Story By: DON RADEBAUGH / ARCA – TALLADEGA, AL – It was the closest margin of victory in ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards history. In fact, it was so close that the transponders that measure such things were tied at 0.00 seconds. But after going back to the start-finish camera, it was determined that Zane Smith out-dragged rookie Joe Graf, Jr. to the finish line in a good old-fashioned photo finish to win the wild General Tire 200 Friday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.
Smith, in the No. 41 LaPaz Margarita Mix Toyota, survived two overtimes and a grinding door-to-door sprint to the checkers alongside rookie Joe Graf, Jr. to earn his second career ARCA victory. Smith also led 16 laps.
“It’s awesome, to win like that,” said Smith. “To be honest, I didn’t know I had won. My spotter came over the radio and finally told me. At that point, my arms and legs were literally shaking inside the car. I get to work with best team in the garage…all the guys at MDM Motorsports…my sponsor LaPaz Margarita Mix. I get to work with Mardy Lindley, the best crew chief anywhere. In the last three races, we’ve finished first, second and first. I’m beyond pumped for this year.”
Heading into the second and final overtime, with just one lap to settle it all, Smith’s MDM teammate Sheldon Creed shoved the eventual winner all the way down the backstretch while Michael Self pushed Graf. By the time they were up to speed in turns three and four, Smith and Graf were locked together, trading paint all the way to the checkered flag.
“I had the 28 (Sheldon Creed) behind me. He gave me an awesome shove down the backstretch. He lifted me right off the ground. I was just sawing at the wheel all the way down the backstretch. I have the best people behind me in the world. It’s so cool. My whole family is here…my girlfriend’s with me. This couldn’t be better.”
Graf, with a broken left foot and in just his third ARCA start, finished a career-best second in Chad Bryant’s No. 77 Big Tine Ford.
“We had a great car,” said Graf. “I felt like we could get it done from the start. Michael (Self) pushed me all the way down the backstretch. I definitely learned a lot today. Thanks to Chad Bryant Racing and Big Tine for making this happen. I’ll be better next time I come back. My first time racing here, but I’ve loved this track since I was a kid. I really thought I had won it. My spotter thought so too.”
Michael Self, in the No. 15 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota, finished third after leading 21 laps.
“I had a bad pit stop…slid through my box,” said Self. “A lot of things just didn’t play out very well…disappointed in my mistakes. But there were a lot of good things that played out today. We fought hard from the back. We missed the wrecks. When they started wrecking, my spotter just said aim for it. It’ll clear out when you get there. In the end, we got another good finish for Sinclair Oil and the Venturini Motorsports team. Just a little short today. Thanks to General Tire for putting on the show…hope it looked good on TV.”
Sheldon Creed, who led the most laps (23) in the No. 28 United Rental Toyota, helped his MDM teammate get to victory lane, then settled in to finish fourth.
Josh Williams made good on his ARCA return, finishing fifth in the No. 6 Star Brite-Star Tron Chevrolet.
The race was fascinating start to finish, complete with non-stop two- and three-wide racing during which seven drivers traded the lead 17 times. The race was also slowed with seven cautions for 38 laps, including one red flag for a multi-car crash during the first overtime. Getting the worst of it were Chase Purdy and Bo LeMastus, both making heavy contact with the safer barrier. Purdy, who climbed out under his own power, was transported, conscious and alert, to an area hospital.
Two overtime periods took the race length from its scheduled 76 laps to 87 total.
Other lap leaders included Blaine Perkins (12), Bret Holmes (6), Max Tullman (5) and Purdy (4).
Tullman finished sixth in the Yurpal.com Chevrolet with Brandon Lynn trailing in seventh in the Remodeez Toyota. Veteran Bobby Gerhart finished eighth in the Lucas Oil Chevrolet. Gerhart also recorded the fastest lap of the race. Travis Braden and Andy Seuss completed the top-10, respectively.