By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor
MADISON, Ill. — Sheldon Creed’s march toward the ARCA Racing Series championship saw another positive swing at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Creed claimed the General Tire Pole award and dominated the majority of the night to claim Friday’s PapaNicholas Coffee 150. The win was Creed’s second-career triumph, coming just 14 days after his maiden ARCA win at Michigan International Speedway.
The result also came in a new machine for MDM Motorsports, giving the team another shot of confidence as their Toyotas continue to show strong performance.
“This was a brand new car coming into this weekend,” Creed said. “We knew we needed more short-track speed. The guys did a great job building this car.”
While Creed led the field to green, it was Christian Eckes that paced the first lap. The Salem Speedway winner snuck ahead of Creed on the race’s start, and held the top spot when Riley Herbst spun on the opening lap to bring out the day’s first caution.
That restart set the tone for the night, establishing a battle between Creed and Eckes that would ultimately be for the race win and highlighting the importance of restarts on the repaved 1.25-mile Illinois oval. The new racing surface – paired with the traction compound on the high lane and importance of clean air – made passing a challenge after restarts gave way to green-flag runs.
“I was actually really surprised that the top came in as much as it did,” Eckes said. “It was extremely dominant. You couldn’t really pass on the bottom. You couldn’t go the outside because there wasn’t VHT in another groove.”
Creed and Eckes quickly proved to be the best two cars on the property, trading the lead on restarts and lurking behind each other over each of the race’s early runs. Eckes paced the opening circuit, but it was Creed that led the way for 43 laps on the ensuing restart.
Eckes regained the lead on pit road after Max Tullman crashed on Lap 46, and he maintained the top spot when Venturini Motorsports teammate Natalie Decker slid up into the outside wall on Lap 65.
The moment of truth for both drivers came after Creed’s teammate and championship rival Zane Smith crashed on Lap 75. The ensuing Lap 79 restart saw Eckes and Creed battle for well over a lap, with Eckes holding the lead at the start-finish line. But when the pair sailed down into Turns 1 & 2, Creed’s No. 28 Toyota washed up the track, making contact with Eckes’ No. 15.
Creed continued on unabated, but Eckes was sent up above the racing groove and into the area known as ‘the marbles,’ where old rubber accumulates. The 17-year-old was able to keep his car away from the outside wall, but the slowdown required to make the save and laps required to scrub off the excess rubber acquired on his tires dropped him to the back half of the top five.
“I raced (Eckes) pretty hard on that last restart, but you’ve got to be aggressive when you can,” Creed said. “I really would have liked to pass him a little bit cleaner and really raced him, but when you’re racing for wins and trying to make up points, sometimes you have to be aggressive.”
The race went green from that moment until the checkered flag flew at the end of Lap 120, and Creed cruised to a dominant victory. Chase Purdy followed in second to tie his career-best result, with Harrison Burton following in third to give MDM Motorsports a sweep of the top three.
Without a caution flag to bunch the field up and prompt another restart, Eckes climbed no higher than fourth.
“I guess (Creed) did get into me, but whatever, it happens,” Eckes told Motorsports Tribune. “It’s definitely disappointing because my guys brought me a great car. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll move on.”
Riley Herbst overcame his Lap 1 spin and a lap penalty for passing the pace car under yellow to finish fifth. Gus Dean, Anthony Alfredo, Joe Graf Jr., Travis Braden and Bret Holmes rounded out the top 10.
Veteran Ken Schrader made his first ARCA start since September 2016 in Gateway, bringing his No. 52 Ken Schrader Racing Ford home in 11th. Smith ended his night seven laps down in 16th after the mid-race crash that hurt his championship hopes.
The ARCA Racing Series will make a quick turnaround after Gateway, returning to action at Chicagoland Speedway on June 28.
PapaNicholas Coffee 150 Results
- Sheldon Creed
- Chase Purdy
- Harrison Burton
- Christian Eckes
- Riley Herbst
- Gus Dean
- Anthony Alfredo
- Joe Graf Jr.
- Travis Braden
- Bret Holmes
- Ken Schrader
- Toni Breidinger
- Will Kimmel
- Bobby Gerhart
- Natalie Decker
- Zane Smith
- Brad Smith
- Eric Caudell
- Max Tullman
- Matt Dooley
- Richard Doheny
- Mark Meunier
- Mike Basham
- Con Nicolopoulos
- Wayne Peterson