Eighteen-year-old Dakoda Armstrong made a daring series of passes to move from sixth place with three laps remaining to a win in the Talladega ARCA 250 Friday at Talladega Superspeedway.
Armstrong, the 19th driver to win from the pole in 48 ARCA Racing Series events at Talladega, overcame leader and Alabama native Grant Enfinger as the last of 94 laps ticked away under impending dusk.
The win is Armstrong's fifth top-10 finish in 12 career ARCA Racing Series starts, and his second of the 2010 season.
"First of all, I have to thank all of my guys. We wrecked in Daytona. They put the car back together. I am so happy that I could pull in a win. With 10 to go, I thought we were going to get stuck in a ride. I have to thank the 60 car; he pushed me all the way to victory," Armstrong said.
The significance of winning at one of stock car racing’s most famous tracks was not lost on the high school senior from New Castle, Ind.
"You definitely want to win at all the big tracks, where the Cup and Nationwide (Series) compete," he said. "The way that the victory was won, a last lap pass, is something I am never going to forget. It was an incredible race for us."
Enfinger appeared primed to be the first Alabama driver to win in any event at Talladega since Davey Allison won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the 2.66-mile track on May 3, 1992. The 25-year-old Fairhope native led 42 consecutive laps – comprising nearly half the race's 94-lap total – but needed one more.
"It was a good run for us, even though we ended up finishing sixth," Enfinger said. enfingerleadstalla10.jpg"Evidently, the 22 car had an awesome run, and I just wasn't able to get in front of him (after the last lap pass). I just made it as wide as I could."
Entering the final turns with the lead, Enfinger was quickly shuffled back as Armstrong approached on the track's steep right side, the product of more than 10 laps of strategy from the eventual winner, teammate Tom Hessert (No. 77 Cherry Hill Classic Cars Dodge), and third-place finisher Tim George Jr. (No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet). Together, the trio trailed lead packs of six or eight cars through the late stages of the race, all the while planning a move to the front.
"It is such an honor to drive for such a legendary speedway racing team and to have Richard Childress behind my back. It is really cool. Mike Dillon up on the spotters' tower was amazing. I could have not done it without Mike, no way," George said. "We absolutely had a car to win. That car was real good out front. Unfortunately we could not bring home a win, but we brought back the next best thing, a top-five."
In starting from the pole, Armstrong led each of the race's opening 32 laps before George assumed the advantage for 12 on a restart following the race's second caution. Armstrong dipped back to seventh by Lap 40, but again held the point at the race's halfway point, the conclusion of the 47th circuit.
Armstrong then traded the lead with Hessert before giving way to Enfinger - the eventual sixth-place finisher - on Lap 52.
A multi-car accident rattled a substantial portion of the 42-car field on Lap 50, as Mikey Kile (No. 25 Tag Heuer Eyewear Toyota) lost control and contributed to damage for Mark Thompson (No. 66 Phoenix Air Toyota), Bill Baird (No. 52 Saturn Racing Toyota), James Buescher (No. 51 Phoenix Racing Dodge), Alex Kennedy (No. 38 Great Dane Trailers Dodge), and Bryan Silas (No. 11 Rockingham Speedway-PBG Ford).
Buescher reported being at a loss when driving upon the melee.
"My spotter didn't tell me which way to go," Buescher said. "He just said, 'Good luck.' I couldn't see anywhere. Well, good luck."
Ricky Carmichael (No. 4 Monster Energy Chevrolet) made a tremendous slide-and-save maneuver on Lap 41, only to be caught up in the major accident less than 10 laps later.
"You don't want to bump draft in the tri-oval. It's just a shame that this car is tore up," Carmichael said. "These guys work hard; they're awesome. For a day to end like this, it is just upsetting.'
Bobby Gerhart (No. 5 Lucas Oil Chevrolet) won the season opener on another restrictor plate track, Daytona, but the checkered flag was not in the veteran driver’s immediate future at Talladega. Like Carmichael, he experienced significant damage in the crash.
"We had a really good car. I thought we could win it again on fuel mileage, but this car is destroyed, unfixable. It was one of my favorite cars. We'll just have to make another one," Gerhart said.
Patrick Sheltra (No. 60 Buffalo Wings & Rings/Ferguson Pipe Dodge) escaped the excitement of the last lap passing to finish second, his third top-five and best finish of 2010.
"Starting out, we didn't have the greatest qualifying car, so we had to start back in the pack. We got tied up in a crash there and thought our day was done. We couldn't even catch up with the lead draft anymore," Sheltra said. "The guys came back in and worked on it. We had a late caution. (The No. 6 of Brandon McReynolds) stuck with us, pushed us up to the 22 and stayed on the outside line. We just pushed the 22 to the lead, and we ended up second.
"I didn't think we had a second place car. The whole nose was torn up. Just to come out with a second place, it was a very good day."
Craig Goess steered the No. 81 Greenville Toyota Toyota to fourth place, a success after being forced to change engines in Friday's practice.
"I think it was a pretty good day, from how we had run at superspeedways last year. We kind of just got caught up in accidents that were unavoidable. We got through the pack clean and stayed out front," Goess said.
Discussing the race's finish, Goess added: "I thought I pushed the 77 (Hessert) enough going through (Turns) 3 and 4 to get the run we needed. We didn't get going the way I thought we would. For where we started and having to change motors, it was a good day for us."
Kile was able to steer his Venturini Motorsports machine to fifth despite playing a role in the Lap 50 accident and being forced to change his engine late in Friday's opening practice.
"I was fortunate to get as little damage as we had. T.J. Majors, my spotter, is phenomenal, and he kept me calm to work through there. They had another spin there in (Turns) 3 and 4 on the last lap, and we were able to gain a lot of positions there. With the way the weekend went, with the blown motor, I am pretty pleased with the finish," Kile said.
Scott Stenzel, Hessert, Justin Marks, and Hal Martin completed the top 10. Incoming points leader Steve Arpin finished 14th, allowing Marks to take the series lead by 20 points. Sheltra, Hessert, and Kile comprise the remainder of the top five through five races.
The ARCA Racing Series moves to its home track, Toledo Speedway, on Sunday, May 23 with the running of the Menards 200 Presented by Federated Car Care. More information is available at ARCARacing.com.