By Andrew Crum
BROWNSBURG — Age didn’t matter during a great night of racing.
Hoosier Frank Kimmel, a veteran in the ARCA Racing Series from Clarksville, Ind., won his 75th race after a 75-race drought in the ARCA Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 200 presented by Federated Car Care at Lucas Oil Raceway on Friday night.
“Thanks for Menards to sticking by me and giving me this opportunity to show that an old guy can still do it,” Kimmel said.
Pole-sitter Matt Crafton looked like the car to beat early and looked like a rocket ship racing through the field, catching the end of the pack on Lap 12.
He continued to cruise through lapped traffic, leading the field until he appeared to scrape the wall coming into Turn 4 on Lap 50. As Crafton came between Turn 1 and Turn 2 on Lap 51, he got loose and wrecked hard into the wall, ending his day.
Then it became a three-way battle between Kimmel, Chad Hackenbracht and Mason Mitchell. Hackenbracht took the lead on Lap 62 and would lead almost every lap until Mitchell took the lead on Lap 150.
Hackenbracht would have to pit again, just about 10 laps after his last stop and would lose several laps as his team worked on his car.
Kimmel took the lead on Lap 166 and pulled away slightly. He would be challenged by Mitchell and Brennan Poole down the stretch, but continued to have the better car on restarts, including one with three laps to go for his long awaited victory.
“We had a good handling race car after we made some adjustments, every time it got better and better,” Kimmel said. “We were able to cut through traffic and that made the difference.”
The victory was long over due.
“We don’t remember No. 74 it’s been so long ago, of course you don’t think it’s going to be that long, but that’s why I said people are so happy in victory lane. It’s hard to get here sometimes,” Kimmel said.
Kimmel compared this victory to others in his career, but the feeling is still the same.
“It’s almost like your first win, wondering if you are talented enough or lucky enough, then it got easier, we won a lot of races,” he said. “Then the other end of the spectrum, you hear ‘your old’, ‘you can’t do it anymore’ and these kids are doing this and that, so yeah, it still feels pretty good to win.”
In the first race of the evening, Kyle Benjamin —just 14 years and 267 days old — became the youngest winner in the ARCA/CRA Super Series history.
His restarts are what made the difference all evening.
“You have to see what they are doing at first and then see what works,” Benjamin said. “I didn’t get all of them, Kenzie (Ruston) about got me a few times, she gave me a run for my money, she was tough.”
Pole sitter Boris Jurkovic and second position Erik Darnell made it a two-man race early. Darnell passed Jurkovic on the first lap and led the next 22 laps until Darnell knocked him out of the race. Brian Campbell took second position and three laps later he and Darnell wrecked each other. Darnell rebounded to finish sixth, Campbell finished 25th.
That’s when Benjamin, who had been in the Top 10 all evening, started moving toward the front.
He avoided some early wrecks and took the lead on Lap 36. Ruston, Daniel Hemric and Travis Sauter, among others, would challenge him. After dealing with a few cautions, Benjamin began to pull away from the field with the second and third place cars close behind him on Lap 57.
By Lap 65, Benjamin continued to build a lead and began lapping the end of the field.
Fifteen laps later, he was alone in first by more than two seconds, never to be challenged again.
“I really loved being way out there, you could save your stuff and you didn’t have to worry about anything, just being by yourself,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin certainly didn’t drive like a kid barely old enough to shave. He handled his car all evening like a grizzled veteran. Benjamin’s margin of victory was 1.407 seconds; Ruston finished second, Sauter was third.
As he got out of his car in victory lane, he pumped his fist and waved the checkered flag, not wanted to let it go.
“I think I going to take it home with me and hold onto it for awhile,” Benjamin said.
And about the win, he simply sounded like a typical teenager, “It’s pretty cool, I love racing here.”