WINCHESTER, Ind. - It would have been difficult to hold off Kyle Benjamin over the course of 200 laps Sunday afternoon at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway, and in the end it proved impossible.
But it certainly wasn’t out of the question, and it even looked possible until Zane Smith’s car broke coming to the final restart inside of 20 laps from the finish.
With Smith gone from the mix, Benjamin cruised under the checkered flag as winner of the 28th running of the Winchester ARCA 200 for the ARCA Racing Series.
“This is the coolest track,” said Benjamin. “It’s a track I’ve always wanted to win at…and I’ve been trying for a while. It’s nice to finally get it.”
Benjamin almost didn’t get it, however. He was the fastest car all day and led the most laps by a long shot, but he had one stubborn Zane Smith in front of him with the laps running down. Benjamin caught Smith with 40 laps to go and immediately went to work on the leader, looking on the low side lap after lap, and even drawing alongside a half dozen times, and each time Smith refused the challenge.
Then a caution for debris brought the final yellow flag out coming up on 20 laps to go. Coming to the restart, Smith’s car just didn’t go, falling off with a broken transmission. Smith coasted to pit road, and climbed out.
Smith didn’t provide much commentary, but he did say with a smile, “Transmission. It was all of a sudden on the restart. We’ll just chop this one up and throw it away.”
If Smith is going to toss this one out, you can bet that Benjamin will hold onto this win for a lifetime.
“Winchester is one that every driver wants to win,” Benjamin said. “This is big for me….one I’ve always wanted. I’m not sure if we would have gotten around Zane Smith. I think we were better on long runs but he would have been tough to get by. He was really smooth and did a great job…I hate it for him. We were a little faster and I think we could have maybe gotten by off the corner…we were just waiting to get a run. If it would have happened, it would have been late in that last run. The MDM Motorsports guys were awesome today.”
Christian Eckes stepped up in the end and got within five lengths of the leader, but fell back about a half-second and the final stripe. The Middletown, New Yorker rookie tied his career-best finish in second.
“This place is so cool…maybe the most fun I’ve ever had at a race track,” said Eckes. “You have so many lines to work with. We started kind of slow in practice but once we got around other cars in the race, we were really good. We definitely had a great long run car…couldn’t get fired off too well on the restarts. But 30-to-40 laps into the run, the car came to us. Not sure if we could have gotten to the 28, but we had a good of a shot as anyone.”
Austin Theriault padded his championship lead, coming home third. Theriault fell back in the opening laps, but got going better toward the end.
“When we struggle like we did today and overcome it, it teaches us a lot,” said Theriault. “We started the race way too free, but at the same time, the car wasn’t turning well either. You can’t adjust for both so we went the route to where I could at least drive it, and tightened it up. Good day all things considered.”
Sargeant, Theriault’s closest competitor for the championship, lost ground to Theriault after he cut a tire and plugged the turn one wall. Sargeant, after several pit stops for repair, returned to competition but eventually fell from competition 37 laps shy of the finish.
Travis Braden finished fourth.
“I’m extremely happy,” said Braden. “I wish we could start fresh from the get-go. We were a little tight in the center all day…I should have noticed that in practice. We were too soft on the right front…loose in, then in the center we’d lose the nose. But a great day for the RFMS 27 team…I appreciate the opportunity.”
Gus Dean finished fifth.
Benjamin started the weekend off with a bang, earning a new one-lap track record Saturday in qualifying. On race day, the Easley, South Carolina 19-year-old driver took off like a rocket at the onset and paced the first 137 laps as the leader. Then he got shuffled back to seventh on a pit stop that took longer than his front-running counterparts, but quickly raced his way back through the pack.
By the time he got to Smith, who led 59 laps, Smith was puckered up and ready to fend off his greatest challenger, which he most certainly did before the drive-line failure.
Shane Lee, Chase Purdy, Bret Holmes, Justin Fontaine and Raphael Lessard rounded out the top ten.
The ARCA Racing Series travels next to the Illinois State Fairgrounds mile dirt in Springfield for the Herr’s Potato Chips 100 Sunday, August 20.
ARCA Racing Series
Winchester Speedway – Winchester IN
Winchester ARCA 200 – August 6, 2017
1. Kyle Benjamin
2. Christian Eckes
3. Austin Theriault
4. Travis Braden
5. Gus Dean
6. Shane Lee
7. Chase Purdy
8. Bret Holmes
9. Justin Fontaine
10. Raphael Lessard
11. Bo LeMastus
12. A.J. Fike
13. Mike Basham
14. Thomas Praytor
15. Zane Smith
16. Dalton Sargeant
17. Riley Herbst
18. Bobby Gerhart
19. Brad Smith
20. Con Nicolopoulos
21. Eric Caudell
22. Mark Meunier
23. Mike Senica