By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
SALEM, Ind. – When the first caution flew in Sunday afternoon’s ARCA Racing Series event at Salem Speedway, the leaders hit pit road for the first round of pit stops and some fresh General Tire rubber. Bret Holmes exited his pit box as Christian Eckes and Chase Purdy were going past and three-wide usually doesn’t work on the race track, much less on the already tight quarters of pit road at Salem. Holmes’ No. 23 Chevrolet slammed into a crew member pitting the Gus Dean machine in the stall in front of him in what was a frightening incident.
After the checkered flag flew, the drivers exited their cars and words were exchanged between both drivers and crew members before cooler heads prevailed. Fortunately for all involved, nobody was seriously injured.
“That’s the main thing. That’s what I was most concerned about (his crew member), Dean told Motorsports Tribune outside his hauler. Dean confirmed his Win-Tron Racing pit crew member was not seriously injured.
“I’m sure he’s going to be pretty sore, his legs are pretty banged up, but he’s going to be okay and that’s the most important thing.”
When all was said and done, Dean was credited with a seventh-place finish on the lead lap and Holmes finished two laps down in the 13th position. Holmes was upset with Dean’s position in his pit box as well as past incidents between the two drivers.
“He kind of knew what he was doing there. He was parked jacked sideways out in the middle of pit road,” Holmes told Motorsports Tribune. “He had more room to go forward because he had an open stall in front of him. I pulled out there and I wasn’t going to hit anybody and then the 15 (Eckes) was coming at the same time.
“He (Dean) wrecked us at Daytona on the last lap, and not a bump draft, he hit us in the corner of the car. He’s been hitting us for a while now with little nudges that aren’t really necessary and then that deal with being parked out so far. He acts like he hasn’t done anything to me before but that’s definitely not the case.”
Holmes started from the 11th position but made quick work of the field in the first 40 laps at the track where he earned the best finish of his ARCA career (third-place in September 2016). After the contact on pit road, Holmes car wasn’t the same.
“I didn’t think we could have had a faster car. We changed so much from qualifying to the race with our pre-race adjustments and they hit it spot on. We should be on the front straightaway right now,” Holmes said, referencing the victory celebration going on.
“We showed today where we should be running at.”
When asked about the pit road exchange, Dean said he tries to leave it with the guys in the pits the best he can.
“I didn’t really see what happened behind me because I was in the car obviously. He (Holmes) pulled in a little tight in his box. I probably didn’t get quite as straight as I could have,” Dean said.
“I was coming in there crooked just because of the amount of room you have here at Salem. In my opinion, that doesn’t give any kind of right or any kind of leeway to endanger somebody’s life and that’s exactly what he (Holmes) did. I don’t agree with what he did but we’ll pick it up and move on to the next one. I’m just glad all my guys are okay and that’s what I’m mainly concerned about.
“The fact that he hit my guys, cleaned them out, and he kept going without any regard was what really upset me. And then on the last lap, I was still trying to pass him clean. He was laps down. It felt like he tried to right rear me a little big getting into (turn) three. If you have a problem with somebody on pit road, obviously I had a problem with what he did on pit road, he’s more than welcome to get out of the car and talk to me face to face and not use race cars, especially when he’s laps down and we’re not battling for any position.
“For the day we had, I’m pleased with that. It sucks for my guys because they put so much work into that car and it was really fast. It showed on the track.”
Dean restarted back in the 17th position as the contact from Holmes forced his No. 32 car off the jack.
“After that pit road incident got us back towards the back, we got collected behind the wreck with the 25 (Natalie Decker) and the 27 (Travis Braden) there in three and four. It kind of got us into the wall and my wheel off a little bit. All things considered it was definitely a decent day for us and we’ll pack it up and move to the next one. I’m just ready to get this bad luck off our backs.”
The ARCA Racing Series heads to the biggest track on the schedule, the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, for the next event this coming Friday. Dean won the 2016 ARCA race at Talladega and finished sixth last season. Holmes finished ninth in 2016 and 22nd last season after being involved in a wreck.