[media-credit name=”arcaracing.com” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit](IRVINGTON, Ala.) – The customary purple Hoosier band draped around his neck, the Mobile ARCA 200 winner paused for a moment on the frontstretch at Mobile International Speedway, waiting for a quieter moment to answer a question.
That’s because the winner was Mobile’s own Cale Gale, and he was surrounded by excited, loud fans and friends from his hometown just minutes after holding off Chad Hackenbracht and taking the checkered flag for his second ARCA win.
The race was the first trip to the track for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, and the first short track race of ARCA’s 60th Anniversary Season.
Gale (No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet) led 76 of 203 laps, including the last 28, in a race extended by a green-white-checkered finish. Just days after celebrating his 27th birthday, Gale passed fellow Alabama driver Grant Enfinger on Lap 176 and held the advantage through four late caution periods and the subsequent restarts. A full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver, Gale now has 11 ARCA starts, and a second win to back up a 2006 triumph at Gateway.
“This worked out better than we ever could have expected it to,” said Gale, standing in Mobile’s victory circle and approximately 100 yards in front of his own infield billboard reading “Thanks Mobile! Gotta Have A Dream” and featuring pictures old and new from his racing career.
“We came here with intentions to win but actually being able to pull it off is awesome and it comes at a good time,” he said. “What a packed house today. (Promoter) Rick (Crawford) has done an awesome job promoting this thing, and Tommy Praytor too. It’s especially special, because my grandfather passed away last year and we spent many a night down here on Saturday nights and it’s my first race to win since he passed away.”
The win was the first for Eddie Sharp Racing since Craig Goess scored his only career ARCA victory at Pocono in 2010.
Driving to the front took some work for Gale. He started ninth, four rows behind Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell winner Alex Bowman (No. 22 eBay Motors/St. Jude Children’s Hospital Dodge). Bowman led the first 28 laps in his fourth ARCA start, keeping the lead even after a Lap 19 restart.
Chase Elliott (No. 9 Aaron’s Dream Machine/Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet) passed Bowman on the inside on Lap 29 after looking close a lap earlier, turning what had been as much as a 0.733-second Bowman advantage into his own lead. Elliott drove away easily after finding clean air, and even Gale passed Bowman for second on Lap 31.
The race was Elliott’s first in the ARCA Racing Series. The son of NASCAR champion Bill Elliott had previously raced in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series but never in an ARCA car.
Elliott kept the lead on a Lap 42 restart resulting from the race’s second caution, but chose to pit during the race’s third caution period, allowing Bowman to return to the front. Erik Jones (No. 55 Paragon Corvette Reproductions Chevrolet) – making his first ARCA start at just 15 years old – rose to second, just ahead of Hackenbracht (No. 58 CGH Motorsports Chevrolet) and Frank Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Toyota).
Bowman built a gap on the Lap 56 restart, finding himself more than a second ahead of Jones within six laps. His advantage was not meant for long, though. Two cars lost control and drove off the track and over the hill in Turns 3 and 4, an unusual occurrence but not at all unexpected at Mobile, where the only retaining wall is on the frontstretch.
Bowman pitted on the ensuing caution period, allowing Jones to move to the front. Jones led for 15 laps, but Gale – who had been fifth when Jones took the lead – quickly closed the gap. Jones led by 0.748 second at Lap 75 and 0.863 second at Lap 77, but saw that advantage sink under 0.1 second two laps later. On Lap 80, Gale took the first spot, with Elliott following for second.
Matt Lofton (No. 16 Strutmasters.com Chevrolet) followed the lead pair in third, with Enfinger (No. 61 Breland Homes Ford) and Bowman moving back to the top five by Lap 100, the race’s halfway point.
Enfinger, of Fairhope, Ala., passed for third on Lap 103, just before another caution period, and it was clear that he was ready to take aim at Gale and form a true Alabama battle at the front. He moved into second nine laps later, and slowly infringed upon Gale’s lead. The leaders hit lapped traffic at Lap 126, and with one driver in front of them struggling with a broken sway bar and creating a slight traffic jam, Enfinger closed Gale’s lead to 0.076 second at Lap 127. He passed for first the next time around.
With Enfinger now in front of Gale, the Alabama drivers easily put some distance on the field. At Lap 133, they led by three seconds over third. Twenty laps later, they had more than seven seconds on third-place driver Mikey Kile (No. 1 ModSpace Ford) – an advantage of about one-third of a lap.
At Lap 168, though, a 59-lap green flag run ended with a spin in Turns 3 and 4. Enfinger pitted as the leader, and kept the lead over Gale as he exited. Behind them were Mason Mingus (No. 32 Call 811 Before You Dig Toyota), Clint King (No. 66 Warehouse Design Chevrolet), and Hackenbracht.
Hackenbracht passed King almost immediately after the Lap 175 restart, a precursor to Gale’s pass of Enfinger for the lead the next time around. Mingus then lost control and drove over the Turns 3 and 4 hill, bringing out another caution with Gale the leader and Hackenbracht having passed Enfinger for second.
Gale led Hackenbracht out of the Lap 182 restart, another restart five laps later, and two more as the final laps ran down. The final caution period came with just four laps remaining, setting up an extension of the race and a final green-white-checkered finish on Laps 202 and 203.
Hackenbracht stuck to Gale’s back bumper and tried to drive under Gale in the second turn of the final lap, but Gale held his line and Hackenbracht struggled. In front of a screaming hometown crowd, Gale drove to victory by 0.634 second, with Hackenbracht, Bowman, Kile, and King trailing him.
Chris Buescher (No. 17 Roulo Brothers Racing Ford) finished sixth, just ahead of Brennan Poole (No. 25 Adcetera Toyota). Jared Marks (No. 12 Dodge Motorsports/UNOH Dodge) was eighth, edging Tom Hessert (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet) and Elliott.
Southern short track ace Bubba Pollard (No. 29 Grease Monkey/M&E Construction Chevrolet) finished 11th over Ryan Reed (No. 15 JDRF Toyota), Enfinger, Sean Corr (No. 82 Empire Racing Ford), and Tyler Reddick (No. 18 Broken Bow Records/Stoney Creek Records Chevrolet).
Kimmel, the nine-time ARCA champion, ended the day 17th. Jones, who led 14 laps in his debut, finished 29th after his car stalled coming off of pit road. The full results are available at ARCARacing.com.
The race was slowed by 11 cautions for 65 laps, and finished in one hour, 48 minutes, and four seconds.
The next race for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will take place Sunday, April 29 at Salem Speedway. The 200-lap, 111-mile Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 is scheduled to start at 2:15 p.m. Salem will host practice and Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell on Saturday, April 28. The event at Salem will be ARCA’s 91st at the track, where nine-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel has nine wins.
2012 is the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards’ 60th Anniversary Season, featuring 20 races at 18 tracks. The complete 2012 event schedule is available at ARCARacing.com.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has crowned an ARCA national champion each year since its inaugural season in 1953, and has toured over 200 race tracks in 28 states since its inception. The series has tested the abilities of drivers and race teams over the most diverse schedule of stock car racing events in the world, visiting tracks ranging from 0.4 mile to 2.66 miles in length, on both paved and dirt surfaces as well as a left- and right-turn road course in its most recent season. This year, the series visited Alabama’s Mobile International Speedway for the first time. In June, the first event at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway will give ARCA a race in a 29th state.
Founded by John and Mildred Marcum in 1953 in Toledo, Ohio, the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) is recognized among the leading sanctioning bodies in the country. Closing in on completing its sixth decade after hundreds of thousands of miles of racing, ARCA administers over 100 race events each season in three professional touring series and local weekly events.