The nine-time champion dominated Friday’s ARCA International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250 before rain settled in at Talladega Superspeedway, and he was in front when officials flagged the race on lap 73 of 94.
Kimmel relished in his 77th ARCA victory and first this season, high-fiving crew after speaking with a track reporter.
He’s making a career comeback of sorts, having finished second in points in 2012 and leading this year. This after he had gone without a victory in the 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“After you hear that enough and you start thinking about it yourself, it starts to worry you,” Kimmel said.
He left Kimmel Racing after the 2011 season and joined ThorSport Racing.
“Since we joined forces with … ThorSport, it’s really made a big difference,” he said. “Like I said when they interviewed me in the car, the older you get, the better the race car you’ve got to have, and we’ve got the best race car in the garage area.
“I really feel that way, and it’s showing up. It makes up for the old guy.”
Kimmel, who turned 51 Tuesday, won the ARCA series in 1998 and again from 2000-07. He finished second in 2008 despite lacking a title sponsor for the entire season.
Four races into the 2013 season, he expanded his points lead from 30 to 40 over Mason Mingus, Friday’s second-place finisher. Kimmel also stands three victories shy of breaking Iggy Katona’s ARCA career record of 79.
Which would mean most to him, a 10th title or the career victories record?
“The most wins, without a doubt,” Kimmel said. “I’ve always been a points racer and a championship racer. That’s the thing I think I’m good at, but … three more wins puts you at the top of that category.
“That would be pretty big for me.”
Though Kimmel was the story emerging from Friday’s race, Milka Duno was the headliner coming in. She qualified second but wound up on the pole after Venturini Motorsports teammate John Wes Townley’s car failed inspection.
Duno became the fourth female driver to hold pole position in ARCA’s 61 years of existence and first since Patty Moise in 1988 to hold the ARCA pole at Talladega.
But Duno’s day was a day of crashes.
She moved up on the track to avoid a lapped car but into Townley on lap 29. The incident knocked Townley out of the races, but Duno continued on.
On lap 35, right after ARCA officials dropped the green flag for restart, she was at the point of a 12-car pileup that ended her day. She moved up on the track as Thomas Praytor moved down, and contact sent her down on the apron.
Venturini teammate Justin Boston’s car hit Duno’s on the apron, knocking her out of the race.
It was another disappointing ending to a promising restrictor-plate race for Duno. She qualified second at Daytona in February but finished 28 because of transmission troubles.
Not long after the big wreck that claimed Duno’s car and others, Kimmel reasserted control. He had led laps 23-29 then retook the lead for good on lap 44.
“The car just ran great,” Kimmel said. “We were able to draft up the front and get some help. John Wes Townley, who had the fastest car on the race track, was behind me there early and kept pushing, and got to the front.
“Once we got there, it seemed like our car ran really well, and we were able to hold them off.”
As Kimmel asserted control, other teams were left to race against him and the looming rain.
No one was more disappointed in the early finish than Mingus, who was strong in his Talladega debut.
“If it would have went green, and we could have found a partner to draft with, I think we had something for him (Kimmel),” said Mingus, who led laps 8-18 and was challenging for the lead most of the day. “I we had a really fast car. We just needed a drafting partner.”
Third-place finisher Caleb Armstrong had planned to draft with either Mingus or fourth-place finisher Mark Thompson.
“Unfortunately, the rain started coming,” Armstrong said. “I think we could have had something for the guys, if we had a good car to go with us and draft to the front.”
Sixth-place finisher Josh Williams took the biggest gamble on the rain, opting not to pit. By ARCA rules, he would have had to pit by lap 84, but the race never got that far.
Williams said he had about three gallons of fuel left when the race ended. What if the race hadn’t ended early?
“It would have been close,” Williams said, “but I don’t think we would have made it.”