DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One of the unheralded stories during the ARCA Racing Series season opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Feb. 10 was that of part-time racer Willie Mullins, who persevered and overachieved during the Lucas Oil 200 to bring home a career-best runner-up finish.
Mullins’ No. 3 Crow Wing Recycling/Bugsy’s Auto Ford survived a crash-filled ending to the Speedweeks kickoff – which featured two attempts at a one-lap overtime finish – to come home with a feel-good moment for one of ARCA’s underdog, lower-budget teams.
“We’ve all been so excited all week to have done what we did at Daytona and to go forward with great success for a little team,” said Mullins. “It’s still hard to believe, man.”
Knowing that his car would have speed after qualifying ninth, Mullins elected to drop to the rear of the field to start the race, knowing that carnage would eventually ensue.
“We decided to start in the back,” Mullins admitted. “We were just going to wait out all the wrecks and that’s basically what we did.”
The strategy eventually paid off. Mullins worked through a melee on the backstretch during the originally-scheduled final lap, coming down to the first of two red flag stoppages in 11th after the smoke cleared.
But even at that point, Mullins felt he wasn’t where he needed to be in order to contend.
“During the first red flag, when Bret Holmes ended up on his side, we were sitting back in about 11th and thinking that we had waited too late to make our move,” Mullins admitted. “We thought we missed the window to move forward and try to set ourselves up in a good position. We did all our counting and tried to make sure our fuel mileage was right … and then I got a huge shove from behind on that first restart.”
The first overtime attempt saw a huge crash in turn three after Sheldon Creed, Chase Purdy, Sean Coor and Travis Braden all crashed in turn three while racing for the win.
Behind them, Mullins had picked up five positions on the restart, slipping through to an unlikely runner-up position behind Michael Self – who inherited the lead as a result of the incident.
“Once I got in front of Tommy Praytor going down the backstretch, then all of a sudden, the four leaders all piled into the fence going down into turn three … and I’m driving underneath them thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I just got through there,’” recalled Mullins. “We came out the other side running second and it was take a deep breath because it’s time to go.”
But when the green flag returned for good, Mullins found himself in the worst possible position at Daytona – up front with no drafting help – as he was surrounded by three Venturini Motorsports Toyotas for the race-ending 2.5-mile dash.