Aaron's Dream Weekend a Weekend of Firsts
It was a weekend of firsts at Talladega Superspeedway, with two first-time race winners, two first-time pole winners and two car owners who had career breakthroughs.
Tom Hessert III got things started on Thursday in qualifying for the ARCA RE/MAX Series 250 by capturing his first pole in 27 career starts on the circuit. It also was the first ARCA RE/MAX Series pole for car owner Andy Belmont.
“It’s awesome. It’s definitely the biggest thing I’ve done for my career as far as exposure,” said Hessert, a part-time student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “Anytime you go to a place like Talladega, it’s special when you can run up front.”
The moment was equally special for Belmont, a former NASCAR driver who had been unable to place an ARCA driver on the pole since forming Andy Belmont Racing.
“I’m just blown away by the whole thing,” Belmont said. “Being at Talladega, the enormity of it. I can’t see because the tears keep coming.”
The next day, Justin Lofton won the ARCA RE/MAX Series 250 in dominating fashion, leading for the final 46 laps. Lofton held off 59-year-old Bill Baird and Alabama native Grant Enfinger following a late-race restart to win for only the second time in 24 career ARCA starts.
“This is phenomenal,” Lofton said. “We had an awesome car, an awesome race. This car really deserves to be in Victory Lane.”
Baird had been hoping to pick up his first victory at Talladega Superspeedway.
“Talladega is everybody’s dream to win. It’s always been mine,” Baird said. “I just fell a little bit short. It’s still my goal to win this thing.”
Earlier that day, Ryan Newman qualified for his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the season by winning the pole position for the Aaron’s 312. Driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Inc., Newman turned a fast lap of 185.877 mph to nip Brian Vickers, who posted a qualifying speed of 185.531.
Newman nearly won the Aaron’s 312 on Saturday. But he was edged out at the last moment by David Ragan, who picked up his first victory in any NASCAR series in his 196th career start.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Ragan said. “Hopefully there will be some more of these things to come. We want to make this a habit.”
Newman led the race coming out of Turn 4, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. hard on his bumper. As the pack roared through the trioval and headed for the finish line, Earnhardt attempted to pass Newman on the high side. Newman moved up the track to block Earnhardt, and then dipped back down to cut off a hard-charging Tony Raines.
In the midst of all the commotion, a hole opened up for Ragan, and he zipped through it to edge Newman by 0.030 seconds.
“The fans certainly got their money’s worth as far as seeing excitement to the last turn of the last lap,” said Jack Roush, owner of Ragan’s No. 6 Ford.
Newman gave credit to Ragan for making the move needed to win.
“He won it in fashion. It wasn’t given to him,” Newman said. “He won it by 6 feet at Talladega. He was in the right position at the right time. He earned it. That’s what you want. You want your first win to be in style.”
The weekend of firsts continued with the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. On Saturday, Juan Pablo Montoya captured his first career NSCS pole position with a qualifying run of 188.171 mph, edging out Greg Biffle’s effort of 188.141 mph.
“Anybody who is involved with this team right now is celebrating,” Montoya said.
But the biggest celebration was saved for Sunday afternoon, when Brad Keselowsi won the Aaron’s 499 in only his fifth career NSCS start. In the process, he gave veteran car owner James Finch his first NSCS victory as well.
Afterward, both Keselowski and Finch were ecstatic at the way the race had unfolded.
“This is the best show on earth,” Keselowski said. “Man, was that fun. This is NASCAR racing at its finest. This was a great show.
“I really hope everyone enjoyed it, because I had fun. I found myself laughing in the race car halfway through the race. I hope the fans were cheering and having fun, too.”
Finch certainly was. Not only had he never won a NSCS race, he hadn’t been to Victory Lane on any circuit in three years.
“This is the best thing to ever happen to me,” Finch said. “I’ve always dreamed about winning one of these races.
“I didn’t know whether I’d ever win another race. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a trophy, and I have to thank Brad for getting me one.”
Just like several other participants in the Aaron’s Dream Weekend, Finch was first. At long last.
In 2009, Talladega Superspeedway proudly celebrates forty years of the most competitive racing in NASCAR. While the track has seen changes made to the cars that circle its high-banks, the surface that they race on and the grandstands that thousands of fans fill twice a year, one constant remains; Talladega Superspeedway is authentic NASCAR racing at its finest.
Tickets are on sale now for the Oct. 30 – Nov. 1 AMP Energy 500 weekend. For more information, call 1-877- Go2-DEGA or log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com. Tickets are also available for purchase on-site at the Talladega Superspeedway Ticket Office located in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
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