Matt Kurzejewski made memorable ARCA debut
It went down in history as one of the wildest and most thrilling races in the annals of ARCA. Gut-wrenching and heartbreaking for some, euphoric for others, exciting for all.
The year was 2008 and there were five drivers heading into the last race of the season at Toledo Speedway with a shot to win the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards national championship.
Justin Allgaier, a full 110 points behind the leader in third, was a long shot going in, as were Frank Kimmel in fourth and Matt Carter in fifth. However, Allgaier not only emerged as the national champion, the popular Springfield, Illinois driver put an exclamation point on the season by winning the race.
It was also Matt Kurzejewski’s career-first ARCA start.
“I remember it very well,” Kurzejewski said. “That was the Scott Speed — Ricky Stenhouse showdown. That’s my memory of Toledo. That’s how I refer to Toledo. Up until that point, I had never seen such a thing. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen such a thing since.”
Kurzejewski is referring to what happened between point leader Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who were one-two in points heading into the Toledo finale. It was anyone’s guess between the two, but widely recognized as being a title fight for Speed and Stenhouse to decide. They decided it alright, with bumpers, fenders, tempers and tantrums.
Allgaier needed some help to win the title, and as it turned out, he got the assistance he was searching for when Speed’s wrecked Red Bull Toyota went away on a hook while Stenhouse’s Aflac Ford left the scene on a flatbed truck.
Speed and Stenhouse tangled not once, but twice. It started on lap 27 when Stenhouse, running third right behind Speed, got into the back of Speed headed into turn three. Speed drifted up the track and smacked the wall, causing significant damage to the right-side.
After losing a lap on pit road, Speed returned to competition, albeit off the pace. Then, as the leaders, including Stenhouse, drove to the high side of Speed to put him another lap down, Speed turned right as Stenhouse was going by, sending Stenhouse hard into the turn two outside retaining wall. The exchange also sent Speed into the inside wall causing further damage to his already wrecked car.
As a result, ARCA officials parked Speed for rough driving for the remainder of the race. Stenhouse eventually returned to competition 69 laps down and ended up 25th.
With Speed and Stenhouse gone from the championship mix, Allgaier went on the charge. He not only won the title, but won the race.
Kurzejewski, in his maiden ARCA voyage, was having a good day in the No. 00 Costy’s Ford, a car fielded by Brian and Bob Keselowski.
“We were having a good day, running in the top-10...then (Bobby) Gerhart spun me under caution. We came back to 11th or 12th then we had a flat with 25 to go under green. That got us several laps down, but I think we came back to finish 18th. That was an eventful day for everyone, including me. That was the last time I raced at Toledo.”
He will not be testing at Toledo.
“I’m not so much worried about not testing at Toledo. Looking back before last year, Toledo, Daytona, Talladega and Iowa were the only other tracks I had been to, and we did pretty good last year.”
Kurzejewski won the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge championship in 2015.
“We tested at Nashville and didn’t do well (in the race). We did a lot better at Salem. A lot of it was getting the short track feel back. I didn’t get it at Nashville. The car was decent…I just wasn’t all there.
“Honestly, where I’ve been most decent … I just jump out of the box and have at it. I feel like everything’s back, short-track-wise, that I need. I left Salem with a lot more confidence.
“Donnie (Richeson/Crew Chief) and I needed some time to figure things out … now we’re clicking.
“Most of these tracks I’ve never been to before, except the mile-and-a-halves … so I’m really excited to get to Toledo. Even though Salem and Toledo and completely different, based on everything we learned at Salem, I feel like we’ve got everything in place for Toledo.
“All that said, even though we’re not testing, I don’t see it as a negative. Plus, I’ll have Schrader there to help quite a bit.”
Photo and story courtesy ARCA