TALLADEGA, Ala. – Zane Smith said after winning his first ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards race at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville that he expected more victories to follow.
Friday evening at Talladega Superspeedway, Smith made good on that vow, taking home the win in a thrilling photo finish after a one-lap dash to end the General Tire 200.
When the green flag waved in double overtime, Smith got a shove from MDM Motorsports teammate Sheldon Creed, while rookie Graf was pushed from behind by Daytona winner Michael Self.
From turn three back to the finish line, Smith dueled side-by-side with Graf, banging doors all the way and crossing the line in a finish that was too close to call by timing and scoring.
After a video review, Smith was declared the victor, taking home his second ARCA win and first at Talladega. Officially, the margin of victory was .000 of a second, the closest finish in the 66-year history of the series.
“If you’d asked me if I was going to get this one halfway through the race, I’d have laughed at you and said you were crazy,” said Smith in victory lane. “Who won this thing is all my guys here at MDM Motorsports and Derek Kneeland on the spotter’s stand. That dude is unreal. I don’t care what anyone says, he’s the best spotter in the world, he helped me get this win and I have the best people behind me.”
The 18-year-old Huntington Beach, Calif., native has won two of the four races this season.
“It’s awesome to win like we did today,” Smith noted. “I didn’t know for sure I’d won until they told me on the radio. At that point, my arms and legs were literally shaking inside the car. We’re four races in and we’ve got two wins already. This year’s going to be unreal.”
A chaotic run to the finish began just after the halfway point, when Bret Holmes crashed while trying to come to pit road on lap 46 while trying to come to pit road.
Holmes was hooked around as he tried to slow coming to the pit entrance, shooting nose-first into the outside wall and sparking the third yellow flag of the afternoon.
Michael Self – who was the leader just before the caution flag waved – was forced to pit before pit road was officially opened due to being low on fuel, relegating him to the tail end of the longest line while Creed and most of the frontrunners made their final stops once the lane opened at 26 to go.
However, Blaine Perkins and others stayed out in hopes of making it on fuel and became the leader when green flag racing resumed again with 22 laps left.
Perkins jumped out to the quick advantage over Sean Corr, with the field falling single file behind him before Andy Seuss hit the wall in turns one and two with 20 to go.
It took just four laps for cleanup before Perkins took back off on the next restart, but Creed was coming from behind and drafted his way to second within the lap.
The next time around, Creed edged ahead on the outside and was clear by himself coming to 12 laps to go, but Perkins wasn’t done and shot back to the lead for two more circuits before Creed took the lead once more at the nine to go mark.
After that it was Perkins’ teammate Max Tullman that came to life, shooting up the outside to edge ahead coming to seven to go before the caution flag waved once for the spinning car of Leilani Munter in the tri-oval.
That set up a two-lap sprint to the finish in regulation, where Bryan Dauzat spun off turn two on the final lap and then Chase Purdy, Codie Rohrbaugh and Bo LeMastus crashed hard in turn three before the leaders got to the finish line, necessitating a red flag and leading to the double overtime finish.
Smith took the lead on the first attempt at overtime, after Perkins ran out of fuel on the final restart and then Riley Herbst and Sean Corr crashed on the backstretch, just after Smith had passed Creed for the race lead.
From there, Smith held the race lead all the way back around after getting a big push from Creed, despite persistent contact from Graf’s No. 77 Big Tine Ford.
“That one was close,” said Graf, who notched his best-career ARCA finish. “I felt like we could’ve gotten it done in the end, and it just came down to a photo finish. I’ve loved this track since I was a kid. It was always a dream to run here. I really thought I had won it. My spotter thought so too.”
Self, whose win at Daytona came in triple overtime, crossed the line third ahead of Creed and Josh Williams.
Tullman, Brandon Lynn, Bobby Gerhart, Travis Braden and Andy Seuss completed the top 10.
Zane Smith, Joe Graf Jr., Michael Self, Sheldon Creed, Josh Williams, Max Tullman, Brandon Lynn, Bobby Gerhart, Travis Braden, Andy Seuss, Bryan Dauzat, Gus Dean, Blaine Perkins, Con Nicolopoulos, Jesse Iwuji, Dave Mader III, Riley Herbst, Robert Powers, D.L. Wilson, Brandon Grosso, Thomas Praytor, Leilani Munter, Sean Corr, Codie Rohrbaugh, Chase Purdy, Bo LeMastus, Bret Holmes, Natalie Decker, Ed Pompa, Kevin Hinckle, Brad Smith.