DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Austin Theriault would have welcomed another restart in the ARCA season opener.
After all, he figured he had the field covered.
”I feel strongly we still would have been in good shape,” he said.
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Theriault never got a chance to find out. He won at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday after a harrowing late accident damaged part of the energy-absorbing wall and halted the race. The 200-mile event was called with five laps remaining – with Theriault sitting in his No. 52 Chevrolet on the high-banked track.
”When you’re fast and you play a smart race, you’re hard to beat,” Theriault said. ”Fortunately everything played out in our favor.”
While Theriault celebrated his second ARCA victory in three career starts, Justin Fontaine was headed to a hospital. The 19-year-old Fontaine sustained a mild compression fracture of his L1 vertebrae and will be kept overnight for evaluation and will be in back brace for the next three months.
”Justin is awake and alert following a hard crash at Daytona International Speedway,” Win-Tron Racing owner Kevin Cywinski said. ”Justin is in good spirits, and we hope to be able to provide a further update on his recovery time when it’s appropriate.”
Fontaine thanked safety personnel for ”their quick actions after the accident.”
”I just want to let everyone know that I’m OK and I’m thankful for the outreach of support,” he added.
Fontaine’s wild ride brought out the final red flag. He slammed into the outside wall, slid on his driver’s side door, flipped and then came to a stop on his roof. Fontaine was stuck in the car for several minutes as safety workers turned his car over and cut him out of the cockpit.
Eight-time race winner Bobby Gerhart, Codie Rohrbaugh and Derrick Lancaster also were caught up in the late melee. None of them was injured.
Terry Jones finished second, followed by Shane Lee, Dalton Sargeant and pole-sitter Tom Hessert.
Theriault passed Jones for the lead with eight laps to go, but the race was red-flagged after Fontaine’s crash damaged part of the SAFER barrier at Daytona. The energy-absorbing wall had to be repaired before the Monster Energy Cup Series exhibition Clash.
Theriault sat in his car for more than 10 minutes until the race was called. He then made his way to victory lane to celebrate.
”Our focus is to win the championship,” said Theriault, who drives for Ken Schrader Racing. ”I think we made that clear tonight. We have a long season to go, though, and a lot of work to do. We always want to get better, and Daytona’s kind of a different animal, obviously.
”Once we get to Nashville (in April), we’ll have a better idea of maybe what we have to work on and what we’re good at and we can go from there. But our intention’s to go for the championship.”