Tom Hessert took charge early and drove to his first career ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards victory in the Prairie Meadows 200 at Iowa Speedway, along the way giving Cunningham Motorsports its second win of 2010 and its second consecutive triumph at the central Iowa track.
Driving the No. 77 Cherry Hill Classics Dodge, Hessert started second and moved to the front on Lap 9, passing pole sitter Ty Dillon, who made his first career ARCA Racing Series start. The 24-year-old New Jersey native stayed in the lead until Max Gresham assumed the lead on Lap 58 following the evening's second caution.
Hessert would not relent even with Gresham in front; the two raced door-to-door around the 0.875-mile oval, creating one of the most exciting battles seen in recent races in the series.
Matt Crafton led for 28 laps through the middle of the race, but was no match for Hessert, who passed him on Lap 124. Only one lap led by Grant Enfinger during a caution period pit cycle kept Hessert from leading each of the final 77 laps, and Hessert coasted to a 5.052-second win over Dillon.
The win for Cunningham Motorsports matched the No. 77 team's result at Iowa from one year ago, when Parker Kligerman edged Austin Dillon, Ty's older brother, for the third of a stretch of four consecutive wins.
Hessert was pleased with his car throughout the night and had a good feeling that his first victory was in the works.
"It was incredible. From our first laps on the track, we had a really good car," said Hessert, who led 126 laps overall and each of the last 46. "We had a great qualifying run. The car was just so good in the long runs, as long as we could keep our track position and stay ahead of the guys on short runs.
"The car was wonderful, and I couldn't ask for anything more."
Dillon's finish matched the result he scored at Iowa this spring in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West combination race.
"I had a ball just learning the car. It's a lot different than what I've been running all year. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot," Dillon said. "The guys worked really hard on the car and we ended up with a pretty good piece."
Grant Enfinger finished third, proving an especially serious mettle for a part-time operation.
"I feel good about third," Enfinger said. "We struggled from the word 'Go' here. I don't know why it's hard for us to get a handle here. It was definitely all we had and about as fast as the car had been."
The race's average speed was the fastest since the series' debut at the track in 2006. At 105.627 mph and one hour, 39 minutes, and 27 seconds, Hessert's victory edged Kligerman's from one year ago by 20 seconds.
Hessert's Cunningham Motorsports teammate Dakoda Armstrong finished fourth, and Crafton took fifth. Frank Kimmel, who made his 400th career ARCA Racing Series start, ended the night in sixth place. The night started emotionally for Kimmel, whose family delivered a special starting command that allowed the nine-time champion to start his engine seconds before the rest of the field.
"This brought back a lot of great memories and helped me remember some special moments the last couple of weeks. (The command) was the most difficult thing to date, to get my wife to do that. She's not a public person and doesn't like to be in front of the camera or anything," Kimmel said.
"I was worried when they told me to start the motor that it wouldn't start, that the battery would be dead or something, but it fired up," he said. "To hear the kids say, 'Dad, start your engine' was pretty cool."
Casey Roderick, Craig Goess, Justin Marks, and Gresham completed the top ten.
Three drivers near the top of the series standings suffered early problems. Venturini Motorsports teammates Steve Arpin and Mikey Kile each lost a right front tire and hit the wall, and incoming points leader Patrick Sheltra had engine issues and was forced to retire after just 47 laps.
Arpin finished 28th, Sheltra was 29th, and Kile was 30th. Sheltra fell from the points lead, giving way to Marks for the top position through nine of 20 races. The result was surprising for a driver who had sped to the top of the final practice chart earlier in the afternoon.
"It just wasn't our night. I guess it's all a part of racing. My emotions are just all over the place right now because we've worked so hard to make this team a factor week in and week out," said Sheltra, who had finished in the top ten in each of eight races to start the season. "We did that again tonight, (but) just didn't receive the result we were looking for."
10 cars finished on the lead lap, and the race was slowed for only four cautions, an ARCA low at Iowa Speedway. Hessert was one of six leaders, and the race saw eight lead changes.
The ARCA Racing Series returns to action Saturday, July 17, in the Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA 200 at Mansfield (Ohio) Motorsports Park. Live timing and scoring and live audio broadcast coverage presented by ARCA Nation will be available online at ARCARacing.com at 8 p.m. Eastern.