Austin Wayne Self and the Cunningham team arrived at Salem on Saturday confident that they would be a top contender. They finished fourth in the spring race and had gotten a great amount of experience under their belts since their last encounter with the half-mile oval track. The tricky part about this race was that the track itself was “new but still the same” with only two of the four turns being freshly re-paved. Self welcomed the new surface learning that the re-pavement offered more grip and more speed during his practice sessions earlier in the week. On race day Self said the team, “had a good car during practice and a good set up strategy for the race. We were planning on the car tightening up throughout the race and made adjustments accordingly. We also knew that the cooling weather would play a part and hoped that Mother Nature was on our side.”
Self qualified in the 14th position which was a little further back than what they had wanted but since Self had showcased his ability to makes moves from the back of the pack in previous races the team was still confident and ready to compete.
AWS made moves at the start of the race making passes to put himself in the 8th position. The top three leaders gained speed and began to pass the tail end of the field before the front runner continued to increase his lead over the rest of the pack. Austin maintained his position throughout the long green run managing to only allow the leader to pass him one more time. As many of the leaders began to pit around lap 100 Self moved up into the field by staying out on the track. By lap 120 AWS was running third with two laps down. By this time Self and most of the crew members were itching to come in to the pits for a set of fresh tires and fuel but the team’s Crew Chief had other plans. At lap 146 the caution finally came out and Self was able to pit without losing any laps. In fact, the team got the lucky dog earning them an extra lap to put them at only one lap down, starting a few positions back behind the leaders.
On the restart Self made moves through the lap traffic back up to front of the pack where he was able to make it by the leaders to put himself back on the lead lap. With only 50 laps to go it was important for Self to maintain his position and if he could, make it back around in order to be in passing position for the lead. As temperatures continued to drop and the track became cooler, the car refused to tighten up as the team had planned.
“If we had gotten in one more adjustment on the car before going green again I think we would have gotten the reaction from the car that we had wanted and would have been able to gain more ground on the leaders.” – AWS
As the end of the race approached the leaders exchanged a little contact in their final laps and Crew Chief, Chad Bryant advised Self to be prepared for anything up ahead. Bryant was spot on and the leaders fought hard to be the first across the finish line making significant contact with each other and getting into the wall. Self’s teammate pulled through the fight first and took home the victory as the 2nd place finisher slid across the line in reverse. Self clenched the 3rd spot and the Rookie Challenge Award for the race. It was an exciting finish for sure and the Self family fan group definitely had reason to celebrate!
“I’m glad I was able to put on a good show for all of my family that made their way out to the track. We always have one of the largest fan sections at Salem and the support really does go a long way,” Self said. “ I’m also very thankful for my crew chief and the decisions he made (even when the rest of the crew was itching for a stop). Chad’s pit strategy was spot on and he really came through as a team leader. We went over 140 laps on the same tires – I didn’t know that was possible!”
“I had a strategy at the beginning and I stuck to it. Even when everyone else was coming in to pit I knew we weren’t gong to bring it in until we had a caution. After the caution Austin worked hard to maintain his position. We were able to put up a good fight and improve upon our spring race results” – Chad Bryant, Crew Chief
The team moves on to Kentucky this week, one of the final two races in the ARCA schedule. The team is pushing for a win and each week they get closer and closer. With the final two closing in, Self and the Cunningham team will bring their Salem momentum and look to score their first W and break into the top five in the season points standings. While Self’s roots are in short tracks, the young driver has proven to be a force to reckon with on the larger tracks as well.
Even though Self has never seen either of the final two tracks in his life, he is confident that he can learn the lines quickly during the testing and practice sessions in order to give the team a strong chance at bringing the number 22, AM Technical Solutions Dodge to Victory Lane before the season is over!
The Kentucky race will be televised live on Fox Sports 1 at 8:00pm est. For race day updates and behind the scenes pictures and videos follow Austin Wayne Self on Facebook and Twitter.