At Rockingham Speedway on Sunday, New Hampshire native Sean Caisse scored his first ARCA RE/MAX Series victory in a race dominated by former NASCAR Cup Series regular Ken Schrader.
Schrader led 185 of the event's 200 laps before having to pit for fuel with three laps remaining. Caisse inherited the lead in his Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet and won by seven seconds over Patrick Sheltra. Matt Merrell, Bryan Silas, and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top five.
“I didn't know Schrader ran out of gas.” The enthusiastic winner stated after the race. ”He (Schrader) pulled out a good lead. Then on the white flag I was told 'you're the leader' and I was like 'OK'.”
Schrader was credited with seventh, the first car not on the lead lap.
Caisse had the fastest car in Saturday's practice session but qualified sixth. He later admitted tongue in cheek “I was going for a new track record.”
Pole winner Schrader dominated the event that saw him challenged at times by both Caisse and Sheltra. Caisse never led until the final three circuits but ran door to door with Schrader for several laps during the event's middle stages. The exciting racing had close moments as the two cars made slight contact with a Caisse bid for the lead in the low lane following a restart.
Schrader held a commanding lead when he finally hit pit road with the checkered flag almost in sight.
This was a one-event deal between the victorious driver and the Venturini family owned team. But as Caisse stated after the race, “Billy (Venturini) said, and this is a quote, 'We are running him again.
This victory might have been Caisse's first in ARCA, but he already owned an impressive record in full-bodied stock cars. During the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Caisse won seven races in what is now the NASCAR Camping World East Series while driving for Andy Santerre Motorsports. Lately though, he's been struggling to find solid rides in a down economy.
“I want to thank Andy Santerre for getting me the opportunity to run his Busch East (now Camping World East) equipment a few years ago.” Caisse said. “It got me noticed and the last year and a half has been a struggle. I need some opportunities. I got a great opportunity with Kevin Harvick's Nationwide car in 2007 but I wrecked in qualifying. Hopefully I can capitalize on this win. It puts me back on the map as a contender.”
Matt Merrell Takes Show Position
Merrell scored his career best third place finish at Rockingham. The Texas native and team chased his car's handling all weekend.
“It handled pretty well,” said Matt after his first ever series top five. “The way these tires fall off I didn't figure I would waste any time down low. I just put it to the top at the start and ran the whole race there.
“Anything you could change on the car we went through in practice. And then changed it for qualifying. We just fought tight all weekend. Then in qualifying we were so loose we went back and did a little bit through changes you are allowed in the impound. We worked on it a little bit on the first pit stop and got it pretty stable there.” He concluded after only his fifth career start.
Penske Development Driver Scores Top Five Finish
Parker Kligerman's is another young driver who is gaining confidence and recognition with his solid finishes in ARCA competition. He finished fifth at Rockingham.
“In all five starts I've ever had in a stock car we've finished top ten in ARCA so we are doing well,” said Kligerman. “We spun in some oil. Thankfully we didn't hit anything.
“We came back through the field but I just burned off the rears (tires).” The Cunningham Motorsports Pilot went on to say. “I was hoping we could get another caution. Rockingham is definitely known for its tire wear. We didn't fight a handling problem as much as how fast you ran in the beginning of a run. If you push to hard in the beginning you will fall way back. I tried to find a sweet spot but ran just a little too hard. And you also tried to move around the track. Running up top saves the rears and we are all fighting rear grip so when I was running the bottom it wore the rears more than I wanted.”
Craig Goess Steady For Sixth Place Finish
Craig Goess made the jump from Legends cars to full-sized racecars last season in the then called NASCAR Busch East Series. Driving his family sponsored Toyota out of Eddie Sharp's stable he reflected on his day's solid performance at Rockingham.
“The car is in one piece and we finished. We had unfortunate luck in the first two races but just to have a good finish is definitely a step in the right direction. We definitely had some ups and downs throughout the day, came back and got a decent finish out of it. All the fenders are on the car, not a bump on it.”
“We got it good in the middle of the run, I think it was the second set of tires, it really came to life well. We were able to pass back a lot of cars.,” concluded Goess. “We had an incident on pit road where the guys dropped two lugs but were able to come back from it and get a decent finish so it was a good day for everyone at the Greenville Toyota team.”
Brian Ickler's Team Assessed Weight Penalty
Brian Ickler has raced Super Late Models out of Kyle Busch's shop and will be in Kansas this coming week with the Camping World Truck Series. As enthusiastic he was about those topics, he was not so regarding his team's weight disadvantage that it carried as the race started. His car was forced to add weight on Saturday as a penalty for his car's body construction.
Ickler talked about the incident race morning.
“I guess ARCA wasn't very happy with the car we brought here. The body on it fit all the templates but in their eyes they didn't like the way it looked. So we started out with a 300-pound weight penalty. We practiced and cut and beat on it a little bit, so they (ARCA) took 150 (pounds) off, so we are down to 150 extra now.
“Yesterday in practice they held us in tech so we got about twelve laps total. I've never been here, it's a new car, and we've got about twelve laps and 150 extra pounds. So we've got our work cut out for us.” Ickler continued “The (lack of) practice time hurt us. One hundred and fifty pounds is huge but it wouldn't have hurt so badly if we got to practice. It fit every template they have.”
ARCA public relations representative Jackie Franzil offered the sanctioning body's explanation.
“When the car went through tech they put him on templates and the body configuration was just a little bit off from what we perceive as fair and competitive with other cars. The way the body configuration was, we said that was an aerodynamic advantage. We said you could do one of two things. You can load up and go home or you can add weight to your car to even yourself out with the rest of the playing field.”
There were no point or monetary penalties given. Ickler qualified fourteenth and finished twentieth.
- Kevin Harvick was the honorary starter for the event. His KHI entry driven by Ricky Carmichael finished seventeenth.
- Paul Andrews was working with the Ken Weaver driven machine. Andrews has a NASCAR Cup Championship on his resume as Alan Kulwicki's crew chief in 1992.
- Some of the top running teams was hitting the rev limiters in practice making the engines bark halfway between the flagstand and turn one.
- Sean Caisse was very happy with his car after practice. “We're bad fast… two to three tenths quicker.”
- Derrike Cope was fielding equipment for driver Nur Ali. Ali comes from Texas with open wheel experience and his family line hails from Pakistan. Cope has several pieces of equipment in his fleet for a variety of drivers including him. Entries will be fielded in NASCAR's Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World East Series as well as ARCA. Cope describes Ali as “a nice kid with a lot of potential.”
- With ominous clouds overhead, a collective sigh of relief was felt when the event reached halfway. Near the conclusion, the skies did brighten somewhat.
SATURDAY UARA NOTES
- Ann Schrader was the honorary pace car driver.
- The fireworks during the National Anthem shook the windows in the press box.
- Speaking of the Star Spangled Banner, it was sung by Mike Powell, former Cup Series hauler driver for Junior Johnson.
- The vast stands at Rockingham made the crowd look small, but the actual count was probably decent for tracks the UARA usually runs.
- Congratulations to Corey LaJoie for winning. The first year I ever witnessed a race, 1976 at the Danbury (CT) Fairgrounds, his Grandfather was the track champion. Seeing Corey's first late model win did not make me feel any younger.
- Cool racing name of the weekend: second place finisher Paddy Rodenback.