DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Michael Self’s ARCA Menards Series “redemption tour” got off to an impeccable start on Saturday night at Daytona Int’l Speedway with a win in the season-opening Lucas Oil 200 driven by General Tire.
Self, who finished runner-up in last year’s ARCA point standings, made a statement at the 2.5-mile high banks that no one was going to deny him a chance to celebrate in victory lane.
He won the pole, led a race-high 60 of the 80 laps and held off Hailie Deegan on a four-lap dash to the checkered flag to earn his eighth ARCA victory in just 40 series starts.
For the Utah veteran, it was a moment where he was able to forget about “what might have been.” At least for one night, Saturday was all about soaking in his second win at the World Center of Racing.
“This is amazing, man, to start the season off like this … it’s unbelievable,” Self said in victory lane. “To come and to feel like this is our year of redemption, and to be back with Sinclair (Oil) and Venturini (Motorsports) is a great feeling. It was just a great day overall. What an amazing car, and to have our (Venturini Motorsports) cars finish first and third (with teammate Drew Dollar) is unbelievable.
“This place is a little different than everywhere we go and there’s a lot that’s out of your control here, but to come out and have the car that we did … to where we could lead as many laps as we did and hold other car off, it just makes you so excited for the future knowing what these guys can do already,” continued Self. “We’ve got momentum now going into Phoenix and I couldn’t be more excited to keep this going.
“The second time (winning at Daytona) is just as sweet as the first time, I can promise you that.”
Self didn’t give up the lead for the first time until lap 22, when a slow fuel stop on pit road ended with his car stalling briefly as he left the pit box, handing command of the race to Tanner Gray.
But Self dug his heels in, and even restarting ninth, didn’t panic. He got right back to work and found himself back up to third place in less than 10 laps following the restart.
From there, it was a lightning-quick fuel stop on lap 41 – following a 10 minute, 43 second red flag for crash cleanup from the biggest wreck of the day – that handed the 29-year-old the race lead for good.
Self held serve on every restart after that and paced the final 40 laps en route to victory.
In reflecting on the pit issues he endured at the end of the race’s first quarter, Self showed the poise of a veteran in recounting how he bounced back to be in position when it counted.
“I just had to be patient,” said Self of his rally back to the front. “It’s easy to get in your own head and think that you have to get back to the front, and want to get there sooner than the circumstances give you those opportunities. But fortunately, we had a good restart and were able to follow the 23 (Bret Holmes) up through there to where we could tuck in behind the DGR cars for a little while.
“We nailed it on the next stop, did what we had to do, and that was the difference.”
And as for whether he was worried about any runs from behind in the final laps, Self simply smiled.
“That confidence goes back to my spotter, Britt (Anderson),” noted Self. “He was keyed up (on the radio) the last four laps, and listening to him, I knew exactly what that gap was behind me. That’s what it’s all about.”
Deegan’s runner-up finish matched Shawna Robinson’s 1999 run with James Finch as the best effort by a female ARCA Menards Series driver at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
And while some might have been disappointed at coming so close to a Daytona victory but not getting the job done, Deegan was all smiles, beaming from ear to ear as she stood by her Ford after the race.
“This is a win to me,” she relayed. “Our goal was to finish, then to try and run third to fifth. To come home second, I couldn’t be happier.”
Self’s teammate, Drew Dollar, completed the podium ahead of Sean Corr and Thad Moffitt, the grandson of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty.
Canadian Jason White crossed sixth, with Riley Herbst, Willie Mullins, Bret Holmes and Scott Melton completing the top 10.
World of Outlaws sprint car star David Gravel battled through being involved in the Big One at lap 39 and late right-side door damage to come home 12th in his stock-car debut.
That lap-39 incident was the game-changing moment of the afternoon, ending the days of Ryan Repko, Gus Dean, Dominique van Wieringen, Natalie Decker, Andy Seuss, Jacob Heafner and others after contact between Pack and Connor Hall sparked a melee in the middle of the lead pack in turn one.
Debris from Gravel’s car then drew the final yellow of the day at lap 71, setting up the dash to the end.
Michael Self, Hailie Deegan, Drew Dollar, Sean Corr, Thad Moffitt, Jason White, Riley Herbst, Willie Mullins, Bret Holmes, Scott Melton, Thomas Praytor, David Gravel, Charles Buchanan, Con Nicolopoulos, Benny Chastain, Tanner Gray, Eric Caudell, Tim Richmond, Chuck Hiers, Connor Hall, Ryan Huff, Ryan Repko, Gus Dean, JJ Pack, Dominique van Wieringen, Natalie Decker, Jacob Heafner, Andy Seuss, John Ferrier, Dave Mader III, Brad Smith, Jason Kitzmiller, Scott Reeves.