After a few weeks off, the ARCA Menards Series returns to action and continues their stretch toward the championship finale at Kansas Speedway in October.
The series will see their 13th race of the scheduled 20 this Saturday night at Elko Speedway, located in Elko, Minnesota in what is still a relatively new track for the ARCA Menards Series. So new that only a few of the series regulars have starts there.
That includes current ARCA Menards Series championship points leader Michael Self. Self has no starts at the short track in Minnesota but has been preparing himself by watching footage of old races.
“I’m usually not a huge fan of the short tracks,” Self admits, “but I’m actually really looking forward to Elko. I’ve watched a couple of the past races there as well as some onboard footage and the track just reminds me so much of the places we raced out west in the K&N series. Roseville, Colorado National, I-44, Stockton, and the Vegas Bullring were all 3/8-mile tracks that were on the schedule at some time when I was running it, so those are the tracks that really formed my stock car racing roots.”
Self leads the series standings over Bret Holmes by 35 points. He will look to stay as the points leader following Elko.
Another driver who does not have any starts, but is having a breakout year is NASCAR superstar Hailie Deegan. Deegan has only competed a couple of times this year in the ARCA Series but the results have been somewhat of a disappointment for the breakout star.
Deegan has only managed to finish one race that occurred at Pocono back in June, where she started fourth and finish seventh. Her other finishes include an 18th at Toledo after being wrecked out and 12th at Madison after her engine expired late in the going. Deegan hopes to have a better outing in her limited starts this time around at Elko.
“Coming out of the gate really strong is big for me,” said Deegan. “I like to come out of the gate strong and not have to work at it to get up to speed too much. I like to make my goal for each race and then get better throughout the day. As a racer, I always want to win. But I’m still early on in my career and still learning these ARCA cars. The goal for Elko is a top five. We have a top 10 in the ARCA series, now we need a top five. Once we get that first top five then we’ll adjust to our first win. We need to set a new goal every week and then work our way into it.”
Deegan has short track experience by competing and making a lot of noise in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and East. Her best is in the West having two wins, five top fives and six top-10 finishes with 67 laps led, most of them occurring on short tracks like Irwindale, Tucson, Colorado and Douglas County.
While Self and Deegan do not have any track experience for the upcoming race at Elko Speedway, Bret Holmes, who currently sits second in points, does. Holmes has one start in his family owned No. 23 machine two years ago in 2017 where he finished fourth after starting second.
Elko is a short track where there has been some bumping and banging going around the last couple of years to determine the winner. If Holmes was put in the position Saturday night, he is not afraid to rub some fenders with the race leader, but also knows he has to keep the big picture in mind.
“I don’t mind it if it comes down to it,” Holmes said. “I own all of this stuff so it’s different when a driver owns all of the stuff. It’s more family-based and I work with our construction company and we try to make as much money as we can to come do this. I don’t think a lot of the guys we are racing against have that thought. I don’t mind it and I don’t want to outright wreck people but I don’t mind replacing some body panels.”
Like Holmes, Chad Bryant Racing driver Joe Graf Jr. has one start which came in last year’s race. Graf Jr. started fifth and finished third in the Chad Bryant owned No. 77 Ford. Despite his up and down year, he believes he can get back on track at Elko this Saturday.
“Being at the front and on the bottom,” he chuckled, “I learned a lot last year. Gus and I raced hard. Yeah, it got a little physical on the restart but I don’t think anyone expected different. You need to have tires, track position and luck to win at Elko. I’ve been waiting to get back to Elko since last year and I feel like it may be one of my best opportunities to get back in Victory Lane this season.”
While his Venturini Motorsports teammates do not have any recorded starts, the No. 15 of Christian Eckes does and he has been close to victory lane twice in his two starts. In 2017, he started fourth and finished second after leading 91 laps. In 2018, Eckes started on the pole and finished second while leading 36 laps.
“Elko has always been a track that I’ve really enjoyed going to,” said Eckes. “Grabbing the pole and finishing second last year definitely makes me excited coming back. It’d mean a lot to win there especially with the bit of a drought we’ve had here lately. All the guys on this JBL Audio team have been working extremely hard to get this year turned around, so we’re ready to go have some fun this weekend.”
Travis Braden and his family owned No. 27 also has one start at Elko, where he finished seventh after starting 11th. Braden believes, however, that Elko will be an intense and exciting short track race Saturday night.
“It’s always intense on short tracks, and this is the shortest, so you do the math,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to be pressure-filled start-to-finish. Elko tends to allow for two grooves of racing in the corners, but those tiny straightaways sure get narrow if you end up side-by side. Sparks will fly at some point. You will have to be aggressive and take risks at some point in the race if you want to go to the winner’s circle. There’s no room to breathe until you get there.”
One driver, Corey Heim, who is taking over the No. 22 Chad Bryant Racing machine for the rest of the season has no experience at Elko. Despite not having the experience, Heim will have his teammate Graf Jr. and his team to rely on for any advice this weekend. What a birthday present it would be for the now 17-year-old future prospect to win on Saturday night.
“I’m very fortunate to have a lot of people around me who have plenty of experience around Elko,” Heim added. “They are all veterans. Paul’s been here before so I know he can set up our car pretty good and then I can talk to Joe if I need help with my driving line and whatnot. Saturday will go by in a hurry – but I’m excited to see what another new track brings for me.”
Heim does have short track experience this year, finishing fifth at Pensacola and Salem, 10th at Toledo and Madison, and the last time he raced at Gateway, he finished fourth.
There will be other drivers trying to make a name for themselves like Alex Clubb, Ty Gibbs, Chandler Smith, Sam Mayer, Carson Hocevar, Tim Richmond, Eric Caudell, Dale Shearer, Brad Smith, Howie DiSavino III, Mike Basham and rookie Tommy Vigh Jr.
The racetrack in Elko, Minnesota has seen five races since its first race back in 2012. Since then, there have been five different race winners and more than likely, we will see its sixth different winner Saturday night.
Brennan Poole won the first race in 2012 for Venturini Motorsports, Frank Kimmel in 2013 for ThorSport Racing, current Truck Series regular Grant Enfinger in 2014 for Howard Bixman, Austin Theriault in 2017 for Kenny Schrader and Gus Dean who won last year’s race for Win Tron Racing in a thrilling last-lap battle for the win.
If you’re going to have a shot at the win, you’re going to need to qualify well. The last five winners have come within the top five, with the exception of two that came from the top-10 in 2013 and 2018. No one, however, has ever won from the pole position. The closest a winner has come from was second back in 2014 by Enfinger.
It will be a one day show for the ARCA Menards Series at Elko Speedway. The only practice session of the day is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. ET lasting until 3:30 p.m. ET, live on arcaracing.com. General Tire Pole Qualifying will be seen at 5:15 p.m. ET and ARCA drivers will have two laps to qualify. It will also be live on arcaracing.com.
The Menards 250 green flag flies shortly after 9 p.m. ET Saturday, live on MAVTV with live leader board on arcaracing.com.