a long time coming, but it finally came Sunday afternoon at Salem Speedway where Billy Venturini, in his 134th career ARCA RE/MAX Series start, steered the family-owned #25 Hamptons Luxury Homes-Hawk Saw Blades Chevrolet to victory lane.
Venturini in addition to leading 95 of 200 laps despite 11 lead changes, held off veteran Ken Schrader’s last lap charge to win the thrilling Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 by Federated Auto Parts.
“This was a long time coming,” said Venturini. “We were ahead of a lot of wrecks and stayed out of trouble,” said Venturini. “The car was awesome on short runs. The team’s great and did their job. The last five times I’ve been to Salem we’ve finished well. I saw Schrader coming at the end there. The car was great though. Win number one! It was a great day. We just ran the hell out of it. We had the race won easily and then lapped traffic wouldn’t get out of the way.”
With five laps remaining, Venturini had a 15-length lead before lapped traffic erased it in less than two allowing Schrader to close the margin to a few feet. With the white flag coming, Venturini scraped the turn three and four wall and sparks flew as he attempted to pass several lapped cars with Schrader in hot pursuit. With torn fenders and a tire going down, Venturini still managed to hold off Schrader for the well-earned victory.
Schrader, competing in his fourth of five events of the
weekend, settled for second .217 seconds away from the winner’s rear bumper in his own Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet.
“Good day,” said Schrader. “Just not good enough. The competition just keeps getting better and better in this ARCA series.”
Series veteran and four-time Daytona ARCA 200 winner Bobby Gerhart, in the Lucas Oil Chevrolet, used pit strategy and heads-up driving to finish third, pitting just once for fuel and tires on lap 60 of the 200 lap race.
“Our car was no better on new tires than it was on old,” said Gerhart, “We were tight on gas there at the end, but pitting for new tires would have had no benefit to the handling of our race car. We just didn’t have a very good car so we’ll have to get that taken care of for Winchester and go get after them there. It’s all about survival at Salem, so we’re happy with a finish.”
Venturini celebrates his win.
Venturini (#25) crosses the finish line ahead of Schrader's #99 in front of a packed grandstand.
The complexion of the race changed drastically early on when the leaders stacked up on a lap 23 restart. Many of the weekend’s most promising entries, including Pork Pole sitter Brad Coleman, who led the first 22 laps, ended their days early.
“I got hit in the rear on the start,” said Coleman. “We would have had a good car.”
The frontstretch incident also involved frontrunners’ Mario Gosselin, TJ Bell, Dexter Bean, Brian Keselowski and Ken Weaver as well as seven-time series champion Frank Kimmel.
“Not the finish we were looking for,” said Kimmel. “We got caught up in someone else’s wreck, which turned out to be a bigger problem for us. The car was running good but this is not the points day we were looking for.”
There were no injuries.
In all, there were 11 lead changes among seven drivers. Nine cautions slowed the event for 56 laps.
Phil Bozell, driving for Hagans Racing, finished fourth. The Michigan-based Late Model racer kept his no. 9 Eagle Creek Aviation-1st Wing Management Chevrolet out of trouble all day.
“The car was running good all day,” said Bozell. “We were patient and kept ourselves out of trouble. The car would get a little free on long runs but still was pretty good.”
For finishing fourth after starting 26th, Bozell earned the Hoosier Tire Hard Charger honor.
Josh Allison, who at 18-years-old was the youngest competitor in today’s starting lineup, finished fifth in the no. 64 Dave Allison Motorsports Dodge. He was the highest finishing rookie in the race.
Billy Leslie, Damon Lusk, Blake Bjorklund, Ryan Foster and Terry Jones rounded out the top ten.
Venturini’s father, two-time ARCA RE/MAX Series national driving champion Bill Venturini, earned the SK Hand Tool Crew Chief of the Race award.
Brad Coleman started his #62 on the pole, but had problems in the race.