ELKO, Minn. (June 3, 2017) — With cars wrecking every which way in his mirror, Austin Theriault edged Christian Eckes by about two feet at the final stripe to win the wild Shore Lunch 250 Saturday night at Elko Speedway. Theriault, in Ken Schrader’s No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota, nudged Eckes out of the way inside of four laps remaining before Eckes rooted Theriault off the bottom lane coming to the checkered flag. With their cars locked together off turn four, Theriault held firm on the high side just long enough to earn his second ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards victory this season and third of his career.
“This hasn’t really set in yet,” said Theriault. “We need a little time to process this one. We were running fourth or fifth through the middle of the race. Then we put four General Tires on it…that’s when it came to life. Those last few laps were rough…definitely a lot of back and forth. We got some marks on the car but we got the win.”
Eckes, after leading 91 laps, had to settle for second in the No. 15 New York Bus Sales Toyota.
“We had a really fast 15 car,” said Eckes. “The General Tires had plenty of grip. I hate it for my guys. We’ve led every race we’ve run this year…we’re so close. I just couldn’t put it together at the end. Congratulations to Austin. It was really fun racing with him. That was really wild. I knew it was going to come down to the end…that’s what racing is all about. Great race.”
Riley Herbst finished third in the No. 18 NOS Energy Drink-UFC Gym Toyota, which was probably a hard pill to swallow after leading 130 laps. Herbst, on a different pit strategy, was part of a multi-car pile-up coming under the checkered flag.
“We were fast…faster than everybody,” said Herbst. “We were going for the win on that last corner. I saw the smoke and came around to this mess.”
The “mess” that Herbst was referring to involved several drivers fighting for position, including himself, Zane Smith, Shane Lee, Bret Holmes, Cole Anderson and Gus Dean. The cars driven by Smith, Lee and Anderson were destroyed. Smith was also transported to a local area hospital for further evaluation, examined and released.
Holmes slid through in fourth in the No. 23 Holmes II Excavation-Southern States Bank Chevrolet.
“We needed this,” said Holmes. “We weren’t good enough on longer runs, but to come out with a solid top-five after the season we’ve had almost feels like a win. We needed to break our bad luck. I don’t know how we avoided the wreck but we made it through.”
Dean, with heavy right-side damage, barely squeezed through for fifth in the No. 32 GREE Cooling Products Toyota.
“That was a “days of thunder” moment coming to the checkered flag,” said Dean. “All I saw was smoke. I knew the stripe was close, but we came out the other side. We were fortunate to make it through.”
Local Northfield, Minnesota favorite Cole Anderson was racing among the top-five in the No. 78 Mason Mitchell Motorsports Chevrolet, but got caught up in the same melee. He was still credited with the 10th finishing position but not without a wrecked race car.
“Be honest we couldn’t see too much through all that smoke,” said Anderson. “I did see the 18 rough-housing in front of me. We saw the smoke…tried going low…not sure what happened from there. We had a great run. Everyone at Mason Mitchell Motorsports executed really well. Overall, it was a great night…hopefully we can build off it.”
Smith, with a badly-wrecked car, finished sixth. Lee finished seventh with his Cunningham Motorsports teammate Dalton Sargeant trailing in eighth. A.J. Fike was ninth.
Herbst, the General Tire pole qualifier, jumped out into the lead at the onset and led the first 75 laps before pitting under caution with the majority of the leaders. Herbst took right-side tires only and quickly raced his way back into the lead, taking the top spot away from Dalton Sargeant, who didn’t pit. Herbst led up through lap 125 before Smith raced his way into the lead for 19 laps. Then Eckes took his turn up front, leading from lap 145 through 196 before Herbst, on four fresher tires, reclaimed the lead for the next six laps. Herbst’s lead would be short-lived however when most of the front-runners came down pit road under caution for four fresh tires while Herbst stayed out. After the restart, Eckes got by Herbst for one lap, but Herbst took it right back to lead laps 204 through 208. Then Eckes got back by Herbst and led up through lap 245. That’s when Eckes got the nudge from Theriault, who got underneath Eckes. But Eckes returned the favor and wiggled Theriault from the lead on the 248th lap, only to give it up over the final two laps.
Theriault extended his point lead headed to Pocono.
“To be back in the ARCA Series and have a run like this is amazing,” Theriault added. “I have such a good group of guys behind me on this Ken Schrader Racing team. Donnie Richeson (crew chief) made all the right calls. We didn’t have the dominate car but we had it when we needed it most. Thanks to Federated Auto Parts for coming on board to help us with this one.”
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has a tight turnaround for Pocono Raceway where several teams will be testing Wednesday ahead of next Friday’s race, the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible200 at Pocono, live on FS1.
By: Don Radebaugh