On Saturday, Feb. 16, John Wes Townley started on the pole and finished in Gatorade Victory Lane, capturing the 50th annual Lucas Oil 200 presented by MAVTV American Real at Daytona International Speedway.
The race marked Townley’s eighth start at the “World Center of Racing,” and his first career pole and win in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. His previous best finish in the series also came at DIS when he finished third in 2010.
“It still hasn’t sunk all in,” said Townley of the win, which gave Venturini Motorsports their first, long-awaited victory on the high banks of Daytona. “It’s one thing to win your first race in ARCA; it’s another to win at Daytona."
“Personally, this is priceless,” Townley continued. “I almost wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world except my family. It’s a real honor to win at Daytona.”
Rounding out the top five were Kyle Larson, Ricky Ehrgott, nine-time ARCA Series champion Frank Kimmel and 2012 race polesitter Sean Corr.
Townley has raced well in the ARCA Series on the 2.5-mile tri-oval, logging four top-11 finishes in as many starts. Townley was a contender for the win right off of the truck, with the No. 15 Zaxby’s Toyota posting the fastest laps during qualifying and practice. He then went on to lead nine laps during the race, including the last eight.
Leading a race-high 55 laps on the night was eight-time and defending race winner Bobby Gerhart, who holds the record for the most starts (26) and the most laps completed (1,781) in the kickoff event to the stock car portion of Budweiser Speedweeks. In the lead with eight laps to go, Gerhart’s No. 5 Chevrolet slowed coming off Turn 4, allowing Townley to pass him for the lead. Two laps later, Gerhart’s car would come to a rest on the backstretch.
Gerhart was well on his way in the No. 5 Chevrolet toward extending his record for most ARCA wins at Daytona. He had won three straight and six of the past eight. Gerhart had a fuel issue force him off the high-banked track.
He finished 29th, his lowest in 18 career ARCA races at Daytona, five laps down. His previous low was 19th in 2009.
Gerhart had said he was the driver to beat Friday in the ARCA garage.
"Tough, tough, tough," said Gerhart, who also won at Daytona in 1999, 2002 and 2005-07. "Wow. That was one that got away, no question."
Gerhart's car had to be pushed to the garage area after the race.
"It was a fuel issue of some sort," Gerhart said. "I'm not sure if we had a pump or a pickup problem or we lost a cable. We went to a new system this year where it was a cable-driven deal. It shut off, but I came down pit road and it started running again, just kept right on trucking. A couple laps later, it was out completely. I don't know what to say."
Racing phenom Kyle Larson, one of 20 first-time Daytona drivers in the traditional first race of Speedweeks, needed to drive in this race for NASCAR to approve him for the Nationwide Series next week.
Larson has been approved by NASCAR to compete in the second-tier series except for Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.
The 20-year-old Larson chased Townley over the closing laps, but couldn't get past him.
"The main goal was just to finish all the laps and get approved for the Nationwide race," Townley said. "We did that and I'm happy we did it. It would have been bad starting a race behind trying to race for the championship this year."
Though previous ARCA races in Daytona have been plagued by numerous caution periods, this race was fairly clean with the exception of a few incidents.
Darrell Wallace Jr., set to become the fourth black driver to run a full-time schedule in a NASCAR series, was caught up in the only major wreck and finished 35th. Wallace will run a full season in the Truck Series in the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Julien Jousse was the first driver out of the race when a fire sparked inside his car, forcing the driver to tumble out the window onto the grass. Jousse slammed his gloves to the ground as his overheated car was looked at. He walked back to check out the damage.
James Hylton, a 78-year-old driver from Inman, S.C., finished 26th in his final Daytona start. The race marks Hylton’s last at the prestigious track as he is retiring at the end of the season after 50 years of NASCAR racing.
Tickets for all Budweiser Speedweeks events are available online or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
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