August 8, 2016 (Concord, NC) – Dalton Sargeant earned his first career ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards victory on Saturday night in the ARCA 200 at Berlin Raceway. While Sargeant took the checkered flag, his two Venturini Motorsports teammates, Tom Hessert and Landon Huffman, were collected in the carnage on a restart just past the mid-point of the 200-lap event.
Sargeant Earns First ARCA Victory and Second of Season for Venturini Motorsports
Fast pit stops and patience behind the wheel were the keys to victory for Sargeant and his Venturini Motorsports team. The win was the first for the 18-year-old Sargeant and came in just his 11th series’ start.
“We were finally able to get that monkey off our back and break that streak of always being right there but never being able to close the deal,” said Sargeant, who had five top-three finishes in 10 starts heading into Berlin.
“I’m just so proud of all my guys. They work so hard day in and day out on this No. 55 TRD-Windows 10 Toyota Camry. We’ve been so close all season.”
After qualifying in the eighth position, Sargeant immediately picked up a couple of positions at the drop of the green flag.
Crew chief Billy Venturini called for two tires and adjustments on the first pit stop of the night and the team was able to gain four positions on pit road to line up in the second position on the restart.
On what was the second and final stop of the race under the third caution flag of the evening at Lap 106, Sargeant’s crew came in fourth and came off pit road with the lead.
“My pit crew tonight did an amazing job. We were so fast on all our stops,” said Sargeant. “Once again my guys just hit all their marks perfectly, executed and did exactly what they needed to do. I’m thankful that we were able to pick up as many spots as we did on pit lane.”
That lead would prove critical as the ensuing restart at Lap 112 would see a wreck in Turn 1 that took out several of the race’s top contenders behind Sargeant including his teammates Tom Hessert and Landon Huffman. After returning to green, Chase Briscoe and Josh Williams got around Sargeant and Sargeant strategically held steady in the third position as he conserved tires.
Sargeant would retake the lead when Williams and Briscoe got together in Turn 3 to bring out the final caution of the night at Lap 181. Sargeant pulled out to a sizable lead on the final restart and drove away from the rest of the field to earn his first checkered flag in ARCA Racing Series competition.
“We were starting to catch them about two-tenths a lap. We were definitely coming,” Sargeant said of running behind Briscoe and Williams.
“I was a little worried that the gap was a little too big. We definitely saved our stuff for a little bit. Maybe we saved a little bit too much but I think it definitely showed there with the final 10 lap restart that just saving a little bit really helped us out so much. That’s what helped us get this win tonight.”
Heartbreak for Hessert After Dominant First Half at Berlin
Tom Hessert turned a lap at 16.648 seconds in Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell, breaking the track record set by Grant Enfinger in 2015. The pole was the second of the season for Hessert and fourth of his career.
The Cherry Hill, N.J. native would lead the field to green in the No. 25 So Good! Entertainment-Relax Wraps Toyota and lead every lap until the second round of pit stops under the caution at Lap 106.
Hessert would lose one spot on pit road to Sargeant and restart in the second position behind his Venturini Motorsports teammate. As the field entered Turn 1 at the 7/16-mile track, John Wes Townley drove into the left rear of Hessert’s car to touch off a huge wreck that collected Venturini teammate Landon Huffman and several other contending cars.
“Unfortunately we got beat out of the pits, which put us on the outside for the restart. But we just got dumped down there,” Hessert said. “I don’t know what happened. I think the 05 (Townley) just missed the corner or something. He cleaned us out pretty good.”
The race would be red flagged to clean up the damage and Hessert brought his Toyota to the attention of his Venturini crew as soon as the race returned to yellow flag conditions. Despite two separate trips down pit road to make repairs, Hessert returned to the track one lap down. When all was said and done, Hessert finished three laps down in the seventh position.
Berlin marked the second consecutive week Hessert worked with crew chief Dave Leiner, who took over for Ryan London after the Iowa race.
“Thanks to everyone at Venturini. Dave’s done an excellent job the last couple of weeks. It’s a shame to only have six more races to work together this season, but we’re going to make the best of it and try to win a couple races.”
Huffman’s Debut Ruined by Mid-Race Melee
Landon Huffman became the seventh different driver to pilot the No. 15 Toyota for the Venturini organization in 2016, joining William Byron, Christopher Bell, Matt Tifft, Dakota Armstrong, Christian Eckes and Cole Williams. Prior to Saturday at Berlin, Huffman had never turned a lap in an ARCA car but had traveled to several races with the team this season, which made him feel comfortable and well-prepared for his debut weekend.
After qualifying in the fourth position in the No. 15 Catawba Valley Reclamation Toyota, Huffman would work his way up to the second position behind Hessert in the early stages of the 200-lap event.
“As the run went on the car got really good. Almost every time we had a restart it would take 10 or 15 laps to get going,” Huffman said. “Once it would get rolling we were flying. I think we were probably the best car here on the long run for sure.”
Just past halfway, Huffman made contact with the lapped car of Thomas Praytor, sending Praytor for a spin and bringing out the caution flag at Lap 106.
“He was on the bottom and it’s so hard to predict. I ran over him on accident and got a caution,” said Huffman.
The contact resulted in slight damage to the left front on Huffman’s No. 15 Toyota and presented difficulty removing the left front General Tire on the pit stop. Huffman would restart in the fourth position before being collected in the wreck in Turn 1 on the Lap 112 restart.
“There was just nowhere to go when we got to Turn 1 on the restart. It’s just a product of racing at a place like this. We were on the top already committed and there was just nowhere to go and everybody piled into it after that. I tried firing it back up but she was done.”
Huffman would finish 86 laps down in the 16th position.
Venturini Motorsports will field three cars for the 54th running of the Central Illinois SuperChevyStores.com 100. Hessert will be joined by dirt standouts Jake Griffin and Tanner Thorson at the Illinois State Fairgrounds dirt mile on Sunday, August 21.
Credit: Venturini Motorsports