The ARCA Menards Series continues the summer stretch by staying in the Midwest, visiting Iowa Speedway this Friday night. The track is located in Newton, Iowa just a few minutes east of Des Moines.
It will be the 14th race of the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season and with that, there are six races remaining until the season finale at Kansas Speedway in October.
With hot temperatures around all week and expected for tomorrow night’s race, the on-track action has certainly been heating up as well. Last week, future NASCAR superstar Chandler Smith continued his winning ways at Elko Speedway taking the checkered flag once again. It was Smith’s fifth win of his career and the third of the season. Speaking of Smith, his teammates had a little brush up on the last lap when Michael Self and Christian Eckes got together in the final turn taking each other out.
Shifting gears one week later, the young rookie Smith hopes to continue the on-track success at Iowa. He already has one start this season at Iowa by making his NASCAR national series debut last month for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Smith will try to take what he learned and apply it to Friday night’s race.
“This is a short track but it’s a big short track,” Smith said. “The biggest thing I will take back is how much I moved around the racetrack and all of the grooves. It’s a fast track and aerodynamics are important. I learned some things in the Truck race and I will be able to play around with some aero as well.”
His teammate Christian Eckes is having an inconsistent 2019 so far, but he is not giving up quite yet as he sits fourth in the points standings, 115 points behind teammate Michael Self. The Middletown, New York native has three starts at Iowa with a best finish of eighth in 2017.
“It’s definitely been a rough run at it so far this year,” said Eckes. “Our No. 15 JBL Audio Camry has had so much speed, just things haven’t been going our way by any means. Morale is high heading into Iowa this weekend. We’re ready to turn it around. We’ve done it before and we can do it again; let’s do it.”
After feeling dejected about taking out his teammate last week on the final lap, championship points leader Self looks forward to Friday night’s race at Iowa and hopes to come away with a clean racecar.
“Iowa is always a track I look forward to racing at,” Self says. “I’ve got a ton of experience there between K&N, ARCA and Xfinity, and have been fortunate to win there a couple of times and have some strong runs, so it’s nice going to a track that I’m comfortable at and know better than anywhere else we go on the schedule. Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve shot myself in the foot two years in a row there in the ARCA races and cost myself a shot at a win both times, so I definitely want to go in and be smart this weekend and put a solid run together without any mistakes.”
At Iowa, Self has two starts over the past two years, earning a fourth-place finish in his first outing there in 2017. Last year, he was taken out in a crash on Lap 92, which relegated him to an 18th place finish after leading 44 laps.
With all three Venturini Motorsports drivers having experience at Iowa, Stadium Super Truck driver Gavin Harlien will be making his second career ARCA start. Harlien recently competed at Gateway, which some think is a similar track to Iowa.
“I have been eager to get back in the car ever since the checkered flag waved at Gateway,” said the Phoenix, Arizona native. “Now that I have one ARCA race under my belt, I’m definitely feeling more confident heading into Iowa. I was able to get those first race nerves out of the way and run a clean race in the top 10. My goal was to get the car to the finish and learn as much as I can. Now that I’ve done that, I plan on being more aggressive in my last two races this season.
One team looks to break the powerhouse team of Venturini Motorsports and that’s Chad Bryant’s team of the No. 77 and No. 22.
Joe Graf Jr. sits fifth in the points standings, 225 points behind championship leader Michael Self. He earned a top-10 finish last weekend at Elko after a somewhat difficult couple of weeks.
Like Smith, Graf Jr. also competed at Iowa not too long ago in the NASCAR Xfinity Series where he finished 19th for Richard Childress Racing. The New Jersey native also had a recent test at the 7/8-mile speedway.
“Been looking forward to going back to Iowa for the last couple of weeks,” said Graf. “It’s a cool short track and without a doubt the more laps I circle around there, I feel like the better I get it.”
Despite earning that top-10 finish last weekend, he still wants more for Friday night’s race.
“We really need to have a strong run on Friday night,” Graf continued. “It hasn’t been the season we had been hoping for, but we still have a bunch of races stacked on the schedule and I’m hoping we can turn some heads this season.”
Graf’s teammate Corey Heim, however, does not have any starts at Iowa. Heim will be leaning on his crew chief Paul Andrews to help him learn about the track in Newton, Iowa.
“This weekend at Iowa Speedway is going to be a very new and exciting experience for me,” Heim said. “I’m really looking forward to a bigger track like Iowa because of my performance at Gateway a few weeks ago.”
While Heim does not have any prior starts at Iowa, he did compete in a test a couple of weeks ago to help him adjust and prepare for the race.
“We tested at Iowa a few weeks ago, and I feel good about it,” he added. “The track was very hot and slick, just like it’s going to be on race day.”
With Iowa being a short track, the youngster does have some short track experience by competing at racetracks like Pensacola (finished fifth), Salem (finished fifth), Nashville (11th), Toledo and Madison (10th), a fourth at Gateway and he finished fifth at Elko last weekend.
Eighteen-year-old Colby Howard will be returning to an ARCA car Friday night for Win-Tron Racing’s No. 32 machine. It will be his first start since finishing ninth at Madison last year for Mason Mitchell Motorsports.
“I’m really excited to be back in the ARCA Menards Series and making my first start with Win-Tron this weekend,” said Howard. “With our pro late model success, I was really wanting to try my hand at a bigger car again. I feel like I’ve grown as a driver and my management team at PMG hooked me up with Kevin Cywinski and Win-Tron to give me the opportunity to showcase my talents at this level once more. I’ve always enjoyed tracks where there are multiple grooves, and that’s one reason I’m looking forward to Iowa this weekend. It’s the biggest and fastest track I’ve ever been on, too.”
Another driver making his Iowa Speedway debut is KBR Development driver Carson Hocevar, in the No. 28.
“I am so stoked for Iowa. It is one track that I have had circled since the beginning of the season. It’s a really cool race track and based off our performance at Gateway, I think we will be strong this weekend in our GMPartsNow Chevrolet.”
While Howard and Holby do not have any starts at Iowa, Munford, the Alabama native has two starts to his name with a best finish of eighth in last year’s race.
“I can’t wait to get to Iowa Speedway. I think it’ll be a perfect race for us to bounce back from last weekend at Elko Speedway and get a string of consistent top-five finishes back. We could set ourselves up for a good points day and even better, a win. It’s a racer’s track for sure, which makes it all that more fun to race. There’s not one preferred line, that makes it exciting to pass and race with the cars around you.”
With Iowa Speedway being the 14th race of the season, it will mark the halfway mark for the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge championship series. With just five races remaining for this challenge, Venturini Motorsports driver Chandler Smith leads the way with a 70-point lead over Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ty Gibbs. Michael Self follows in third, Bret Holmes and Carson Hocevar in a tie for fourth, and Corey Heim in sixth place.
Over the span of the next five races, the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge will visit dirt tracks like Springfield and DuQuoin. Then it will visit Salem in September and have its season finale at the famed Lucas Oil Raceway on October 5.
Past champions include part-time JR Motorsports and full-time GMS Racing Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver, Sheldon Creed, who won in 2018. Austin Theriault won in 2017 driving for Ken Schrader Racing, current Xfinity Series Stewart-Haas Racing driver Chase Briscoe won in 2016 and Kyle Weatherman won in 2015 while driving for Cunningham Motorsports which is now owned by Chad Bryant.
Other drivers on the entry list include Tim Richmond, Jason Miles, Eric Caudell, Tommy Vigh Jr., Rick Clifton, Ty Gibbs, Travis Braden, Brad Smith and Scott Melton, which makes up 19 cars total for Friday night’s race, Fans With Benefits 150.
Iowa Speedway has seen 12 ARCA races since its first year back in 2006. The list of winners includes Steve Wallace, Frank Kimmel, Matt Hawkins, Parker Kligerman, Tom Hessert III, Ty Dillon, Alex Bowman, Grant Enfinger, Mason Mitchel, Chase Briscoe, Dalton Sargeant and Sheldon Creed.
If you want to win, you better have a good starting spot. The winners have come from inside the top five, nine times. Only once has the winner came outside the top-10 and that was Hawkins who did it in 2008. Drivers have won from the pole at least three times set by Creed in 2018, Dillon in 2011 and Wallace in its first race in 2006.
The speedway has only seen two first time winners, Hawkins and Hessert.
As in most cases, it will be a one day show for the ARCA Menards Series. The only practice session will take place from 11:45 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. Central time, live on arcaracing.com.
The General Tire pole qualifying is slated for 3:45 p.m. Central time and will also be live on arcaracing.com.
The Fans with Benefits 150 green flag is scheduled to fly a little after 8 p.m. Central, live on MAVTV and arcaracing.com.