By ARCA Menards Series
DuQUOIN, Ill. — Ryan Unzicker made clear early in Monday evening’s Rust-Oleum Automotive Finishes 100 he had the speed to win at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
After starting 20th based on car owner points with General Tire Pole Qualifying canceled ahead of the race, the 41-year-old dirt track ringer somehow made his way to third place by the time the event’s first yellow flag flew on Lap 4.
That was a sign of things to come, as Unzicker dominated the remainder of Monday’s race on the one-mile dirt oval for his second career ARCA Menards Series victory. The race, which had been delayed one day from its originally scheduled date, was shortened to 78 laps because of rain.
The win was a special one for Unzicker, who picked up a checkered flag as a going away present for car owner Bill Hendren, who’s retiring from racing operations at the end of the year.
RELATED: Complete results from the DuQuoin Fairgrounds
Unzicker left no doubt as the driver and car to beat Monday. But after taking the lead from Jesse Love with a restart on Lap 18, he had to battle through five restarts to keep the point. Ultimately, a late restart and a battle with Love marked Unzicker’s winning moment.
“It was a tough one,” Unzicker allowed. “I had to really rely on my General Tires to get the grip on the restart. I knew I had to try to beat [Love] into [Turn] 1, and he got a good run. Coming off of [Turn] 2 I slipped up a little bit and went high because there was a little bit of rain back there. He was able to get underneath us down the backstretch. Somehow I got it pulled off there.”
The win was Unzicker’s first ARCA triumph since he went to Victory Lane at the Springfield Mile in 2020 for his maiden series victory. All but one of Unzicker’s 24 ARCA Menards Series starts dating back to 2003 have come on the one-mile dirt ovals of Springfield and DuQuoin.
“It [means] a lot. We’ve been doing it for a long time,” Unzicker said when asked about winning during Hendren’s last season as a car owner. “I hate to say it would be my last [ARCA race], but [Hendren] has given me every confidence in the world to come out here and allow me to drive his car. Just means the world to me to be able to end on a good note.”
Love managed a second-place finish despite mechanical issues that forced him to go a lap down midway through the race. He eventually got his lap back and battled his way back to contention before ultimately falling short of the victory.
Love, of course, was eligible to win a $50,000 bonus had he won Monday’s race at DuQuoin. He won at Springfield a few weeks ago, and as part of the new Performance Seed dirt double, a driver who swept both dirt races on the 2022 ARCA Menards Series schedule would take the bonus.
Love did not collect the $50,000 prize, but he did win a $5,000 bonus for earning the highest average finish between the two dirt races.
“I wanted to win really bad,” Love said before explaining his battle with Unzicker on the last few laps at DuQuoin. “I entered Turn 1, and it was wet, and I went straight to the fence, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ So I had to slam in the gas, get it pointed, and he slid up and I crossed him over. And then we drag raced down into Turn 3, and I let him run me in there too narrow.
“I should have done more to win the race.”
Sammy Smith finished third Monday ahead of Daniel Dye in fourth and Nick Sanches in fifth.
Greg Van Alst, Tim Monroe, Joe Cooksey, Corey Heim and Kelly Kovski rounded out the top 10.
ARCA Menards Series title contender Rajah Caruth finished 17th at DuQuoin after mechanical trouble knocked him out of the race on Lap 18.
The Rust-Oleum Automotive Finishes 100 marked Round 9 of the 10-race 2022 Sioux Chief Showdown, a series in which Smith entered DuQuoin with a 23-point edge over Taylor Gray, who finished 12th Monday with a mechanical issue of his own.
The final race of this year’s Sioux Chief Showdown arrives when the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East hold a combination race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 15.
The ARCA Menards Series season continues Saturday, Sept. 10, at Kansas Speedway. The 17th of 20 races on the 2022 slate is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. ET and broadcast live on MAVTV Motorsports Network and FloRacing.