By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards made its return to Charlotte Motor Speedway after a 14-year absence Thursday, where it came down to a two-man battle for the win during the final seven laps. Brandon Jones, who made his first ARCA start of the season, held off a hard charging Riley Herbst by 0.293 seconds to win the General Tire 150 for his fifth career series win.
Jones, who led 32 laps, said late cautions helped his No. 12 TRD/Mobil 1 Toyota holding off his competitors after battling a loose car during the closing stages of the 100-lap event.
“Cautions were everything. That saved us for sure. Right there at the end at that, I was passed by our teammate in the No. 28 (Sheldon Creed). I was getting so loose towards the end. We had those restarts and it let our tires cool down a little bit,” said Jones. “It was kind of ironic we were racing teammates at the end in a way, with Riley at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and then Todd at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports). So we’ve been around a lot each other for awhile now.
“Can’t thank everyone at TRD enough for being a part of my career this year and how they put a lot in to us. We’ve had Mobil 1 on the car and a lot of people. All-in-all, I’m looking forward coming to Michigan and hopefully I can do it again there.”
A quick shower delayed the race for half an hour, but once it went underway, the tale was pole sitter Todd Gilliland’s pace. During the opening 21 laps, Gilliland was was pulling away with ease until contact between Natalie Decker and Bryan Dauzat at Turn 4 entry brought out the first caution.
On the restart, Jones stepped up to the plate and battled with Gilliland for the race lead. It didn’t work out, as Gilliland’s No. 54 Frontline Enterprises Toyota kept his car out in front. Jones would stay in second until one of several accidents by Joe Graf, Jr. slowed down the competition on Lap 57.
Pit stops followed, and Jones’s MDM Motorsports crew got him out in front of Gilliland and at one point had an over half-second lead.
With less than 30 to go, Jones was facing pressure by Gilliland until Sheldon Creed decimated Gilliland’s run and took second. Then with 21 laps remaining, Creed’s No. 28 United Rentals Toyota put his car on top of the leaderboard, relegating Jones back in second.
A few laps later, Graf brought out another caution, giving Jones another opportunity for the win.
The race resumed on Lap 87 and with a push by Gilliland, Jones regained the lead, but quickly became a three-wide battle as Creed made contact with Jones, while Gilliland went by both drivers in Turn 3 and was back in front.
However, Jones wasn’t going to give up the number-one spot that easy and took the lead once again in Turn 1. His pass came at the right time as Chase Purdy backed his No. 8 Bama Buggies Chevrolet into the Turn 1 wall, bringing out another caution.
The final green flag came out with seven laps remaining, and it became rush hour after Creed went through the middle for the lead, but he didn’t hold it for long as Jones cleared him, but it was far from over.
As Creed lost momentum after his three-wide pass, Herbst made his presence known after passing Creed and Gilliland and moved his way up to the runner-up spot.
Herbst gradually cut Jones’ lead from over a second down to a tenth of a second, but he couldn’t get the nose of his No. 18 NOS Energy Toyota on Jones’ bumper to make a move, giving the victory to Jones.
Jones credited his Xfinity Series crew chief Chris Gabehart for his drive on the final seven laps.
“Honestly, I’m going to give a lot of credit to Chris. He’s been working with me so hard right now on side drafting and how to run around in traffic,” said Jones. “I’ve used every bit of knowledge that I had from him to be able to come and do this right here. I think we’ve put a little bit of veteran skill and it worked out for us.”
Creed finished in third, followed by Gilliand in fourth, and finishing fifth was three-time winner and points leader Zane Smith. Sixth through tenth consisted of Quin Houff, Bret Holmes, Will Rodgers, Codie Rohrbaugh and Brandon Lynn.
ARCA’s next stop will take place at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania on June 1st for the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200. It’ll be the first of two events at the “Tricky Triangle” where Herbst scored his only win last June.
Jones won’t make his next ARCA start until Michigan International Speedway the following week, as he’ll attempt the three-peat at the 2-mile circuit.