TALLADEGA — At his fastest, Bret Holmes was among the class of the field. At his slowest, he found himself in a predicament that led to a car-totaling accident and a premature departure from the General Tires 200.
Holmes, the 20-year-old from Munford and student at Auburn, ran at the front of the pack for a dozen laps of Friday’s ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway, which was won by Zane Smith over Joe Graf Jr. in the closest finish in ARCA history. It was a photo finish after 11 nervous, crash-interrupted laps of overtime racing.
Holmes finished 27th on what was a tough day for all the Alabama drivers. Thomas Praytor of Mobile was 26th and Dave Mader III of Homewood finished 16th.
On lap 46, Holmes was outside Andy Seuss as they came out of turn four. Holmes was slowing to pit. So, too, was Seuss. While braking, Holmes got sideways enough to clip Seuss, and the contact sent Holmes hard into the inside retaining wall.
“One-hundred percent my fault,” Holmes said, standing in the ARCA garage not far from his mangled Holmes II Excavation-Southern States Bank Chevrolet.
It was the first time Holmes had ever pitted under green flag conditions — ARCA racing tends to generously spawn caution periods – and he said he had not sufficiently pumped the brakes to slow down. As Seuss was slowing, it became a situation akin to a real-life traffic merge as one car slows to exit and is parallel with another car on the access road. Who slows enough to let the other in front?
“It’s definitely all on me,” Holmes said. “It was a timing thing there.”
The green-flag stop was necessitated when the Holmes team opted not to pit after a lap 20 incident brought out a caution, assuming there would be another caution by lap 40.
It enabled him to restart second, a far cry from his qualifying spot of 19. Taking the outside line that gave him more momentum, he went side-to-side with Michael Self, swapping the lead back and forth, before another lane of traffic formed to shuffle him back in the field.
“I don’t know how we came from so slow in practice and qualifying to be so fast in the race,” Holmes said “We got through the field so easily.
“It was awesome to get to lead a few laps. I was proud of that. I wish we could have held on.”
The race ended barely before dark after two overtime restarts. The first, after a red-flag period, could be blamed on a number of drivers jockeying for position and trying to avoid double-digit finishes who began almost mindlessly crashing each other.
The final one-lap shootout saw four drivers — Smith, Joe Graf Jr. (racing with a broken foot suffered in a pickup basketball game), pole-sitter Self and Sheldon Creed — bolt out in front of the field in a cluster close enough to share the same throw-rug. They bumped and nudged but miraculously kept moving ahead.
Smith and Graf were nearly on the out-of-bounds stripe as they approached the flag, only inches apart. Smith beat Graf to the line in a finish so close, the transponders were unable to discern the different. It had to be settled by video review.
“I didn’t know if I won,” Smith said. Meanwhile, Graf knew he did – at least briefly.
“I thought I won it,” Graf said. “I was going down the backstretch (on the cool-down lap) and they weren’t sure. My spotter came over (the radio) and said I did win it. I thought I did for a minute. But it went for review. It was so close. It was tough to tell.”