On a night in which Daytona International Speedway and ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards legend Bill Venturini claimed his first victory in 31 years of competing at the “World Center of Racing,” Frank Kimmel was pleased to get out of town with a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 presented by MAV TV American Real.
Kimmel scored his eighth career top-five finish in 22 career starts — but his first since 2008 — when he started his No. 44 Ansell/Menards Toyota Camry in 19th, but took advantage of adept pit strategy, track position and a good drafting car to drive from outside the top-10 to his final finishing position.
Kimmel, who leaves Daytona fourth in the standings and more than 100 points ahead of where he was last season — when a yellow-line violation penalty knocked him back to 21st in the final rundown — was well aware of that fact.
“It’s a good start to the season,” Kimmel said. “It ran good and battled all day — I think I probably passed more cars than anybody out there, it seemed like, so it was a good day. We got a good finish out of what we had and that’s all we can ask for.
“I was able to get up to the front of that second pack — I drafted a lot with the 32 (Mason Mingus) and the 82 (Sean Corr) and that helped a lot. Once we got up there we was just able to hang on.”
The respect given to Kimmel — a nine-time ARCA Racing Series champion — was obvious as both youngsters sought out the veteran Kimmel post-race in the impound area to swap notes and bench-race while another youngster, John Wes Townley, celebrated in Daytona’s Victory lane with his Venturini Motorsports crew.
Kimmel pitted only twice during the race and true to his pre-race plan with crew chief Jeriod Prince, took only Sunoco race fuel under cautions at about lap 10 and again at about lap 20, while running their Hoosier tires for two laps of qualifying and the 80 laps of the race without a change.
“I’ll take a fourth-place at Daytona any day,” Prince said. “Normally you come out of here with a lot of crashed, torn-up race cars so I’ll take fourth at a superspeedway. We had some (left-front) fender damage and the car wasn’t as quick as it needed to be on account of that, but we got out in front of that second pack and picked up three tenths (of a second) while leading, so it was good to know it was better out front.”
Kimmel’s biggest “moment” of the night came during an accident on lap 19, when at least five cars got tangled up on the frontstretch with the fracas starting in a side-by-side draft right in front of Kimmel’s neon-yellow Toyota.
“There were some exciting moves out there, for sure,” Kimmel said. “But I told my guys at ThorSport Racing all weekend how good that car drives. With a little luck, you can drive through anything and fortunately — you see the mess happening, you don’t panic and you try to drive through it.”
“That accident was scary,” Prince said of the mood on the pit box, “but not as scary as the fuel mileage at the end (because) the computer was showing we were gonna be out of fuel with five (laps) to go. So we had our fingers and toes crossed at the end.”
But bolstering Kimmel and ThorSport’s spirits even more is the fact that Kimmel’s about the only driver in the top 10 in Daytona’s opening rundown that’s contesting the full ARCA Racing Series schedule.
The series’ second event is in three weeks at Mobile (Ala.) International Speedway on March 8-9. Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell is Friday, March 8 with the main event on Saturday afternoon, March 9.