Gus Dean, driver of the No. 32 Gree Cooling Products/Baker Distributing Chevrolet for Win-Tron Racing, used a unique - if not risky - pit strategy and had help from some well-timed caution flags to score his first ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards victory of 2018 in the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 250 at Elko Speedway.
In doing so, Dean became the first non-MDM Motorsports or Venturini Motorsports driver to earn a victory this season.
Dean stayed out under the first round of pit stops for the leaders at lap 60, and led until lap 68 before the drivers that took tires eventually caught him and worked their way past. Dean would eventually fall a lap down to leader Chandler Smith before spinning in turn two on lap 160, falling two laps off the pace. Dean pitted for four tires and took advantage of the cautions to regain track position and get back onto the lead lap.
Dean took the lead for the first time on lap 237 and held off a strong challenge by Joe Graf, Jr. on a restart with three laps to go to score the victory. He bested Christian Eckes, who started the No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota from the General Tire Pole, by 0.857 seconds to pick up his second career ARCA win. His first came in 2016 at Talladega Superspeedway.
"Joe (Graf, Jr.) got a little better restart that we did," Dean said in victory lane. "We went down into one and he tried to crowd me down a little but I wasn't going to give. It's a couple of laps to go and we're fighting for the win and we really needed this. I owe it all to my crew chief Jamie Jones. We needed to do something a little different and we tried some tire strategy. We were two laps down at one point but the cautions fell just right and we got back on the lead lap, got the two right side tires and here we are."
The restart was setup after Chase Purdy's No. 8 Bama Buggies Toyota erupted in flames down the backstretch and keyed an accident that also ensnared Eddie Fatscher in the No. 55 Jenel Construction Toyota. Purdy had led 21 laps, but contact with Dean as they battled for position left his car wounded, and he was dropping back through the field before eventually erupting into flames. Purdy was examined in the infield and released; he was uninjured.
On that restart, Graf got the jump and his No. 77 Big Tine Ford was scored as the leader on lap 247, but he and Dean made contact going into turn one and Graf was forced up the racetrack. He lost two positions, but regained one coming to the checkered to finish third.
"He did what he had to do, and I can't say that I wouldn't do the same thing," a dejected Graf said after the race. "We'll remember that one and go on to the next race. Chad Bryant and the guys gave me a great racecar and we ran really strong all night long. But it sure would be nice if one of these close races goes our way before too long."
Riley Herbst finished fourth after starting from the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments after qualifying. Natalie Decker picked up her first career short track top-five finish in the N0. 25 N29 Capital Partners Toyota. There were eight caution flags for 62 laps, and one red flag. The yellows held the average speed to 62.570 miles per hour in a race that lasted one hour, 29 minutes and 54 seconds. There were 12 lead changes among four drivers with Chandler Smith leading 160 of the race's 250 laps. Smith spun while battling for the lead with Purdy; he finished sixth.
Next up for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards is the Primera Plastics 200 at Berlin Raceway Saturday, July 21. General Tire Pole Qualifying is scheduled for 6:30 pm ET; the race will go green at 9 pm ET and will be televised live on MAVTV.
ARCARacing.com will have live timing and scoring, live chat, and live on-track updates for all sessions for registered users.