E.A. Sports Today

In-Zane finish

Smith edges Graf in closest finish in ARCA history; Munford’s Holmes finishes 27th after wrecking with strong car

Safety crews check on Bret Holmes after the Munford driver crashed on Lap 46 Friday, On the cover, Zane Smith talks with the media after winning the closest finish in ARCA history.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – If you blinked you missed it. The camera didn’t blink.

Zane Smith added to an historic day in ARCA history Friday when he literally nosed out Joe Graf Jr. at the end of a second overtime to win the General Tire 200 at Talladega Superspeedway in the closest finish in the series history.

It was so close you couldn’t measure it. The margin of victory was listed as 0.000 – per the transponders – and race officials had to go to the start-finish camera to determine the winner.

Munford’s Bret Holmes finished 27th after wrecking on Lap 46 despite having what was one of the strongest cars in the first half of the race.

Of course, what’s Talladega without the wrecks and the melees definitely played a part in the finish.

The first shootout was created when Chase Purdy got his nose into Bo LeMastus on the final lap of regulation red-flagging everybody. Even though Bryan Dauzat spun out behind the leaders moments earlier that wasn’t going to be a factor in the finish.

Then on the last lap of the restart Riley Herbst spun into race contender Sean Corr on the top groove behind Smith after passing Sheldon Creed on the bottom.

The second overtime restart provided nose-to-tail, door-to-door racing. Smith had Creed on his bumper and Graf was being pushed by pole-sitter Michael Self.

Graf and Smith broke away and were door-to-door to the finish, with Smith nudging his splitter across the line ahead of Graf.

“To be honest, I didn’t know if I won that,” Smith said. “My spotter was like ‘Aw, damn,’ kind of yelling obviously and I was ‘Are you kidding me, we just lost it?’ He said no we actually won it. At that point I was so pumped up my arms and legs were shaking.”

It was his second win in his last three starts.

“That one was definitely tough,” Graf said. “I’ll be honest with you I thought I won it. Going down backstretch they weren’t sure. They showed the replay and my spotter came over radio and told me I did win it. When it went up to the review it ended up being Zane. It was so close at the end it was tough to tell.”

Graf came into the post-race interview riding a scooter to make it easier on the broken left (braking) foot he sustained six days before his ARCA debut at Nashville.

Through the first half of the race Holmes was in the hunt for his first career ARCA victory and strong enough to bring the specter of an Alabama winner at Talladega. As it was, when he and Self were battling for the lead midway through the race, it was two Alabama natives out front, although Self long left for Utah leaving a bunch of family in Pell City.

Holmes started 19th, but quickly moved through the field and found himself second after not pitting during a caution on Lap 21.

After battling Self for the lead in and out of the corners over the next several laps, he finally grabbed his first lead of the season on Lap 26 and held it at various times for six total laps.

He got shuffled back in the middle of three-wide racing and battled his way back into the top three, but disaster struck when he miscalculated the braking system near the entrance to pit road trying to make his first-ever green-flag pit stop.

The car got sideways, hit the outside retaining wall head on, slid back down the track and finally stopped with his nose against the inside wall.

“It was definitely my fault there at the end,” a disappointed Holmes said after returning to the hauler. “On these super speedways you’ve got spring brakes and you have to pump them up and I didn’t pump them up enough to get slowed down enough as quick as the 02 (Andy Seuss) was (slowing down).

“It was 100 percent my fault. I wish I didn’t have to pit under green there. The pit strategy we thought there was going to be another caution before Lap 40. It was nobody’s fault but mine.”

Holmes normally practices green-flag pitting at least once every time he comes to a super speedway, but didn’t get the chance Friday because he only got in four laps of practice before a wiring issue took him off the track.

“I don’t want to blame it on that, either, because in the end I’m sitting behind the wheel and I could have not caused that to happen,” he said. “I just didn’t slow down in the right place. The way our pit strategy was I hated we got in that situation.”

ARCA’s day started with a joint statement announcing the sanctioning body has been acquired by NASCAR. The deal is through 2019 with a longer agreement “a work in progress.”

ARCA president Ron Drager will continue to direct the series and operate it as a free-standing organization, said NASCAR vice chairman Jim France, who called the deal “a big moment for stock car racing in America.”

“I liken it to we’re a small, independently owned company,” Drager said. “There are times when I feel like I’m a little rowboat out in the middle of the ocean. The ocean liners go by and they rock the boat. A big storm comes along and it rocks the boat. So far we haven’t turned over. I want to be on a bigger boat.”

Team owner Stacy Holmes surveys the damage after a wreck knocked their car out of the race. Bret Holmes had led the race for six laps before the mishap on Lap 46.

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