Eighteen-year-old Casey Roderick added his name to the long list of this season's first-time winners in the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards, winning the Garden State ARCA 150 presented by American Red Cross by 2.889 seconds over Joey Coulter.
12 drivers have won in 13 races in the series this season, with 11 of the drivers winning races for the first time.
Roderick (No. 51 Bill Elliott Driver Development Dodge) initially moved from the 34th starting position to ninth by Lap 6 and fifth on Lap 15, and held off Coulter (No. 16 Darrell Gwynn Foundation/Rip It Energy Chevrolet) to lead the race's final seven laps for his first victory in four series starts.
Roderick, who had never visited New Jersey Motorsports Park, suffered an expired engine after just three laps in Saturday's opening practice, and then did not have the chance to qualify in Menards Pole Qualifying that afternoon. His opening lap on the 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway was just his fourth complete lap at the facility.
"On Lap 1, I was holding on to it," Roderick said. "I didn't know what was going to happen. Everybody did an awesome job and I'm happy to be here. I wouldn't be here without Bill Elliott, so hats off to him. Same for (car owner) James Finch. I wish he could be here."
Justin Marks (No. 32 Construct Corps Dodge) led the race's first 27 laps after winning the Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell on Saturday, taking a lead of 0.739 second over second starter Tim George Jr. (No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet) in only the first lap and extending the advantage to just under five seconds in the first seven laps.
The lead margin closed when caution flew over the race track on Lap 8 as Brad Smith lost power and Robb Brent suffered a broken transmission simultaneously. Marks had no problem opening his lead again, pulling to an advantage of over four seconds by Lap 20 before settling with a lead of 3.922 seconds over George at Lap 27.
Marks feared his car was running out of fuel, so crew chief Mike Chaffee elected to have Marks drive down pit road at the conclusion of Lap 28, yielding the race lead to George. Roderick and Chris Buescher (No. 17 David Ragan Fan Club Ford), meanwhile, had passed Tom Hessert (No. 77 Cherry Hill Classic Cars Dodge), the third qualifier, for third and fourth place, respectively.
Marks' stop set off a series of stops under the green flag, and Hessert assumed the lead from George on Lap 30. His advantage was short-lived, however, as he ran out of fuel on Lap 33 and required a push from Chad McCumbee (No. 1 Modspace/Red Cross Disaster Relief Ford) to steer to pit road.
Hessert quickly fell off of the lead lap, and Marks seized the lead again as the entire pit cycle completed.
Frank Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford), who had pitted under the first caution, moved to second momentarily, but eventually had to pit on Lap 39. Kimmel had been racing side-by-side with Craig Goess (No. 81 Greenville Toyota of N.C. Toyota); the two drivers came in leading the ARCA Racing Series points, with Goess holding a mere 10-point advantage over the nine-time series champion.
Tim Cowen's No. 80 Ford spun off the track in Turn 4 on Lap 40 to bring out the race's second caution, and Marks pitted again. George, Roderick, and Dakoda Armstrong (No. 22 Ferrellgas Dodge) were among the drivers to stay on track, and George emerged as the race leader yet again on Lap 42. Meanwhile, Roderick had driven from second-to-last to second with just 25 laps to go, and Marks would start sixth on the ensuing green flag.
Coulter and Armstrong quickly moved around Roderick for the second and third positions, but Roderick clawed back into the top three by passing Armstrong. George's lead over Coulter grew to more than four seconds. He remained the leader even after Bob Schacht crashed the No. 75 Chevrolet on the frontstretch to yield the race's third caution period, and again after Buescher and Marks collided on the entrance to Turn 1 on the ensuing Lap 55 green flag for the race's fourth caution period. Marks could not continue, and fell to 20th place only one week after finishing 21st at Berlin (Mich.) Raceway and losing the series points lead.
The race would start again on Lap 59, leaving just nine planned green flag laps before the finish and a potential first victory for George, who as a New York native was racing at his home track, and a familiar one, at that. George won at the track with partner Andy Lally in the Grand American Road Racing Association Rolex Sports Car Series in 2008.
The storybook finish was not to be. George suffered contact from Roderick after making two turns past the green flag, and the No. 31 Chevrolet spun into the grass between Turns 2 and 3. Armstrong also traveled off the course, and Roderick simply drove away. George was able to maintain position on the lead lap, but fell nearly one minute behind before finishing the race 11th.
Roderick called the contact with George "unintentional."
"I was too close to him going into the corner, he braked, and then I was in it," Roderick said. "He had a good race car and did an awesome job to be there in the lead."
Coulter took the lead, but Roderick remained in hot pursuit. The Lawrenceville, Ga. driver passed the winner from last week at Berlin Raceway on Lap 60, but slipped off the track. Still, Roderick was able to seize the advantage for good on Lap 61 when Coulter wheel-hopped his Chevrolet and allowed the eventual winner and Buescher to pass.
"That was fun with Chris Buescher," Roderick said. "I've raced with him for several years, including in Legends cars every time. We race hard and it felt good to race him again. We beat and banged, but that's part of racing.
"The young talent in ARCA is pretty good right now."
A final caution set up the race's last green flag start at Lap 65, and Roderick quickly drove to a lead of more than two seconds when Coulter and Buescher engaged in heavy side-by-side racing. Meanwhile, Kimmel drove past Mikey Kile (No. 25 Venturini Motorsports Toyota) for fourth place on Lap 66 and then made it stick before eventually having to hold off Hessert for the position at the close of Lap 67 and the checkered flag.
Roderick mentioned that though he had never visited the track, he used technology to help him prepare for the twists and turns at Thunderbolt Raceway.
"I went on YouTube the night before we came here and watched some videos on what we have to do at this place," Roderick said. "I didn't really get the chance to visit otherwise."
Though it seemed to hamper him and his team's efforts at the time, Roderick said the team's engine problems Saturday were a blessing.
"While we were off track, I went over in the back section and watched these guys. I went in the tower and just watched them and found some spots to improve. I'm not going to say where they are," Roderick said. "But that's where I could see I was getting to the guys. I did a lot of thinking."
Coulter's second-place finish was his third of the season, and Buescher finished third in just his fifth race of 2010. Kimmel's fourth-place finish marked his eighth consecutive top-10 and gave him the series points lead by 10 points over Goess, and Hessert - in his home state - finished in the top five for the third consecutive week.
"It was unbelievable," Coulter said. "This is only my third road course race in a stock car and I can't thank the guys enough for giving me the opportunity to learn as much as I did. I thank everybody out at (the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving), my instructor William, and Chris Cook, who tested with us at VIR. They really showed me a lot, and this is just a product of it."
Kile, Robert Mitten, Goess, Steve Arpin, and Armstrong filled out the top 10.
The race, slowed by 18 laps under the caution flag, lasted two hours, four minutes, and 21 seconds, for an average speed of 72.734 mph. Before suffering his misfortune, Marks led 36 laps to win the Aaron's Lap Leader Award and Messina Halfway Leader Award.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards visits the dirt of the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. on Sunday, August 22. The 100-lap, 100-mile Allen Crowe 100 begins at 2 p.m. Eastern, with live timing and scoring and live audio coverage presented by ARCA Nation at ARCARacing.com.