Steele Takes Talladega; Kimmel Claims ARCA Crown
12 October 1998By Don Radebaugh
Talladega, AL --- Tim Steele survived a broken right-front shock, a brush with Bobby Gerhart and a late-race charge from Matt Hutter to win the Winn Dixie 300 here Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway while Frank Kimmel, in Larry Clement's Advance Auto Parts-VisionAire Chevrolet, raced to a seventh place finish and his first ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series championship.
Steele's margin of victory was .143 seconds over Hutter with Dan Pardus, in Jim Gardner's Chevrolet, trailing in third ahead of Mark Thompson and Bobby Hamilton, Jr. to complete the top five. Both Hutter and Pardus posted their best career ARCA finishes. For Hamilton, it was his third top-five finish in only four ARCA starts.
"I was leading somewhere about halfway into the race when I felt the shock break," said Steele. "The front end shook and I knew I was in trouble. Then we got behind during the pitstop to take it off. After it broke it really didn't affect the car's speed, but it sure made it drive terrible. When he (Hutter) got down below me a few times, it affected the handling a lot more than I liked it to. It was loose by itself and when you get somebody up behind you, it's not real comfortable at all. I really can't believe we won the race with the way our day went. It's a great feeling."
Kimmel secured the championship after Mark Gibson, who was trailing the point leader by 500 points going into Talladega, crashed hard off turn four on the 27th lap. "I'm so happy for everyone who helped make this Chevrolet go like a rocket all year," said Kimmel. "I'd like to thank my car owner Larry Clement for providing the very best equipment, my crew chief Jeff Lemons, everyone on the crew, my sponsors Advance Auto Parts, VisionAire, Riteway, and the fans for standing behind us. You know this ARCA series is really tough and to be on top of it all is unbelievable. But Mark (Gibson) getting hurt here today sure took some steam off it. It sure don't feel as good as maybe it should right now. He hit the wall way too hard and we're awful worried about him." After hard contact with the turn four wall, Gibson's JaniKing Ford then slid uncontrollably across the track where it met the inner retaining wall nearly head-on with frightening force. The Winder, Georgia driver was air-lifted to Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham where he was listed in stable condition with a broken left arm just below the wrist and no other apparent internal injuries. It was expected that Gibson would undergo surgery the following morning and checked for further evaluation.
Steele won the Talladega Pole Award with a speed of 188.734 mph and led 74 of the 113 lap race including the first 27 before first-round pitstops shuffled Harris DeVane to the point for nine laps. Steele, in his father Harold's HS Die-Softech Ford, quickly raced his way back into the lead only to have the shock break somewhere near the halfway point, and led through the 68th circuit before Hutter, in James Finch's Mossy Oak Chevrolet, replaced him for the next 30 laps. It was during that 30 laps that Steele survived another brush with disaster after series veteran Gerhart made contact with Steele near the start-finish line. Steele managed to keep his car straight but Gerhart's Chevrolet bounced off the frontstretch wall where it then collected Adam Petty, DeVane and Andy Hillenburg. Gerhart, Petty and DeVane were through for the day but Hillenburg, after several trips down pitroad to adjust his badly bent Ford, battled back to finish ninth.
With Hutter still leading followed by Tim Fedewa, subbing for the injured Jeff Finley in Ed Rensi's Team 83 Chevrolet, Steele made the winning pass on the 98th lap. Fedewa drove to the inside of Hutter off turn two before Steele drove it off even deeper to make it three-wide down the backstretch. By the time they reached turn three Steele was back on the point while Hutter got shuffled to third. With laps winding down, the trio lined up bumper-to-bumper until Fedewa cut down a right front tire and found the turn two wall. Fedewa was okay but done for day. From there, Steele couldn't shake Hutter nor could Hutter muster enough steam to make the move. Steele earned $24,030 for his effort and his 20th superspeedway win of his career in his 93rd ARCA start. In all, 14 cars finished on the lead lap including Kevin Ray who scored his best career ARCA finish in sixth. Mark Stahl, in his familiar Auto Bell Car Washes #32 Ford, was BSR 2nd Round Fast Qualifier and raced from the 26th starting position to finish eighth. Bill Baird finished tenth, and Andy Belmont, in his America Online-Jasper Engines Ford, won the Hoosier Tire Midwest Hard Charger honors for advancing the most positions, from 31st to 11th.
Series Point Leaders: Frank Kimmel 5660, Mark Gibson 5010, Bob Strait 4920, Bill Baird 4455, Andy Belmont 4275, Jeff Finley 3895, Norm Benning 3715, Curt Piercy 3675, David Boggs 3510, Brian Conz 3440.