DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Bobby Gerhart had the dominant car and a ninth ARCA win at Daytona only laps away.
Not so fast.
Gerhart’s car slowed on the track with seven laps left, just the break John Wes Townley needed to nudge him out of the way and zip to the lead.
Then he took the checkered flag. Townley held off Kyle Larson down the stretch Saturday to win his first ARCA Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
“It’s one thing to win your first race in an ARCA Series,” Townley said. “It’s another to win it at Daytona.”
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.
Townley, a former IndyCar driver, won from the pole.
“I really can’t say the expectations were to win today,” he said. “But it really happened for us.”
ARCA celebrated 50 years at Daytona with the 200-mile race. This race served as a showcase for some of the possible future stars of NASCAR.
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.”
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.
Usually, a field full of inexperienced superspeedway drivers leads to a handful of wrecks. But the race was pretty clean with the exception of a big accident that collected about six cars.
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.
Minus the fire, the scene looked familiar for Gerhart at the end of the race. He buried his face in his hands before climbing out of the car. He immediately opened the trunk and started jiggling fuel connectors. He then went under the hood for further examination.
He found nothing wrong.
“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.”
James Hylton, a 78-year-old driver from Inman, S.C., finished 26th in his final Daytona start. He announced Thursday that this will be his final season behind the wheel.