Race Weekend Central

Gus Dean Wins ARCA Season Opener at Daytona

For the first time since 2018, Gus Dean found victory lane, as the Venturini Motorsports driver won the ARCA Menards Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Dean avoided a last-lap wreck and crossed the finish line, as one of the few cars not involved, to claim the checkered flag.

“It might not be the [Daytona] 500, it might not be the biggest race,” Dean said to Fox Sports 1. “But, it is the biggest coliseum, and for a small town kid from Bluffton, South Carolina, this is everything.”

Behind Dean, Thomas Annunziata finished runner up in his series debut with 2023 winner Greg Van Alst coming across the line third. Christian Rose finished fourth and outside polesitter Tim Richmond in fifth. 

Jason Kitzmiller, Gil Listner, Alex Clubb, Amber Balcaen and Andy Jankowiak rounded out the top 10, in order. 

After a day full of forecasted rain on Saturday moved the race to Friday (Feb. 17) evening, the green flag finally waved just before 11:30 p.m. ET after a lengthy NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. 

As the green flag waved, Willie Mullins jumped out to an early lead, as the bottom line got the better jump on the initial start. Mullins held that lead for the first four laps, but as the field worked lap 5, the big one struck in the trioval. Toni Breidinger spun after contact with VMS teammate Dean. The wreck involved a plethora of cars, including Shane Van Gisbergen, Tanner Gray and Kris Wright

“I’m trying to be nice, and the No. 55 is my teammate, but it’s unnecessary so early to make a move like that,” Breidinger told Fox Sports 1. “He just has a lack of respect.”

On the lap 10 restart, Jake Finch rode a push from Richmond down the backstretch to take the lead away from Mullins, clearing him as the field got back to the start/finish line. The green flag run wouldn’t last long, however, as a debris caution flew shortly after. Finch retained the lead on the subsequent restart as the field quickly strung out single file behind him. Mandy Chick brought the caution out again soon after, as her No. 74 came to rest on the backstretch after contact with the outside wall. The field took the green again on lap 22, but it was short lived, as Rose spun in the trioval on lap 24, bringing out another yellow.

After the leaders pitted under the yellow flag, Ryan Huff assumed the lead for the lap 29 restart. Huff and Sean Corr ran side by side for a handful of laps before Corr cleared him for the lead on lap 30, but Finch regained the lead quickly after with help from teammate Dean. Finch retained the lead until lap 35 when Van Alst took a push from Corr on the outside lane to the lead. However, it was Finch who led the field to the halfway caution. 

As the field took the yellow flag, Marco Andretti was spun by Patrick Emerling into Dale Quarterley on the backstretch taking out a handful of cars, including polesitter Mullins, and Leland Honeyman.

The race restarted after the break on lap 47, with Finch in the lead, while the front four remained single file behind him. The field fell apart behind the leaders during this run, however. Annunziata made contact with Listner, nearly spinning him out and separating the pack. A lap later, Armani Williams did the same to Mullins, leaving a single file pack of four cars in the lead draft.

However, just as it looked like the race might go green, Corr spun all by himself from the second pack, forcing the sixth caution of the race. 

Finch led the field to the green once again on the restart, jumping out to a quick lead with help from Dean. The field wouldn’t be able to get back to the start/finish line however, as Michael Maples spun into Scott Melton, with Mullins piling into the rear of Melton shortly after. Mullins was slow to depart his car but got out under his own power. 

After a red flag period, the green flag waved once again with 12 laps to go, with Finch and Dean remaining in control of the race. The field ran single file for roughly eight laps, until Andretti shot up the track, losing a tire from inside the top 10, bringing out another caution. 

The final restart of the race was set up as a one-lap shootout, and on the restart, Finch and Dean were side by side, as the field entered turn 3, the second large crash of the evening broke out. Finch was turned into the outside wall, and Andres Perez de Lara nearly ended up upside down on top of Jankowiak. Despite leading over 60 laps in the race, Finch finished outside of the top 10 in 11th.

In the wee hours of the morning, Dean went to victory lane for the third time in his career. It’s his first win both driving for VMS and at Daytona. Moreover, it’s the 100th ARCA victory for the longtime powerhouse Venturini organization.

ARCA Results from Daytona

The next time ARCA hits the race track, it’ll be March 8 at Phoenix Raceway. The race will act as a combination race with the ARCA Menards Series West and is slated to begin at 8 p.m. ET with television coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University

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Oh ok so I guess that Shane van gisbregen did raced at Daytona for the arca race after all and I was wrong.

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