E.A. Sports Today

Holmes’ big start

Munford driver sixth at Daytona, wins race’s top rookie award after best superspeedway finish

Special to East Alabama Sports Today

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bret Holmes battled early adversity and rallied to his best finish on a superspeedway, sixth place in the wreck-shortened Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona International Speedway Saturday in the opening event of the 2017 ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards.

Actually, It took a while to determine where he finished. Initially he was listed in the timing loops as fifth when a big wreck forced an early ending to the race, but a few hours later after a video review of the finish he was officially listed sixth — still his highest finish on a superspeedway.

After qualifying 14th, Holmes battled his way to the front of the field and was running with the leaders. Then during his one and only pit-stop, the car located directly in front of his No. 23 slid into his pit as Holmes was trying to leave, causing the Munford native to leave his stall late.

This, along with a speeding penalty caused Holmes to restart the race from the back of the field with 65 laps remaining.

“We started the race well, but we had that miscue during our first stop, which put us in the back,” Holmes said. “I knew at that moment; it was up to me to get us back in contention.”

From there, Holmes began his march towards the front. Through the next 30 laps he weaved through lesser cars and narrowly missed two wrecks getting back to the top 10 as the final laps dawned on the “World Center of Racing.”

“I was just having fun out there running through the field,” Holmes said. “I knew that I had a fast car and if I could just stay out of trouble I figured I could be in the right place towards the end of the race.”

Holmes’ positioning allowed him to be in contention for the lead with 20 laps to go, but after a multi-car wreck with just five laps left that left Justin Fontaine on his roof and damaged the SAFER Barrier on the front-stretch, the race was called.

Safety crews had to cut Fontaine out of his car. He had a minor compression fracture in his L1 vertebrae and was hospitalized in Daytona overnight.

Holmes was the top finishing rookie, winning the SCOTT Rookie of the Race award.

“I’m glad we won rookie of the race, but we know if we would have run those last few laps we could have won something even bigger,” Holmes said. “We just have to take this finish in stride and move on to Nashville. I think we will have something to show those other cars when we make it to the Fair Grounds in April.”

Holmes now has seven top-10 finishes in his first eight ARCA events since his debut at Nashville in 2016. His previous highest finish on a superspeedway was ninth at Talladega last spring.

The team now will take the No. 23 Holmes II Excavation/Southern States Bank Chevy back to its shop in Statesville, N.C., and start game-planning for ARCA’s next event at Nashville Fair Grounds Speedway on April 8. Holmes qualified second and finished fifth in that event last season and will be looking for more this time as the team believes that this race could be its breakthrough to Victory Lane.

“We are very excited for that race,” Holmes said. “We had a great run last year and I think we can improve on that even more this season. We have a great short track program and I have a lot of experience at Nashville. This could be the race that we cement our names in as winners in ARCA.”

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