While the ARCA Racing Series points leaders are locked in a tense knock-down, drag-out battle to the finish for the season championship, an exciting and entertaining race broke out at Toledo Speedway Sunday.
Once the topsy-turvy affair was over, Chris Buescher was both the winner and the best gambler in the field. Buescher watched one leader after another experience mechanical breakdowns or tire wear issues during the surprisingly long green flag runs in the Northwest Ohio Ford Dealers 200.
His tires held up with Buescher in the lead over a frantic final 25 laps, and the 17-year-old from Texas led the charge around the half-mile oval when it really mattered — at the end.
“I didn't ask, and I didn't want to know — I was just driving,” Buescher said about how much rubber he had left when he made his final push to the checkered flag. “I did see a lot of people fall victim to tire problems, but I didn't feel like we were abusing it too hard.”
Buescher, who also won the ARCA race at Toledo Speedway in May, had to start Sunday's race from well back in the pack since Saturday's rain washed out qualifying and the field was set by car owner points.
Patrick Sheltra and Tom Hessert came to Toledo Speedway locked in a tie atop the points standings, with Craig Goess just five points back, and nine-time series champ Frank Kimmel only 50 points out.
Sheltra lost the race lead after just three laps as he was hit with handling issues, with Hessert taking over and leading for 130 laps overall in the middle portions of the race before a broken sway bar forced him to go four laps down. Kimmel was in hot pursuit of the lead and took over briefly, but a rear-end gear failure sent him in for repairs.
The attrition continued, and after Joey Coulter surged to the front and assumed the lead, he and Buescher engaged in a dogfight as they were weaving their way through lapped traffic.
Coulter had a tire go down with under 25 laps left, and Buescher, who had worked his way up from the 23rd starting position in the 32-car field, took the lead. Once in front, Buescher held off a spirited challenge from championship contender Goess to earn his second Toledo win.
“We had to be patient — there were a lot of people that were dicing it up out there early,” Buescher said. “We had to pick our way through it, and we got up there when it counted.”
The race ended with just four cars on the lead lap, after Buescher rolled the dice on the last of just four caution periods, electing to stay out on the track.
“We debated on whether we should pit with that last caution or not,” Buescher said, “but I just felt like we were really good as the runs went on, and there at the end was the best the car had been all day.”
In the scramble to the finish, Goess was second, followed by Sheltra, who assumed a razor-thin five point lead over Goess in the standings. Justin Marks was fourth, with Coulter fifth. Hessert went four laps down while his car was repaired, but he worked his way back to finish seventh and now sits third in points, 15 behind Sheltra.
The outlook is bleaker for Kimmel, who spent considerable time in the infield while his crew worked furiously on repairs. He finished 21st and with just three races left, he sits 140 points out of the lead in fourth place.
“There was a lot going on out there, with those guys fighting for the points and me, I was just trying to stay away from trouble and work my way up through there,” Buescher said. “It looked like this race could go a number of different ways, but we hung in there, and when the time was right, we had a car capable of staying out front. This is just awesome to win here at Toledo for a second time.”