DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 15, 2016) – With two rookies steering the Cunningham Motorsports Dodges at the Daytona Int’l Speedway season-opener, the team had high hopes for big results. The team was also realistic enough to know that anything can happen at the “World Center of Racing.”
When the dust settled, something great happened. Cunningham rookies Chase Briscoe and Kevin Thomas, Jr. drove their cars to top-10 finishes in the 53rd running of the Lucas Oil 200. Both, sprint car drivers with very little pavement experience, were making their debuts at Daytona. While the transition to superspeedway pavement racing appeared seamless, it was anything but simple.
Chase Briscoe: Briscoe, in just his third ARCA start and only sixth pavement race, shot to the top of the charts in the first practice Thursday and placed third in final practice Friday, right behind his teammate Thomas. In group qualifying, Thomas qualified a career-best third in the No. 77 Cunningham Motorsports Dodge.
As the field rolled off the starting grid, Briscoe slowed to work on his radio connection, prompting series officials to send Briscoe to the tail-end for stopping on pit road after he had already rolled off. Briscoe avoided the “Big One” on lap three with nine cars involved, which brought out the red flag. After pitting for four fresh General Tires and fuel, Briscoe set sail for the front from the 22nd spot. In three laps, he was already 14th. After avoiding the first wreck, Briscoe had to take to the apron to avoid the second wreck, damaging his left side valence and right-front fender, which affected the handling for the remainder of the race.
With the pack coming to green, crew chief Chad Bryant brought Briscoe to pit road for gas and a check-up. Again, he restarted 22nd and broke into the top-10 by lap 32. With 30 laps remaining, Briscoe grabbed the fourth spot, but then fell to sixth as the lead pack lined up in single file. In the final three laps, Briscoe picked up two spots to earn a career-best fourth-place finish.
“Obviously we wanted to win and felt like we had the car to do it,” Briscoe said. “Things just didn’t fall our way. Overall, we had a really good weekend. These guys at Cunningham, who work on these cars, bring incredible pieces to the track. Thanks to Briggs Cunningham and Kerry Scherer; I get this amazing opportunity to drive them.”
Kevin Thomas, Jr. – Kevin Thomas was not only making his ARCA Racing Series debut, but his Daytona debut as well. He joined the Cunningham team for the first time at the open test in January, where he got limited laps because he was also running the Chili Bowl Nationals.
In the first practice session Thursday, Thomas posted the eighth quickest speed, and in Friday’s final practice, he hooked up in the draft with Will Kimmel and teammate Chase Briscoe to log the second fastest time overall.
After qualifying 16th, Thomas found himself in the middle of the multi-car wreck at the onset which sent Thomas spinning down through the apron. With minor front-end and right-rear damage, crew chief Paul Andrews called his rookie into the pits four times to repair the damage. When the green flew, Thomas found himself back in the 32nd spot. During the second caution, Andrews brought Thomas back to pit road for more repairs. With one lap to go to green, Andrews called Thomas back in to top off with Sunoco gas.
Over the next 20 laps, Thomas continued to pick up spots, all the while gaining valuable experience over the final laps. With 25 laps remaining, Thomas had worked his way to ninth. As the final laps wound down, the top-12 cars broke away from the pack. During the final few laps, Thomas hooked up with Frank Kimmel to try the outside lane, pushing the 10-time champ to a fifth place finish and solid seventh for himself on the heels of Kimmel.
“We were involved in an early accident, which was definitely not the start that we planned,” Thomas said. “The crew did an amazing job patching the 22 back together, so we would be competitive. That last lap we finally got the right cars lined up and we got a great finish. We were very fortunate for how the day started.”
Next Race – The ARCA teams have a long break before their next race at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville on April 9. During that time, the Cunningham drivers and teams will do some testing, while their drivers will compete at various events outside of ARCA. Thomas is competing in the 2016 World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway all this week during Speedweeks. Both Thomas and Briscoe plan to race the indoor USAC Midget race indoors on March 19 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
~ Cunningham Motorsports Press Release ~