ARCA: Still Got It; Mark Thompson Makes History at Daytona, Becomes Oldest ARCA Pole Winner

Jacob Seelman ARCA, Featured, Southeast, Stock Cars 0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Report by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — ARCA photo —

At 63 years of age, Cartersville, Georgia native Mark Thompson still has it.

“It” is the ability to go fast behind the wheel of a stock car, and Thompson showcased that ability Friday afternoon during group qualifying for the ARCA Racing Series season-opening Lucas Oil 200 presented by AutoZone at Daytona International Speedway.

Going out in the fourth of seven groups to take time, the ARCA veteran powered his No. 11 Phoenix Air Toyota — owned by Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing team — to the top of the scoring pylon with a lap of 187.336 mph, a mark that stood the test of eight-time Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart and numerous other challengers.

The Menards Pole Award was Thompson’s first since June 14, 1997 at Michigan International Speedway (a 17-year drought) and the fourth of his nearly 25-year career. In fact, the Peach State native’s previous three poles all came at Michigan.

“Winning the pole at Daytona is a big deal,” Thompson said. “It’s special. There’s probably not a place I’d rather win the pole than here.”

Thompson surpassed 62-year-old Vern Slagh to become the oldest pole winner in the history of the ARCA Racing Series, and track communications officials later confirmed that Thompson is the oldest pole winner ever in a major racing event at Daytona International Speedway.

“I was not a big fan of group qualifying before, but obviously I am now a fan,” Thompson said. “It’s interesting for the fans. It worked out for us. I’m very pleased. I just went out there and found some holes and went fast.”

From the oldest to one of the youngest in the field, 18-year-old Cody Coughlin led the charge for Venturini Motorsports with his runner-up qualifying effort. Coughlin came up 0.004 seconds shy of Thompson’s pole-winning lap (187.320 mph) and will start tomorrow’s race from the outside of the front row.

“We had a lot of issues in practice under the hood and didn’t have any expectations except hoping to have a top 10,” Coughlin said. “With those expectations, to be able to come away with a front row start, especially my first time here, is exciting. It’s good for morale. It’s good to put your head on the pillow at night with the second starting position.”

Last season’s Talladega Superspeedway winner, Tom Hessert, qualified third (187.172) in his Cunningham Motorsports Dodge. The top three qualifiers are all utilizing the new ARCA Ilmor 396 engine package. The new power plants will debut in competition tomorrow.

Brett Hudson shocked the masses with his family-owned No. 09 Dodge clocking in fourth-quick (187.118), and Clay Campbell rounded out the top five in the Ken Schrader Racing No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet.

NASCAR XFINITY Series rookie Daniel Suarez was sixth, with Hessert’s teammate Blake Jones, Will Kimmel, Sean Corr and Leilani Munter rounding out the first five rows of the grid.

Venturini Motorsports put three cars (Coughlin, Suarez and Munter) in the top ten, with Frank Kimmel, driving the Ansell-Menards No. 25 Toyota, just behind his three teammates in eleventh.

Other notables included last year’s championship runner-up Grant Enfinger (13th), Gerhart (14th), who is going for his record-extending ninth victory at Daytona tomorrow, Empire Racing’s Patrick Staropoli (17th), who was fastest in overall practice speeds, and Daniel Hemric (21st), who will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut next Friday with NTS Motorsports.

Both Mason Mitchell Motorsports entries will line up outside the top 20, with defending champion Mitchell rolling from 23rd and last year’s SCOTT Rookie of the Year, Austin Wayne Self, starting 27th.

48 cars took time of the 49 on the entry list, with 40 cars making up the final starting grid.

Russ Dugger, Cassie Gannis, modified regulars Tommy Barrett Jr. and Andy Seuss, Brent Cross, Bryan Dauzat, Dale Shearer, Raymond Hassler and Derrick Lancaster were the drivers who missed the cut. Lancaster originally qualified inside the top 30 and would have made the show, but his time was disallowed during post-qualifying inspection.

Saturday’s race will be televised live on FOX Sports 1 beginning at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, with live radio coverage via the Motor Racing Network.


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