It’s hard to believe, but once again, the off-season is over and a new racing season is upon us. At least that is the case for the ARCA Menards Series. The last time ARCA was on-track for a race was the season finale at Kansas Speedway back in October where former series driver Christian Eckes won the title over Michael Self. Eckes has since moved up to the Truck Series to compete full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports while Self is back with Venturini Motorsports for another shot at the title.
Before we get there though, there have been some changes to the ARCA Menards Series rules that we will discuss here momentarily. Quite possibly one of the more newsworthy announcements during the off-season came a couple of weeks ago when ARCA Menards Series officials made the announcement that the points standings will now be more aligned with the NASCAR standings. With that in mind, should a driver win a race, they will earn 43 points, while also earning three additional points for a race win.
In addition to the points standings changes, if the driver wins the race and gets the three additional bonus points, the race winner can earn up to 49 points if the winner also earns the General Tire pole award.
Also new to the ARCA Menards Series is the Sioux Chief Showdown. With NASCAR taking over ARCA this year, there will be a new Sioux Chief Showdown Series that features 10-races starting at Phoenix Raceway. In this challenge, teams from the ARCA Menards East and West Series are allowed to compete in the Showdown as long as their cars meet ARCA’s requirements. The other races are Salem Speedway, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lucas Oil Raceway, Elko Speedway, Iowa Speedway, WWT Raceway at Gateway, Watkins Glen International, Bristol Motor Speedway, and the Showdown finale at Memphis International Raceway.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the ARCA Menards entry list as there are a crop load of new drivers set to qualify for Saturday’s race at Daytona. There are 33 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway. Originally, the field was 34, but the No. 2 owned by Chad Bryant has withdrawn from the event.
Almost expected every year, Venturini Motorsports brings on new drivers to take on the 20-race schedule. New to the stable this year is Drew Dollar piloting the No. 15, Ryan Repko in the No. 20, while Michael Self returns in his famed No. 25 Sinclair Toyota.
Drew Dollar may be a new name race fans have not heard of before, however, Dollar made two ARCA starts last year at Gateway and Kansas. Dollar’s best finish out of those two races was sixth in his first outing at Gateway. This year, the Atlanta, Georgia native is scheduled to compete full-time in the No. 15 Toyota. While there might be some high expectations for Dollar, he is just happy to be here to race in the ARCA Menards Series.
“It’s really exciting to be heading back down to Daytona this weekend to compete in my first ARCA race there,” Dollar said. “I have a lot of confidence built up that our No. 15 Lynx Capital Toyota Camry team will have a solid car and I am looking forward to working with my teammates throughout the race.”
Also new to the Venturini stable is Ryan Repko piloting the No. 20 Craftsman Toyota Camry. Repko is not new to the ARCA Series. Like, Dollar, the Denver, NC native has made two starts over the last two years for the former Mason Mitchell Motorsports team. Repko made his series debut at Madison where he finished eighth. Continuing flying under the radar, Repko made three NASCAR Xfinity Series starts last year for Johnny Davis Motorsports at both Iowa races and Richmond. His best finish was 19th at Richmond.
In 2020, Repko will be paired with a great team that won almost half the races last year. The No. 20 car also has some history from the 2019 season, where it locked up the Owners Championship.
“All of the Venturini (Motorsports) guys have put a lot of effort into bringing out every ounce of speed these Toyota Camry’s have to offer,” Repko said. “I am pleased with where we ended the test and know the crew hasn’t stopped working on our cars since. It’s really exciting to be heading back to Daytona to compete in my first race there and I am looking forward to working with Billy (Venturini) and my teammates to bring home a solid finish for the VMS team.”
And finally, there were some questions marks as to whether or not if the championship runner up Michael Self was even going to compete this year in the ARCA Menards Series. However, a deal was made with the team a couple of weeks ago where Self will return to the No. 25 Toyota Camary for another full-time season.
“Last time Kevin (Reed) and I worked together at Daytona, we brought home the trophy, using the same car we’re bringing this year,” Self said. “While it’d be amazing to do that again, we need to stay clean until the end to have another shot at victory lane. We’ll be paying a lot of attention to who we’re racing around and come up with a strategy as we go and hopefully, we will have a solid day for the No. 25 Sinclair Oil Toyota Camry.”
All three Venturini drivers competed at the ARCA Menards Series test session last month.
Continuing the topic of new drivers, that’s what Chad Bryant Racing has this year for his team, at least for the Daytona race. Two new drivers are scheduled to compete in the season opener. Connor Hall will drive the No. 22 while Jacob Heafner is to drive the No. 77. Hall isn’t new to the ARCA Series as he had two starts last year for this team at Daytona and Michigan. In last year’s race at Daytona, Hall finished 11th on the lead lap. Hall is looking to do the same again this year, but with a higher finish.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to Daytona this weekend,” said Hall who has two ARCA Menards Series starts to his credit. “I had to learn a lot in 80 laps last year – but going back to the test in January and knowing what I had to work on and improve, I was really happy with our team walking out of the test. Saturday’s race though isn’t going to be easy. There’s a lot of people on different agendas and some who have little to no experience at Daytona – so being patient and staying out of trouble are going to be super important to make it to the finish.”
While Hall returns to Daytona with one start, Daytona will be an all-new experience for Jacob Heafner. The Dallas, North Carolina native will make his ARCA debut this Saturday piloting the famed No. 77. Originally, Joe Graf Jr. drove the Ford Fusion last year.
Despite being new to the ARCA Menards Series, Heafner is thankful to compete this season.
“I can’t begin to say how huge of an opportunity this is for me and my career,” said Heafner. “I’m paired with a lot of smart people who bring fast and winning race cars to the track and I’m the lucky guy that gets to sit behind the wheel. I’m not sure what all to expect for my ARCA Menards Series debut, but I definitely want to earn the respect of my competitors and be around for the finish.”
While not new to the racing world, Mark Rette Racing will pilot a new driver for his race team at Daytona this weekend. Candian Dominique Van Wieringen is scheduled to compete in the No. 30 Ford. Van Wieringen was at Daytona last month for the test and was fastest for one of the days. The Canadian is not scheduled for the whole season but has several races on her schedule. Van Wieringen will also race at Talladega Superspeedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Pocono Raceway, and Kansas Speedway in October.
Saturday’s race will mark the first for Van Wieringen in the ARCA Menards Series.
“I’m really excited about getting this opportunity to compete at Daytona for Rette Jones Racing,” said Dominique Van Wieringen, a veteran of ARCA East competition. “As we proved last month, we have a really fast race car and I can’t wait to get on the track and showcase that speed once again and have the opportunity to race for a win in my ARCA debut. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Fast Track Racing has new drivers as well. One of the new members to the Andy Hillenburg team is Ryan Huff. Huff will be a rookie this year but will have teammates Chuck Hiers, Jason White and John Ferrier to lean on.
“There are no words to describe what this opportunity means to me,” said Huff who participated in the series’ preseason test at Daytona last month. “I’m working hard to build a brand and work my way up the ladder. This is Daytona and it’s a huge stage filled with opportunity.”
Huff knows ARCA will be a new challenge for him, but has had some experience at Daytona by participating in the test session last month.
“The test is awfully busy because there’s a lot of drivers, but this weekend there will be a lot of attention on our No. 10 Fast Track Racing Toyota and I plan to take full advantage of that. We plan to take advantage of practice on Friday to get our car in a good place handling wise to set ourselves up for group qualifying on Saturday afternoon.”
CR7 Motorsports has Jason Kitzmiller to drive the No. 97 owned by Codie Rohrbaugh. Kitzmiller will have sponsorship with All Construction. Like others, Kitzmiller participated in the test session in January, but is excited for Saturday’s season opener.
“Can’t believe Saturday’s race is almost here,” said Kitzmiller, a veteran of Late Model dirt and Super Cup Stock Car Series competition. Without a doubt, this will be the biggest race of my career thus far and I’ve got a ton of knowledge and support behind me, I just hope to mind my manners and keep our No. 97 CR7 Motorsports Chevrolet out of trouble.”
“I learned a lot at the test and I’m hoping that track time will pay dividends this weekend,” said Kitzmiller who hopes to run a limited ARCA Menards Series schedule in 2020. “Doug, Codie and all the guys on this CR7 Motorsports team were extremely patient with me as I got up to speed.
“We worked on qualifying stuff, pit road stuff and worked the draft a bunch. I understand that the intensity will ramp up in practice on Friday and then qualifying and the race on Saturday, but we should be ready.”
Dean Racing is back in the ARCA Menards Series despite some changes. Gus Dean will drive the usual No. 32 Chevrolet. Consider that Dean will be one of the few veterans competing in the field by having 51 starts over the past four years. However, his previous four races dating back to 2016 have not fared well for him. In pretty much all those races, Dean crashed out on either the first lap of the race or late in the race taking him out of a good finish.
Even though the results might not be there at Daytona for Dean, he is still glad to be back in the ARCA Menards Series.
“I’m excited to get back in an ARCA car with my guys at Win-Tron Racing, have some fun Super Late Model Racing and having the opportunity to come back and get back in a truck on February 14. A lot of people continue to believe in me and I’m thankful for everyone’s support.
“Kevin (Cynwisnki, team owner) and Jamie (Jones, crew chief) have built me a really fast Chevrolet for the ARCA Menards Series race. I keep thinking we can’t go back to the track and have a better superspeedway piece than we did the last time, but this car that we had at the test is really good. It drafted very well, and we had a lot of speed. I’ve always run near the front at Daytona but always caught up in something. This year, I want to see that checkered flag and hopefully, I can bring Win-Tron Racing back to Victory Lane at a superspeedway.”
Missing out on Daytona last year, but hoping to be on the racetrack this year is Thomas Praytor in his own No. 9 Chevrolet. Praytor was only able to make one superspeedway start last year at Talladega finishing 20th due to a transmission problem. This year, the Mobile, Alabama native hopes to change that luck around and perhaps get an upset win.
“It hurt just a little not to be in Daytona last year but I wasn’t going to miss Hugh being born for anything. Hugh got here in time for us to go to Talladega and he made his first race at Talladega, I’m looking forward to him making his first trip to Daytona this year.”
Someone who has come to be known as a superspeedway favorite, Willie Mullins, is on the entry list in his own No. 3. Mullins is known for finishing a runner up second place at Daytona a couple of years ago in 2018. Last year’s race didn’t go well for Mullins, but he hopes to turn that around this year.
“I’m excited to get back for the race,” he said. “Last year was really a heartbreaker for me. Not only for me but for Michael (Self) as well. This year my focus is really to be a bit more conservative in the car. You can’t win the race if you aren’t there at the end. And we want to be there at the end.”
And finally, making headlines in the racing world this off-season, popular racecar driver Hailie Deegan made the news that she will be racing full-time in the ARCA Menards Series for DGR-Crosley in the No. 4 Ford Performance Ford. Deegan will be making her first start at Daytona this year.
“It’s a work in progress since this is only my third year doing this,” Deegan said. “I try to take what I learn from every situation and try to get better next time. I want to run all the laps and be there at the end to see what we can get. To win at Daytona would be huge. If there is any race I want to win this year, it’s Daytona.”
Wrapping up the female drivers for this weekend at Daytona is Natalie Decker. Announced a few weeks ago, Decker will drive for Ken Schrader in the No. 52 Ford with support from FURY Race Cars and crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Daytona with Natalie and working with Ken Schrader Racing. I’ve always liked Daytona and I’ve had a lot of success there in the past,” says Eury Jr. “I’ve built my career on mentoring young and up-and-coming drivers, trying to teach them the X’s and O’s of different levels of this sport, and that’s what we do as a company at FURY. Natalie has a lot of passion for racing and our goal is to help her improve so that she can meet the goals she has set for her career.”
If it all goes according to plan, Saturday could be a historic day at Daytona International Speedway, where we could see three female drivers finish in the top three for the first time ever.
While the drivers mentioned above will be chasing that elusive Daytona trophy, there are other drivers on the entry list that hope to do the same.
Con Nicolopoulos will be in the No. 0 Wayne Peterson Chevy, John Ferrier in the No. 1 for Andy Hillenburg, Andy Seuss in the No. 02 for Chris Our, Tim Richmond in the No. 06 for Wayne Peterson, Eric Caudell in the No. 7, Sean Corr in the No. 8, Benny Chastain in the No. 09, Chuck Hiers and Jason White in the No. 11 and No. 12 for Andy Hillenburg. Also entered are Tanner Gray in the No. 17, Riley Herbst in the No. 18, World of Outlaw star David Gravel in the No. 28, Thad Moffitt in the No. 46, Brad Smith in the No. 48, J.J. Pack in the No. 63, Dave Mader III in the No. 63, Scott Melton in the No. 69, Chuck Buchanan Jr. in the No. 87 and Scott Reeves in the No. 88.
Daytona International Speedway has seen numerous drivers get to victory lane over the years. Mickey Gibbs, Grant Adcox, Glenn Sears, Ben Hess, Jimmy Horton, Jeff Purvis, Mike Wallace, Andy Hillenburg, Kenny Irwin Jr., Bobby Gerhart, Ryan Newman, Chase Montgomery, Kyle Busch, Michael Annett, James Buescher, John Wes Townley, Grant Enfinger, Austin Theriault, Michael Self, and Harrison Burton have all won here, just to name a few.
Bobby Gerhart has the most wins with eight in the series.
Last year’s race winner, Burton, started fifth and led 48 of the scheduled 80 laps with just five cautions slowing the pace.
The ARCA Menards Series drivers will get on-track on Friday afternoon with two practice sessions. The first taking place from 1:30-2:30 p.m. ET and the final practice session from 3-4 p.m. ET with no live TV coverage, but a live leaderboard can be seen at arcaracing.com.
Saturday is race day and qualifying day for the drivers. The day starts out with group qualifying at 12:30 p.m. ET with no live TV coverage.
Then, Fox Sports 1 will go live at 4:30 p.m. ET for the annual Lucas Oil 200 with the 80 laps from Daytona International Speedway.