ARCA Daytona win driven by dubious ethics, emotional purpose


At the end of the figurative day, Gus Dean determined that there was precious little he would not be willing to do to win at Daytona in the ARCA Racing Series.

Context: Two weeks ago, the 29-year-old veteran grassroots racer lost his grandfather, who was the primary reason Dean even started racing in the first place. He won in a Super Late Model for the first time earlier in the week at nearby New Smyrna Speedway but a chance to dedicate a victory at the World Center of Racing was priceless.

However, Dean spent a majority of the race behind Venturini Motorsports teammate Jake Finch, who looked like he would be incredibly difficult to pass. Ultimately, Dean took the lead on the final restart with one lap remaining but did so in an ethically dubious matter.

He lied to his teammates about what he planned to do approaching the final restart.

Throughout the race, Finch and Dean had successfully utilized a maneuver called the Teammate Restart, in which the leader forfeits the advantageous bottom line of the front row with the understanding that his teammate will allow him to drop down to the bottom of the restart so they can mutually benefit and continue to run 1-2.

They had done this multiple times throughout the second half.

Coming to the green flag, Dean agreed to execute another Teammate Restart with Finch, who had led the most laps in the race, but stayed on the throttle and refused to let Finch down. Not only did it prevent Finch from retaining the lead, it left him vulnerable to attack from behind and he crashed hard in the final corners.

He felt betrayed and it put him in a position to where he needed to defend and could have been injured.

“It was supposed to be (a teammate restart) but I guess we got super selfish there on the bottom and wrecked his teammate,” Finch said after being released from the infield care center.

Again, it has to be made clear that Finch only chose the outside, effectively giving Dean the lead, under the terms that he would be let back in front so they could run 1-2 and control the bottom. But coming to the green, Dean just decided he didn’t have it in him to follow through.

“Jake is a great kid,” Dean said in the media center. “He’s a great race car driver. I’m proud to call him a teammate. He did an absolute phenomenal job. You have to give him credit because he never drafted before this race. He only came here in the (January) test and led the line.

“Qualifying today was the first time he was behind a car in the draft so to lead as many laps today and it come down to the last lap, that’s the testament to his talent and skill.

“The teammate restarts we do, I am a big believer in those, they work but as Tony Stewart once said, I’d wreck my mama on the last lap to win at Daytona.’ We didn’t make contact with anyone on the backstretch. I was just blocking.

“I hate that Jake got turned. Definitely was not my intention. I solely decided to charge ahead. It doesn’t take a lot of knowing me to know that I’m not backing off on the last lap at Daytona International Speedway.”

But once again, he was only in that position because Finch agreed to give up the preferred line because Dean said he would immediately fall to second.

Tyler Monn, who spots for Kyle Larson in the Cup Series but also Finch in his ARCA and Late Model appearances, was adamant that Dean lied.

Dean was asked if he had any ethical hesitation over making that decision and he said no because it was for a win at Daytona.

“I’m not sure what other race car driver would let another driver take the lead on the last lap at Daytona,” Dean said.

And the answer is Finch. He did. With the understanding that an agreement would be fulfilled.

Does Finch plan to address it?

“We have to figure it out,” Finch said. “It’s just not cool, you know. I definitely didn’t expect it from him given how good he’s been to me this week.

“He’s been super helpful teaching me how to do this and then doing that to me, it just wasn’t cool, but whatever.”

For Dean, he just really wanted to have that win and have that moment.

It was personal.

“My granddad came to every race I ever ran,” Dean said. “In every single one, he told me to get what I can, even at the end when I would call him on the phone. Tonight, we got what we could. It might not be the Daytona 500, it might not be the biggest race, but it is the biggest coliseum.

“For a small-town kid from Bluffton, South Carolina, this is everything.”

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