The ARCA Menards East Series action returned to the track last Saturday at Toledo and the ARCA Menards Series is set to return this Saturday at the 2.66 mile Talladega Superspeedway, after three and a half months off from the track.
Just 21 cars are expected to take the green flag at 1 p.m./Central time and some drivers have not been able to race since March at Phoenix Raceway.
For Venturini Motorsports, the team is bringing three of its normal drivers down, hoping to take another win for 2020. One of them, Michael Self, has surprisingly not scored a victory yet at Talladega despite being close multiple times. Self has just two starts at the superspeedway and earned a best finish of third in 2018 when he led 21 laps in the event.
“I can’t believe it’s finally race week again,” Self said. “I feel like it’s been forever since we’ve been on track and I know I speak for everyone on the No. 25 Sinclair Oil, Champion Power Equipment Toyota team when I say we can’t wait to get going again. With that being said, we’ve got to go in and be smart and try to execute just like we did at Daytona (International Speedway). I’ve been fortunate to have some solid top-five runs at Talladega, be we have to be patient and not force anything and play whatever card we’re dealt to try and keep things clean and do it again.”
As for his teammates, Ryan Repko and Drew Dollar, who are both rookies will be making their first Talladega start. However, Dollar and Repko have made starts at Daytona earlier this year, where Dollar finished third and Repko was regulated to a 22nd place finish after a crash took him out at the halfway point.
“I’m excited to finally get back in the ARCA car and get back to work with my Venturini Motorsports team,” Dollar said. “Talladega (Superspeedway) is a race that I’ve been looking forward to since I ran at Daytona (International Speedway) earlier this season. Shannon (Rursch) and the team brought an amazing car to Daytona, so I know our Toyota Camry will be fast this weekend. I’m confident about getting back on trac and competing for the win.”
“Talladega Superspeedway is one of the tracks that I’ve been looking forward to because of its rich history within our sport,” Repko said. “I am hoping I can add to that history this weekend with my Venturini Motorsports team and our No. 20 Toyota Camry.”
As for DGR-Crosley, the same can be said for most of its drivers who will make their first Talladega start this weekend. Hailie Deegan almost pulled off the upset at Daytona in February where she finished second. Deegan notes she enjoyed for her first Daytona start and looks forward to making another superspeedway start.
“After Daytona, I didn’t realize how much fun superspeedway racing was going to be,” Deegan said. “I really loved it. Everyone always talks about how not fun and boring it is, but I had so much fun. It think having a good car made it a lot more fun too. Racing is always better when you have a good car! The guys at DGR-Crosley gave me a really good Ford Fusion to work with, so that always makes it a lot easier, a lot more fun and creates a lot of positive energy. They’ve been giving me really good stuff and I think that we can just go out there and hopefully expect to have another good run. I’ve been waiting to race for way too long, so hopefully we can get back to racing, have some good finishes and get the season back on track.”
Tanner Gray will be back in the ARCA car this weekend, sporting the No. 17 Ford Performance machine. The New Mexico native has some experience racing at superspeedways. After all, he made one ARCA and Truck Series start at Daytona. Unfortunately, an oil leak regulated and took Gray out of contention to a 16th place position, just 10 laps shy of the finish. On the Truck side, he did not find much luck there either, as a crash took Gray out and placed him 23rd. Even though, those finishes may not show what Gray is capable of, he is excited to get back in the ARCA car.
“I’m excited to be back in the ARCA car and working with Blake (Bainbridge, crew chief) and the 17 team again this weekend,” Gray said. “We have a weekend off on the truck side, so it’s always nice to be able to stay in the car and get some experience at tracks that we will be visiting later in the season. I learned a lot at Daytona in February, so I’m looking forward to another superspeedway race. I’ve never been to Talladega, but I’ve been watching film with my spotter (Kevin Hamlin) and listening to his advice. Thad (Moffitt) ran there in the ARCA race last year, so he will be a good resource too. Hopefully the three of us (teammates Moffitt and Hailie Deegan) can work together throughout the race and all end up fighting for the lead at the end.”
Thad Moffitt has just one start at the superspeedway, which came in last years race. The North Carolina native finished 25th after an oil leak ended his day early. However, at Daytona, Moffitt was able to place the No. 46 Ford fifth in the running order.
“I’m really excited to get back to racing,” Moffitt said. “I felt like we had a lot of positive momentum after the first two races and then everything kind of stalled out with the Coronavirus. I think that we can still carry that momentum and confidence into Talladega. I like the fact that we are taking three cars again and I think we (DGR-Crosley teammates Hailie Deegan & Tanner Gray) will work very well together. I think we have shot for sure to win this race, and if not, run in the top five, or top 10.”
Someone who does have experience more than some of the field is Gus Dean, who has four starts including one win that came back in his first outing in 2016. Since then, his best finish has been six (twice, 2017 and 2019). Dean’s team has managed to lead 25 laps in four of those starts, which has earned him a average finish of 6.2.
“I feel very blessed to have another opportunity to come back to Talladega and race and try and get another ARCA win,” said Dean. “I’ll never forget April 2016, but its time to make new memories with new people in 2020 and I hope we can do that on Saturday. I always run well at the superspeedway tracks, but Talladega has certainly been kinder to me over the years. I’ve been super blessed to drive fast race cars and have great spotters and teams who have put me in the same position year after year.”
Jason Kitzmiller and the No. 97 Codie Rohrbaugh own team are set for another superspeedway start in 2020. Kitzmiller recently competed at Daytona, but engine troubles on lap 11, forced the team to retire from the event and was credited with a 32nd place finish. This time, the West Virginia native is ready for Talladega, but notes it will be a fast schedule with just a one day show and not much track time to get suited.
“Pretty thankful to Codie, Doug and the entire CR7 Motorsports team for working hard to put this car together for this weekend,” said Kitzmiller. “It’s no secret that Daytona didn’t go as we hoped it would, but Talladega is another race full of opportunity and I hope we can execute on that. There was a lot of time to prepare for everything in Daytona with the open test and all, but Talladega is going to be really quick with a short practice and then the race.”
Normally, Chad Bryant Racing, is the team to beat at superspeedways fielding a two car team. For Saturday’s event, Paul Andrews is fielding just one car, which will be the No. 22 driven by Brandon Lynn. Lynn brings superspeedway experience to the team, as five of his 11 starts came at Talladega. Most recently, Lynn competed for Venturini Motorsports the last two times and earned a best finish of third in 2019 after qualifying on the pole. With that said, Lynn hopes to bring those competitive finishes to Chad Bryant Racing on Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve been ready to get to Talladega,” said Lynn. “I’ve been staying busy with work but have been checking in with the team and doing what I can to prepared myself for the race on Saturday. Honestly, I just feel lucky to be able to race this weekend at Talladega considering all that has transpired in 2020. I feel like I have some unfinished business at Talladega, and I would like to finish what I started last year in a couple weeks. I know the circumstances will be different with limited on-track activity – but I think the years of experience between myself and the team will pay off.”
As for other notable drivers, they include Riley Herbst in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Bret Holmes in the No. 23 Chevrolet, Con Nicolopoulos in the Wayne Peterson Racing entry, Tim Richmond in the No. 06, Eric Caudell in the No. 7, Sean Corr in the No. 8, Tommy Vigh Jr in the No. 01, Willie Mullins in the No. 11, Ed Pompa in the No. 12, Brad Smith in the No. 48, and Scott Melton in the No. 69. All have made at least one start at Talladega.
Ryan Huff, in the No. 10 Andy Hillenburg Toyota, is another driver who will also be making his first start Saturday.
In the past five races, there have been five different winners. Those include Blake Jones in 2015, Gus Dean in 2016, Justin Haley in 2017, Zane Smith in 2018, and previous race winner Todd Gilliland in 2019.
Toyota has won the last three races dating back to 2017. Overall, they have earned six wins, with their first victory coming in 2007 with Michael Annett. Other manufacturers, who have won include Buick, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Ford, and Dodge.
This race weekend was originally scheduled for April, but COVID-19 pandemic altered those plans, which saw the race shifted to June. And with that, the schedule is condensed to limit overexposure.
Originally, there was going to be no practice sessions. However, series officials, have decided to grant teams one practice session that is slated for 30 minutes, lasting from 10-10:30 central time. There will be no group qualifying as qualifying is based on random draw. Drivers will report to their cars at 12:50 p.m./Central with the green flag scheduled for 1 p.m..
As there will be no qualifying and limited track time, the General Tire 200 will be split into two segment, allowing teams to have time to make adjustments on their cars. The halfway break which will signify the segment, is expected to occur on lap 38.
The General Tire 200 can be seen on Fox Sports 1.