DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It may not have been how he wanted Saturday’s season-opening ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards event to end, but Maine’s Austin Theriault was still as jubilant as any in victory lane at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Theriault used a power move on a restart with nine laps remaining to get into contention, battling with late-race leader Terry Jones side-by-side before using a push from Dalton Sargeant to clear Jones and assume the top spot.
Shortly after, a huge crash involving Bobby Gerhart, Codie Rohrbaugh, Clint King and Justin Fontaine saw Fontaine ride on his side halfway down the frontstretch before flipping onto his roof in the runoff area prior to the entrance to turn one.
Fontaine was transported to a local hospital following the crash, while ARCA officials were forced to call the Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200 complete with five laps remaining, due to time constraints and damage to the SAFER Barrier from the accident.
Saturday marked Theriault’s second-career ARCA victory in just his third series start, as well as his debut with Ken Schrader Racing as the 23-year-old pursues the series championship this year.
“That was unbelievable,” said Theriault, whose other win came in his series debut at Michigan in 2014. “I’m so happy right now. We had too much time (today) to sit around … and I’d probably [have been] crying if we’d gone back green. I know we would have had a good enough car to take the checkered flag … but this is just as sweet.”
“A lot of people went into this today: the Schraders, the Cunninghams, Kerry Scherer … a lot of people have made this possible. Orlando Longwood Auto Auction came on board at the last minute and without them, we wouldn’t be here. We’re off to a good start. This team would do anything for us and that’s what’s going to make us successful this year. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead and hopefully we can keep this roll going.”
With no teammates, ninth-starting Theriault had to rely on help from some of his fiercest competitors throughout the day.
“The Cunningham cars (Shane Lee and Dalton Armstrong) helped a lot today and played a strong part in getting us to the front. I thought the 25 (Tom Hessert) did a great job … he pushed us along on the outside. We just had a really strong car all day, especially with good cars behind us.”
“I had a lot of help on the track and we put ourselves in position to win. Me and Kenny (Schrader) are excited to get to the phones and see if we can make something happen. Our focus is to run for the ARCA championship and we made that clear tonight.”
The first half of Saturday’s event was relatively calm, with polesitter Tom Hessert leading the opening 21 laps despite two early cautions, and Quin Houff taking Mason Mitchell Motorsports out front after that when he and teammate Kyle Weatherman stayed on-track during an early round of pit stops.
The second half saw the field start to creep back together, just before the third yellow of the race flew for a flat right rear tire and another spin by Dauzat. That drew the remainder of the leaders who had not yet pitted down for service, handing the race lead to veteran Terry Jones as the event wound into its closing stages.
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