Published April 28, 2016
It's been nearly two decades since Bobby Gerhart went through this kind of drought at Daytona International Speedway.
The driver finished 29th, sixth and 39th the last three years in the season-opening ARCA race at Daytona. And for a guy who has eight victories at Daytona since 1999, his last trip to victory lane seems like an eternity ago.
"Long time, yeah," Gerhart said Friday. "Anxious to get back."
Gerhart will get a chance at that elusive ninth win at Daytona on Saturday in the ARCA opener, the race that officially kicks off Speedweeks.
Gerhart, who spends much his year preparing to race at Daytona, won the ARCA opener in 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012. So coming up short the last three years was as painful as it was unpredictable.
"We haven't had the best luck lately," said Gerhart, who was involved in an early wreck last year and had a fuel issue in 2013.
He didn't have much luck during qualifying Friday, either.
Gerhart got stuck behind a slow pack of cars and qualified 14th, and then lamented the qualifying format.
"I'm not a real fan of where this has gone," Gerhart said. "More than likely, if there aren't some changes made to the format, it might be my last."
Nonetheless, the 57-year-old Gerhart can make history Saturday by becoming the oldest ARCA winner at Daytona. He would supplant Iggy Katona, who won the 1974 race at age 57.
Even with all his success at the famed superspeedway, Gerhart believes he's facing a daunting task.
"It's going to be a big challenge," he said. "Just got to do what we can to put ourselves in a position to get to the front. That will just be a strategic call at some point."
Gerhart will be chasing a slew of youngsters when the green flag drops, including Gray Gaulding and pole-sitter Cole Custer.
Gaulding, who turned 18 earlier this week, can become the youngest stock-car winner in Daytona history. He will start 11th.
Custer, who turned 18 last month, became the youngest ARCA pole winner at Daytona. Custer drafted with the fastest pack during a four-minute run and averaged 188.407 mph around the 2 1/2-mile track. He came across the stripe fifth in a pack of five, but was the fastest in the group.
"When the fastest car is dictated by other people, it just takes away a huge level of accomplishment for a lot of people, not just me," Gerhart said. "Given that format, I'm just not a big fan. ... It's like maybe trying to win a boat race and you've got to jump in the water and find the boat you want."
While Gerhart will make his 29th consecutive start in the ARCA opener, he also will be driving in three events during Speedweeks for the first time.
Gerhart also is entered in NASCAR's two feeder series, Xfinity and Trucks.
"Extremely challenging," he said. "When I looked at all the vehicles sitting in the shop, I went home and laid in bed and thought, 'How many opportunities am I going to have left to do this?'
"As long as I feel like I'm competitive and have good equipment, I'm going to do it. But even all my own guys thought I was crazy."