Archie St. Hilaire reached a milestone on Sunday.
The Old Orchard Beach native saw Terry Labonte drive one of the cars he owns with Frank Stoddard to an 11th-place finish in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.
That is the highest finish ever for St. Hilaire in either the NASCAR Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series.
Josh Wise had finished 13th in a Nationwide Series for him in 2011.
Between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, it was the 140th race for St. Hilaire. It was his 25th in the Sprint Cup series.
St. Hilaire is in the first year of his partnership with North Haverhill, New Hampshire, native Stoddard this season. St. Hilaire had the Go Green Racing team in the Nationwide Series last year.
It is his first year as the co-owner of a full-time Sprint Cup team.
“Terry was able to stay out of trouble. It was a pretty crazy place this weekend,” St. Hilaire said on Monday.
There were two big wrecks that took a lot of the points leaders out of the race and it ended on lap 112 after a rainstorm.
St. Hilaire was hoping the race would go the full 160 laps.
“Terry was on the inside and was behind shakers and movers like Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and [race winner] Aric Almirola,” he said. “So he might have been able to draft with them [and finish higher than 11th].”
St. Hilaire attends most of the races but decided to beat the oppressive heat in Daytona and stay home this past weekend.
St. Hilaire is enjoying his first full-time venture in Sprint Cup.
He and Stoddard are 37th in owner points with an underfunded one-car team, but they have finished all but one of the 18 races.
They have had a variety of drivers, including Travis Kvapil, road course specialist Boris Said and Labonte, who has run at the restrictor plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega (Alabama).
Labonte has had the most success, finishing 20th at the Daytona 500 and 24th at the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega.
“It’s fun. It’s like David and Goliath,” said St. Hilaire. “We have a small shop [in Mooresville, North Carolina]. We have just 12 full-time employees.
“It’s not easy going up against the big boys. We try to get the biggest bang for our buck,” said St. Hilaire.
The team has 11 cars and buys what St. Hilaire described as “hand-me-down engines” from Roush Fenway Racing.
“They’re about six to eight months old,” said St. Hilaire. “That’s what the smaller teams do.”
He admitted that it has been a “little tougher than I expected” and more time-consuming, but they focus on competing with the “12 cars that are in our [lower-funded] league. We try to be in the top third of those teams. That’s our goal every week, and we’ve done it most of the time.”
For St. Hilaire, it has been a valuable learning experience.
“The first year, I just want to know how it all works,” he said. “Frank finished 37th in [owner] points last year, and we’d like to move up to 33rd or 34th this year. We want to move forward with what we’re doing.”
He said they intend to use different drivers over the remaining 18 races and try to decide on one full-time driver for next season.
One candidate will be Eddie MacDonald, a Rowley, Massachusetts, native and two-time TD Bank Oxford 250 winner. MacDonald will drive for St. Hilaire and Stoddard in their No. 32 Go FAS Racing Ford this weekend in Sprint Cup’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
MacDonald will be making his Sprint Cup debut. He won the TD Bank Oxford 250 in 2009 and 2010 with Auburn native Rollie Lachance as his crew chief.
Longtime Sprint Cup crew chief Ben Leslie will be his crew chief.
MacDonald is currently racing in the NASCAR K and N Pro Series East tour, and he has raced twice in the American-Canadian tour.
He has one win in each series so far this season. He has run seven of the nine races in the K and N Pro Series and raced in two of six ACT events.
“Eddie has won six times [in different classes] at Loudon. He will have 300 horsepower more than he is used to. But he knows how to get around the track,” said St. Hilaire. “I’m convinced he will do his best and will surprise a lot of people. He’s a great guy.”
St. Hilaire said author Michael Alden, the president and CEO of Blue Vase Marketing, is the primary sponsor and the Beverly, Massachusetts, native asked him if he knew of any New England drivers they could put in the seat for the race.
St. Hilaire knew about MacDonald’s impressive race career and MacDonald jumped at the chance to drive a Sprint Cup car.
“It’s something every racer around New England dreams about. Every racer around here wants to race in the Sprint Cup Series at Loudon,” MacDonald told Speed 51.com.
St. Hilaire’s son, Mason, a University of Southern Maine graduate, is the team’s general manager.
The team has another Maine tie, as Labonte’s father is from the Rumford area and he still has relatives there.