Arpin matches career-best Nationwide finish

Lucas Punkari

Being as competitive and driven as he is, Fort Frances native Steve Arpin was a little disappointed with his end result in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at the Texas Motor Speedway.
But in matching his career-best finish with a 10th-place showing in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, the 28-year-old was happy with how he preformed in his first race of 2012.
“I am pleased with how things went, but the worst part is that you are so competitive as a race car driver that you are never pleased,” Arpin explained.
“I can think of a bunch of mistakes that I made throughout the race that cost me, such as one time when I made a mistake on a restart that dropped me from 10th to 19th.
“And with these cars being so sensitive in dirty air behind other cars, it’s so hard to make time back up,” he noted.
“We had a really good car from the moment we unloaded, and realistically we should have been a fifth- or sixth-place car if we had got everything out of it.
“But for this being my first time being in a COT [car of tomorrow] car in anything other than a Superspeedway, this was a pretty strong showing,” Arpin reasoned.
“And to beat the likes of [Sprint Cup regulars] Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano is quite an accomplishment.”
When Arpin strapped himself into the #30 Mike’s On The Rocks-sponsored Chevrolet Impala for Turner Motorsports for the opening practice Thursday night, it marked his first time back behind the wheel since a Camping World Truck Series race in Chicago in September.
But despite the lengthy lay-off, it didn’t look as if he had any rust when he hit the 1.5-mile oval.
“I was about the 14th or 15th car to go out on the track, and after my first lap I was second-fastest, so I was thinking ‘Holy cow,’”Arpin enthused.
“We made a lot of adjustments from that point on that put the car into the right direction, and we got the car where we felt it needed it to be heading into qualifying on Friday,” he added.
In the time trials held Friday afternoon, Arpin’s lap of 30.232 seconds (178.619 m.p.h.) briefly was the fastest of the session before he eventually ended up with the ninth-quickest time.
“It was interesting out there during the heat of the day,” Arpin recalled.
“Right before I went out there, my crew chief, Trent Owens, came over and told me, ‘Hey, just so you know, Brad Keselowski just went out and said on the radio that it felt like someone had put oil on the track, so it’s that slippery out there.’
“So my heart immediately started racing.
“On the lap itself, I went out there running hard but I also went a little bit cautious,” he admitted. “And after I finished my lap, no one came on the radio to tell me how fast that I had ran, so I was thinking that I had either run a disappointing lap or something else was going on.
“It was cool, though, when they told me afterwards that I was on the top of the board, and to do that in my first time out was very satisfying,” he added.
Having hung around the top 10 or just outside of it for most of the 200-lap race, Arpin was in 13th on Lap 172 when the race was red-flagged due to an issue with the track’s lights in Turn 3, which allowed him to set himself up mentally for the final few laps.
“That actually helped me out a lot as it gave me a bit of a break to sit back and absorb everything that I had learned during the whole race,” he remarked.
“I was able to put everything together in eight-lap stints towards the end of the race, and I was able to pass three cars on the final lap to get into the top 10, so that break really helped me to get there.”
As mentioned, the 10th-place finish matched Arpin’s previous career high in the Nationwide Series, which he first achieved in July, 2010 at the Daytona International Speedway when he drove for Jr. Motorsports.
With his next start not slated until Saturday, May 5 at the Talladega Superspeedway, Arpin will be busy over the next week working on getting more races for the 2012 season, in addition to talking with potential sponsorship partners to help with that process.
In addition to that, Arpin also will be working on sharpening his pit road skills by driving the car the Hendrick Motorsports team uses to work on their pit crew training sessions during the middle of the week.
As well, he’ll be using the time off to learn from the Texas event, which started on the flight home.
“I flew home with [Sprint Cup driver] Brad Keselowski, and him and I talked a lot about some of the challenges that we have to face during a race and what we can do, as a driver, to try and overcome that,” he noted.
“I took a lot of notes here over the last couple of days, and I’ll be taking a lot from that as I look forward to the next opportunity to get back in the race car,” Arpin added.