Cheers For Mears
July 25, 2003 | 6:29 P.M. EST
Mears, in Chip Ganassi's Target Dodge, breezed to victory lane in the ARCA Giant 200 over ARCA giants' Frank Kimmel and Mark Gibson to earn his second career RE/MAX Series triumph in his fifth attempt.
“We definitely had a really good car,” said Mears. “And the engine ran great too. You know when everything’s right, it makes my job easy. I just have to thank all the guys at Ganassi Racing for all their hard work. Running in the ARCA RE/MAX Series has really helped me with my confidence. The whole reason we’re doing this is to get me more seat-time, and to help us on Sunday; and it’s definitely helping.”
Mears, after leading the majority of the laps, was running away from Kimmel with five laps remaining when the final caution flag waved for a spinning Bill Eversole. That bunched up the field giving Kimmel, Gibson and all the rest one last shot at Mears. But when the green flag waved with two laps remaining, Mears pulled away from the pack and steadily increased his advantage. When the checkered flag waved, Mears’ margin of victory was nearly two seconds over Kimmel who finished second in the Advance Auto Parts-Pork Ford. Gibson charged from 12th to third in the final running order in the Williams Brothers Lumber Chevrolet in front of Andy Belmont who steered the Verizon-Seneca Data Ford to the finish in fourth. Shelby Howard, celebrating his 18th birthday, finished fifth in the Mack Trucks-Beck Dodge.
Mears jumped out front at the onset from the Old Milwaukee Pole and immediately set the tone by increasing his lead, as he would do throughout the 200-mile race. In fact, the only time Mears didn’t lead was during scheduled pit stops during which Eric Smith led one circuit and Belmont, who skipped a pit stop sequence, led four. In addition to Mears’ first place pay-off, the Bakersfield, California native also earned the National Pork Board Pole-Win Bonus.
In all, there were five cautions for 19 laps for a variety of spins and wall-bangers although there were no injuries.
Smith, a Native-American from Akron, New York, finished a career-best sixth in his own E&E Motorsports Ford in front of veteran Bobby Gerhart who finished seventh in his Core Mechanical-AT Construction-UDS Pontiac. Leading ARCA Rookie of the Year candidate Christi Passmore finished eighth in the GAP Roofing-Royal Trading Ford earning the ARCA Highest Finishing Rookie honors. Todd Bowsher, in the GFS Marketplace Ford, earned the Hoosier Tire Hard Charger award for advancing the most positions – from 32nd to ninth in the final running order. Billy Venturini, in the family-owned Dick’s Sporting Goods Chevrolet, rebounded from a bout with the outside retaining wall to finish tenth, the last car on the lead lap.
Mario Gosselin’s crew earned the Gladiator of the Race Award resulting from getting Gosselin’s PNB Financial-McAfee Mortgage Chevrolet race-ready after he smacked the wall in final practice earlier in the day. Darrell Basham was awarded the Landrum Spring Hard Luck award after making heavy contact with the outside wall during the race.