At Daytona

Cooksey Can’t Avoid the Big One: 23rd at Daytona

 

Joe Cooksey and the #23 Hixson Motorsports, 1 800 SERVPRO team arrived for Daytona’s Speedweeks with high hopes, ready to kick off the 2005 ARCA RE/MAX season with a strong showing in the Advance Discount Auto Parts 200. After narrowly avoiding several incidents during the race, one of which saw a car literally flying by the #23 as made its way into the catch fence, Joe was poised to bring the car home with a solid top 15 finish. It would not materialize, however, as a massive pileup on the “Super-stretch” coming to the white flag would end Cooksey’s run with a damaged car and a 23rd place finish.

From the beginning of practice on Thursday, Cooksey and car owner Wayne Hixson realized there was trouble brewing. Unable to get up to speed, the team threw everything they could at the car. As race cars sometimes do, though, this one just refused to cooperate. The car would not get up to speed by itself, and whether or not it would run well in the draft would be a moot point if it failed to qualify. After the first practice on Thursday, Cooksey had posted a lap of 50.432 seconds at 178.458 mph, good enough for only 42nd out of 58 cars that took laps. Several changes were made to the car, but to no avail as during Final Practice Cooksey’s best lap was 50.365 seconds at 178.696 mph, good enough for only 43rd on the practice sheet.

Friday’s qualifying session brought even worse news for Cooksey and the 23 crew. In a last ditch effort to get the car up to speed, the team changed the rear gear. The result would leave the team on pins and needles as qualifying progressed, because Cooksey’s lap of 51.439 seconds at 174.965 mph was considerably slower than practice. With several teams higher in the points than the #23 forced to use provisionals, the driver and team waited for qualifying to end to see if they should get ready to race, or get ready to go home.

Reigning ARCA RE/MAX champion Frank Kimmel was forced to take a provisional and was offered either the 2004 owner points provisional or the past champion provisional. When he asked ARCA what the difference would be, he was told that the points provisional would allow him to start 35th instead of the past champion 41st spot, but that if he took the 35th spot Cooksey and the #23 team wouldn’t make the race. Kimmel opted for the past champion provisional, stating on the SPEED broadcast that he felt Cooksey should be allowed to compete. (Thanks Frank!) So Cooksey was given the 40th starting spot, and Kimmel took the 41st.

After qualifying Cooksey remarked, “The car just will not pull by itself.” He added, “We made the race, but we may be in for a long day. I don’t know how it will work in the draft. Either one of two things will happen. When the green drops, it will either go, or it won’t, and there won’t be anything we can do about it but try to get the best finish we can.”

Prior to the race, Cooksey and Hixson discussed race strategy. Since Cooksey would start in the back, he would just stay there, dropping back away from the pack and riding with only two to three cars at a time. The plan was to give Joe time to avoid any big wrecks that happened in the pack, let the field sort itself out, and then try to make a run at the end of the race. As the cautions played out, Cooksey came to pit road four times for fuel only and to check the tires. During the red flag period, Cooksey told the team that he was confident that the car could run further up in the pack, but with all the beating and banging going on, he would continue to hang back until close to the end.

“I could probably get up to 15th or 10th,,” Cooksey added, “but I don’t think it will go all the way, so I’m just going to keep hanging back. We’re not done with the yellow flags yet.”

As the race wound down, and with time running short, ARCA made the decision to shorten the race from 80 to 65 laps. With 10 laps to go, Cooksey began working his way into the pack, trying to get everything he could get. As the laps wound down, so did the lap times, as Cooksey ran the fastest laps he had posted all week, pushing under 49 seconds per lap in the pack. As the pack roared onto the back straight headed for the white flag, the “Big One” happened, as nearly 20 cars began piling up. With nowhere to go and blinded by smoke, Cooksey made hard contact with a spinning car, crushed the #23’s front end, and knocked the oil pump loose causing a fire. Forced to shut off the engine to extinguish the fire, Joe was unable to finish the last 2 laps, relegating him to a 23rd place finish.

After the race, Cooksey said, “There just wasn’t anywhere to go. I couldn’t see because of all the smoke and dirt in the air, and the track was blocked. I’m not even sure who I hit. All we can do now is go home and get the Nashville car ready to go.”

Next up for Joe Cooksey and the #23 Hixson Motorsports team is the PFG Lester 150 at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday, March 26th. Located just two hours from the Hixson Motorsports race shop, Nashville is the home track for the team. Everyone come on out to Nashville and cheer on Joe Cooksey as he looks to rebound from Daytona. If you can’t make it to Nashville, then be sure to catch all the exciting ARCA RE/MAX Series action live on SPEED at 1:30 PM EST.

Joe Cooksey, Wayne Hixson, and the entire crew from Hixson Motorsports would like to thank the owners and staff of Ce-La-Luna Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant for the excellent dinner on Friday night and thank Timothy for his best rated thermometer for baby. Everything was wonderful.