Ken Schrader, center, celebrates in Victory Lane after claiming the Menards 200 on Sunday afternoon at Toledo Speedway. It was the first ARCA start of the season for the longtime driver.
On the surface, it seemed as if Ken Schrader had little difficulty in winning the ARCA Menards 200.
The 57-year-old led for 163 laps of the 200-lap race, and he maintained at least a two-second lead over his closest competitor in the race’s final 25 laps.
But to hear Schrader describe his first ARCA win in his first ARCA start this season, it wasn’t about just setting the pace on the half-mile oval Sunday at Toledo Speedway, but about keeping the pace.
“We were just making laps at that point,” said Schrader, a longtime NASCAR driver who finished 4.777 seconds ahead of Mason Mingus for the race title. “We knew we had a little bit of a run, so we were just trying to stand tall.”
Ten days from his 58th birthday, Schrader became the oldest driver to win an ARCA race. Schrader surpassed Toledo native Iggy Katona, who was six months from his 58th birthday when he won the Daytona ARCA 200 in 1974 at Daytona International Speedway.
Both Schrader and Mingus took advantage of Grant Enfinger going into pit road as a result of a flat tire in the late laps of the race. That exit allowed Mingus to move up to second and finish ahead of Frank Kimmel, Justin Boston, and Matt Tifft in the Menards 200 top five.
“Grant might have actually blown up,” said Mingus, who is second in the ARCA points standings, 20 points behind Kimmel (1,080). “We saw him smoking, the whole race, so we were actually counting on that a little bit. I think we had a good enough car just to run with him and with Ken Schrader. We were really good on long runs.
But, Mingus added, "If we’d had a caution at the end, it would have just closed the gap a little.”
Schrader kept the pace with pole winner Kyle Benjamin in the early laps, then took his first lead on the 23rd lap. Only three other drivers held the lead in the race’s remaining 37 laps: Benjamin, Enfinger, and Josh Williams.
“He was pretty aggressive all day, but he laid back at the beginning, to save his tires,” Mingus said of Schrader. “Some people didn’t, and we tried to be patient also, to lay back and save our tires at the end.
“That’s the key to short-track racing, especially in ARCA. New tires make such a difference. You only get six [spare tires in the pits] here, so it’s key to save them in the beginning and stretch them as much as you can.”
Schrader looked at the overall scheme when he described his win.
“We just had a good car, the 15 car [Benjamin] had trouble, and he was real good at the start there,” Schrader said. “And Grant was there all day. I could see him coming and coming, and Grant had a really good car. But it was the first one to do 200 laps, and we got here first. That’s all that counts.”
Once Schrader retook the lead with 70 laps left, he barely looked back at Enfinger, his closest competitor, in the race’s second half. Enfinger continued to race in the final 50 laps despite the fact his Ford continued to billow white smoke. With 30 laps left, Enfinger tried to pass Schrader on the outside as they entered Turn 4.
That maneuver was unsuccessful.
“When he passed us the first time, I told him that I didn’t think he’d make it,” Schrader said. “He was whistling a little bit.”
Finally, Schrader acknowledged the point in the race when he did look back at Enfinger — with 11 laps left, when Enfinger exited the track for pit road as a result of the flat tire.
“Then,” Schrader said, grinning, “I thought it would be a little bit easier.”