Photo: Daytona International Speedway

Austin Theriault Victorious in ARCA Season-Opener at Daytona

By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer

Austin Theriault added a victory at Daytona International Speedway to his racing resume on Saturday , winning the ARCA Racing Series season-opener over Terry Jones. Theriault got a push in the draft from the No. 77 Ford of Dalton Sargeant with eight laps to go, making the high line work just enough to pass Jones at the iconic 2.5-mile superspeedway to take the win  in the Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200 Driven by General Tire.

The caution flew for the third multi-car wreck of the race with five laps remaining and involved Bobby Gerhardt, Codie Rohrbaugh and Justin Fontaine. Fontaine’s No. 33 ended up on its roof and while Fontaine was responsive, safety crews had to cut the roof off the car before transporting the driver to a local hospital for evaluation. The race was called five laps short of the scheduled 80-lap distance due to repairs that needed to be made to the SAFER barrier.

The victory was the second of Theriault’s career in just his third ARCA start. The 23-year-old driver won at Michigan in his debut in 2014 and is competing on a full-time basis this season with Ken Schrader Racing.

“That was unbelievable. I’m so happy right now. We’re off to a good start and I’m looking forward to what comes,” an excited Theriault told Fox Sports 1 in victory lane.

Shane Lee, Sargeant, Tom Hessert, Bret Holmes, Ricky Sanders, Kyle Weatherman, Clint King and Kaz Grala completed the top-ten.

Hessert earned the General Tire Pole Award in Friday afternoon’s qualifying session and led the field until the second caution at Lap 20 for debris. As the leaders hit pit road for their one and only pit stop of the race, seven cars elected to stay out on the track. The Mason Mitchell Motorsports Chevrolets of Quin Houff and Kyle Weatherman restarted first and second when the field returned to green.

Houff led until the third caution of the race for a spin by Bryan Dauzat at Lap 44. The top-four cars of Houff, Weatherman, Thomas Praytor and Matt Tifft hit pit road and Terry Jones took the lead.

The first big wreck of the race brought out the first red flag at Lap 50 when the No. 66 of Mark Thompson got a bump from behind by Fontaine, sliding Thompson into Gus Dean. The contact triggered a multi-car crash near the middle of the pack as the tightly bunched field had nowhere to go to avoid the wreckage. Caesar Bacarella, David LeBeau, A.J. Fike, Eric Caudell, Ray Ciccarelli and Michael Lira were also involved.

“We’re alright,” a dejected Dean said after exiting the infield care center. “We were making progress on the bottom lane. I got clipped in the rear, felt like the same wreck we had here last year.”

Jones kept his car glued to the bottom yellow line and the outside line wasn’t able to make any movement when the second multi-car wreck of the race occurred with 15 laps to go when Bo LeMastus bumped Leilani Munter. Houff, Ed Pompa, Thomas Praytor and Michael Self were also involved.

The ARCA Racing Series has an extended break and will not return to action until April 8 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.

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