Competition Too Close To Call
May 31, 2007 | 9:48 A.M. EST
With eight events in the books, there have been eight different winners, picking up right where 2006 left off when 17 different race winners graced victory lane in 23 events. The streak actually began in 2005 with Kraig Kinser's trip to victory lane at Talladega in September. Since then, there have been 24 different winners in the last 32 events.
To suggest that the competition level in the ARCA RE/MAX Series world is at an all-time high would certainly not be a stretch.
By now, it's apparent the old guard has their hands full with a healthy mix of new talent on the tour. Eight-time series champion Frank Kimmel, who normally averages about 900 laps-led per season, has only led 59 laps so far this year. And, it's been since 1997 since Kimmel has gone this deep into the season without a win.
And he's not alone. In fact, only one driver in the top-10 ARCA RE/MAX Series points has gone to victory lane in 2007 - that being Bobby Gerhart with his record fifth Daytona ARCA 200 victory in the season opener.
Nonetheless, and despite a lackluster season for the current point leader, it's still Kimmel who sits atop the ARCA RE/MAX Series national championship point standings; but not by much.
"We're still very encouraged," said Kimmel. "Yes, our luck has not been the greatest lately, but I've got to tell you, we're actually more prepared now than we've ever been, so this thing isn't over by a long shot. We want to win races, but more importantly, we're in it for the long haul, the points."
Springfield, Illinois driver Justin Allgaier trails Kimmel in second by 70 points.
"I don't think it's too early to get excited over points; I think about it all the time," said Allgaier, who has one ARCA RE/MAX Series victory to his credit at the Illinois State Fairgrounds mile-dirt in 2006. "Our team has really stepped up this year. I'm learning patience in the car, and I think that's had a big effect on our overall effort. A bad day for us last year was a 35th finishing position. This year, we're taking our bad days and turning them into top-10s.
"You know, Frank Kimmel's such a legend in this sport, and it's an honor to be racing and competing with him at this level. I have the world of respect for him, which makes the whole thing that much more special."
And while Allgaier does his best to hunt down Kimmel, he's got to have an eye in the mirror for Lebanon, Pennsylvania veteran Bobby Gerhart, who's nipping at Allgaier's heels 15 points away.
"We're definitely pumped," said Gerhart, renowned for his very potent restrictor plate superspeedway program.
"We've put so much of our resources into our plate program, that we've lacked on the intermediate tracks, and some of the short-tracks. Well, this year, we've stepped up our concentration on the intermediate and short-track stuff, and we think it's really paying off."
Gerhart's best finishes this year, outside of his Daytona victory, were fourth and fifth at Winchester and Toledo Speedways respectively, both short-tracks.
Westby, Wisconsin's Dexter Bean and Hueytown, Alabama's Justin South are tight behind in fourth and fifth in points followed by newcomers' Michael McDowell, Phillip McGilton, Justin Marks, Patrick Sheltra and Bryan Silas.
McDowell, who earned his fourth SIM Factory Pole Award last time out at Toledo Speedway, was five laps away from a win at Toledo before his teammate Ken Butler III booted him out of the way. Butler went on to become the eighth different winner of 2007 while McDowell, who spun completely around in the incident, soldiered on to a seventh place finish. Both McDowell and Butler are entered for the Prairie Meadows 250 at Iowa Speedway.
In last year's inaugural Prairie Meadows 250, Steve Wallace held off a fierce, late-race charge from Kraig Kinser to claim the hard-fought victory.
Practice is scheduled from 12:30 - 2:30 p.m. (ET) June 2 followed by SIM Factory Pole Award Qualifying at 5:00 p.m. The Prairie Meadows 250 is LIVE on SPEED at 9:00 p.m. (ET).