After 19 races of ARCA Menards Series action, the season is coming to a close Friday night in the heartland at Kansas Speedway where a champion will be crowned. It will be decided between two Venturini Motorsports drivers, Christian Eckes or Michael Self.
While a champion will be crowned, there will also be a race winner who will go to victory lane. Although some say to win the championship, you must win the race.
That goes for Michael Self and his No. 25 Sinclair Venturini team. Self spent most of the summer leading the ARCA standings, racking up race wins and building a sizable lead over his teammate, Christian Eckes. In fact, at this point, Self believes he will have to finish ahead of Eckes or perhaps grab a win in Friday’s night race.
“We have to be ahead of Christian if we are going to win the championship,” he said. “Nothing that happened prior to this race really matters. It’s all about what happens in this race. We’re going to do what we’ve done all season long and go out and try to win. I like the style of racing on the big tracks. We won earlier in the season at Michigan and had really good cars at Charlotte and Chicago. If we do that, we’ll have done all we can and we’ll see how it shakes out.”
And it could go Self’s way. He has one win in three starts while his other two starts are both top-five finishes.
“Kansas is one of my favorite tracks, and knowing that we’re going in without having to be conservative or playing it safe at all kind of eases my mind. We can take risks and gamble this weekend and not have to worry about the outcome and if that’s what it comes down to then we’ll see if we can make it pan out.”
His teammate Eckes spent most of the year catching Self in points. The points gap increased when he became ill and missed a race at Salem in April. However, after the Talladega crash, Eckes has had solid results by finishing in the top five or winning the race. After Lucas Oil Raceway, Eckes is ahead by 15 points and is looking for his first ARCA championship.
“It’s all one race at a time for us,” Eckes said. “We don’t get nervous because the point situation has gotten closer. We knew we could run this good when the season started. We had some mediocre runs in the middle of the season but we got past those and we’ve been in the top two the last six races. That’s exactly how we felt we should be all season long.”
It will be a little tricky for the New York native who will be making his first Kansas start Friday night. Practice time will come in handy and Eckes knows it’s all about taking it race by race and not get caught up looking ahead.
“We have to go to Kansas and race for it. It’s going to be tough,” Eckes said. “Michael is really good at the mile and a half tracks. We’re looking forward to it. It feels good to be in the position we are now. We really haven’t had the pressure on us all year so it’s definitely a change of pace. At the end of the day, we just need to go do what we do and be perfect at Kansas to finish the job.”
While two drivers in the Venturini Motorsports stable will be going for the championship, two other drivers will be going for the race win. One of them is Harrison Burton, who opened up the season with a victory back in February at Daytona. Now, Burton comes to Kansas and hopes to end the season with another victory.
“It’s a great feeling being a part of the success of this Venturini Motorsports team this year,” said Burton. “But it’s not over yet. We still have some unfinished business to take care of at Kansas. Nothing would be better than ending the season on a high note like the way we started it. I love running on these big tracks and know my RUUD team will be ready to answer the call.”
Burton has one start at Kansas in the Truck Series where he started third and finished 10th.
The other driver on the Venturini Motorsports team hoping to go for a win Friday night is popular driver Hailie Deegan. Like Eckes, Deegan will be making her first start at Kansas Friday night. Kansas will also mark her first start at a 1.5-mile track.
“I’m excited,” says the Temecula, California native. “I’ve never raced on a mile-and-a-half track before so I think it’s going to take a little bit getting used to especially since I’m not testing. Hopefully, I’ll pick up on it quick, do some simulator work and hopefully have another strong finish. It’s been a great season and I’ve learned a lot. Really looking forward to this next race.”
Deegan recently scored her career-best finish in the ARCA Menards Series with a finish of fifth at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Hoping to end the year strong are the Chad Bryant Racing drivers, Joe Graf Jr. and Ty Majeski.
Majeski returned to the ARCA Menards Series scene this season driving the No. 22 Ford. He’s been quite successful in doing so. The Seymour, Wisconsin native has notched three wins in five starts. However, Majeski’s last start was at Chicago back in July and that ended in victory lane. He also recently participated in a test at Kansas Speedway as well.
“The test went well,” said Majeski who has earned five top-five finishes in 2019. “We ran through a couple of different packages and made some changes that we would not have been able to do on race weekend. Overall, I think we are happy with the speed and the feel our No. 22 Chad Bryant Racing Ford had and hope we can capitalize on that during Friday night’s race.”
Majeski’s comeback has been dominant by having a 1.8 average finishing position in his five starts total.
“We’ve had a fantastic handful of races thus far,” offered Majeski who will make his 15th career ARCA start on Friday night. “Winning at Charlotte in the heart of racing and then at Chicagoland which is so close to where I grew up definitely are the highlights of the season for me. I said at the beginning of the season I really wanted to win those two races. And we’ve been able to accomplish that and so much more. I’m really thankful to everyone who has made it possible.”
Joe Graf Jr. hopes to follow in Majeski’s footsteps Friday night. The Chad Bryant Racing driver also hopes to put the bad luck behind him after what happened last time out at Lucas Oil Raceway a couple of weeks ago.
Lucas Oil was tough to swallow,” said Graf Jr. who is all but assured of fifth in the final ARCA championship standings this season. “We had a great car, a fast car and we were letting the advantage of having tires be our ticket. Unfortunately, things quickly changed, and we were left with another top-10 finish instead of a likely win.
“We can’t dwell on what happened in the past though, we have to focus out the windshield and we’ll go to Kansas Speedway this week and give it our best.”
Like his teammate, Graf Jr. also participated in the test as well.
The test went pretty good,” added Graf Jr. “I don’t think any driver or team leaves a test completely satisfied and I think that spoke well for us. We were pleased with the progress we made during the day but knew we still had some work to do. The guys have been busting their tails getting our car ready for the race on Friday night and I’m looking forward to the chance to contend for our 13th top-10 finish of the year.”
Graf Jr. competed in last year’s race, where he started 14th but did not finish due to a crash that took him out early and resulted in a 21st place finish.
One team that is bringing back a driver who was very successful in their program is Win-Tron Racing with Gus Dean. Dean has run a limited schedule this year and has three starts with a best finish of third his last time out at Charlotte. Since then, Dean has been busy with the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. The team looks for success Friday night.
“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to run the ARCA race with Win-Tron Racing,” said Dean. “Kevin (Cywinski) and my crew chief Jamie (Jones) have been an instrumental part of my racing career as I’ve progressed and anytime we get the chance to compete in a race together, we have one goal in mind, winning.”
Dean has three starts with no wins but he very much still likes visiting Kansas Speedway.
“Kansas Speedway is such a fast race track, but I enjoy racing there,” added Dean. “We had a super competitive car last October but unfortunately didn’t get the finish we deserved. We’re bringing the same car we raced at Charlotte in May and it was fast. I think we have a good opportunity to put ourselves in a position to win the race on Friday night and end the ARCA year on a high note.”
While Kansas could certainly create an opportunity for a new winner, you can guarantee Bret Holmes and his No. 23 family owned team will take advantage if the opportunity is there to strike. In 2019, he’s amassed seven top fives and 17 top-10’s. However, Holmes had hoped to have at least a couple of wins by now.
“We were expecting a couple of wins this season,” he said. “We are going into Kansas with that mindset. We tested there last week. We expected a little more but things don’t always work out. That’s just part of being with a new team. Those two guys in front of us have been with the same team for the last couple of years so they’ve had an advantage because they’ve had that same feel in their cars. There’s been a big difference and feel in the cars has been so different than anything I’ve had previously. We had a good test and I am feeling really good about our chances to go and get our first win to close out the season.”
With those drivers hoping to compete for wins, there are other drivers that hope to end on a high note. Those are Riley Herbst, Travis Braden, Sheldon Creed, Tanner Gray, Drew Dollar, Tommy Vigh Jr., Eric Caudell, Ed Pompa, Brad Smith, Scott Melton, Carson Ware, Dick Doheny and Con Nicolopoulos.
Since 2001, Kansas Speedway has seen 18 ARCA Menards Series races. Those winners include a list of names such as Jason Jarrett, Frank Kimmel, Shelby Howard, Ryan Hemphill, Chad Blount, Scott Lagasse Jr., Scott Speed, Parker Kligerman, Ty Dillon, Alex Bowman, Spencer Gallagher, Mason Mitchell, Chase Briscoe, Michael Self and Sheldon Creed.
Frank Kimmel has the most track wins with three followed by Alex Bowman in second with two wins. Everyone else has one win each on the list. There is the potential that there could be a two time winner on Friday night with Self and Creed back in the field.
Chevrolet has the most manufacturer wins here with six (2001, 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2017). Dodge and Toyota have four wins each while Ford has three wins.
The race winner has come from the pole four times (2002, 2004, 2012, 2016). The lowest a race winner has ever come from to win was 32nd set by Gallagher in 2014.
Christian Eckes leads Michael Self by 15 points in the standings.
Friday is an all day show for ARCA drivers with the only practice at 1 p.m. ET. General Tire Pole Qualifying is slated for 6 p.m. ET with no live TV coverage. However, fans can follow along at arcaracing.com.
The ARCA Kansas 150 is scheduled to get underway shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET. The race can be seen live on Fox Sports 2 with a replay set on Fox Sports 1 at 12:30 a.m. ET Saturday morning.