After moving up by about 14 hours to Friday because of a threatening weather forecast for Saturday, the ARCA Menards Series held its season opener at Daytona. The event featured DNQs for the first time since Kansas Speedway in 2017 and had a stacked field of 40 drivers. 

For the first time in his career, Willie Mullins scored the pole in qualifying with a 48.982s / 183.740 mph. The remaining top five starters included Tim Richmond, Jake Finch, Toni Breidinger, and Ryan Huff.

The No. 7 team of Eric Caudell qualified 17th, but later withdrew to put Shane Van Gisbergen into the race. Van Gisbergen and Marco Andretti were two drivers that everyone had an eye on going into the event.

Because of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event running long, the ARCA Menards Series season opener went green just after 11:00 p.m. ET. 

Mullins led the opening nine circuits of the event before Jake Finish took the commanding spot following a restart at lap 9. Throughout the event, Finch traded the lead among numerous drivers to lead 65 circuits. Would this be dominant enough to score the win?

Given the chaos that ensued in the Craftsman Truck Series event earlier Friday, everyone was certainly on edge about what was to come. Dodging wrecks left and right all night was just the key to victory.

Many drivers got caught up in incidents along the way, including Shane Van Gisbergen, Kris Wright, Toni Breidinger, Sean Corr, Tanner Gray, Mandy Chick, and others. 

Marco Andretti suffered some sort of mechanical failure on lap 77 with three to go. The back of the No. 17 Chevrolet went up in flames before coming to a halt before Andretti climbed out. This would set up an ARCA overtime finish.

ARCA overtime consists of a one-lap green/white followed by the checkered flag the next time by. This meant that getting a clean restart would be crucial for the two drivers upfront.

Gus Dean and Jake Finch restarted at the front of the field, with Andres Perez and Andy Jankowiak in third and fourth. The No. 20 team asked for an assist from the No. 15 of Gus Dean, which Dean declined.

Dean and Finch battled side-by-side into turn two before Dean cleared Finch for the lead in a one-car breakaway. Perez then gave Dean some aero push to give the No. 15 a big lead off turn two.

Calamity ensued when cars began darting around looking to make a move entering turn three. Finch received a bump draft gone wrong from behind, which turned Finch into the outside wall. Dozens of other cars also crashed because of the incident.

Gus Dean was declared the leader when the caution flew – scoring his third ARCA victory.

“I started racing when I was four years old at a tiny little dirt track in South Georgia,” Dean said in his post-race interview. “It’s been a whole lot of miles, a whole lot of work and a whole lot of people behind me.”

The night was an emotional one for the driver as he recognized his grandfather, who passed two weeks earlier.

“My granddad came to every race I ever ran,” Dean later told FS1. “In every single one, he told me to get what I can, even at the end when I would call him on the phone. [On Friday], we got what we could.  It might not be the Daytona 500, it might not be the biggest race, but it is the biggest coliseum.”

Thomas Annunziata finished second in his ARCA Menards Series debut, followed by reigning Daytona winner Greg Van Alst, Christian Rose, Tim Richmond, and Jason Kitzmiller to round out the top six.

Gil Linster, who also made his ARCA debut, finished seventh, followed by Alex Clubb, Amber Balcaen, and Andy Jankowiak.

ARCA placed Finch 11th in the results.

The series shifts focus to Phoenix Raceway on March 8th for the General Tire 150. The combination event with the ARCA Menards Series West will air live on FOX Sports 1 and MRN Radio.

Brett Winningham
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