Prospects, veterans and hopeful stars gear up for Daytona ARCA opener

ARCA

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

After more than four months away, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards is set to action this weekend in the Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona International Speedway.

The first Saturday of Speedweeks is known by most for the return of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for “The Clash” — an exhibition race that includes some of the sport’s best under the lights ahead of Daytona 500 qualifying. However, the first race of the week comes earlier in the day, when a group of auto racing’s brightest young prospects and talented veterans take to the 2.5-mile Daytona oval for 80 laps of racing to start the ARCA season.

From drivers looking to prove their mettle on a superspeedway and gain clearance to compete in the following week’s NASCAR races –Danica Patrick, Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez have all contested the event in recent years—to veterans and championship hopefuls looking to start their season off strong, Daytona typically brings with it the largest car counts and most diverse field in the ARCA season. In fact, the series has seen no fewer than 39 cars in any race held at Daytona over the last 32 years.

With full fields and the Cup Series paddock watching also comes the brightest spotlight.

Many drivers have parlayed Daytona success into future opportunities. Ryan Newman (2001) and Kyle Busch (2004) each claimed the event en-route to lengthy Cup stays. James Buescher won the season-opening event in 2009, only to come back three years later and take a shocking victory at the same track in the XFINITY Series (then known as the Nationwide Series).

John Wes Townley and Grant Enfinger have combined to take the last four ARCA races at Daytona, with Townley going on to win a Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) race in 2015, and Enfinger doing the same just last season at Talladega after winning the ARCA championship in the previous year.

44 drivers fill the entry list for this weekend’s 33rd edition of the 200-mile event, and with the retired Townley and Enfinger not among them the race is considered wide open for anyone to claim.

A group of NASCAR prospects including NCWTS regulars Matt Tifft, Noah Gragson and Kaz Grala will flood the ARCA field to try to earn restrictor plate experience and gain approval to compete in the coming week.

Another section of the field enters Daytona looking to prove themselves.

From recent Winchester 400 champion and 2015 ARCA winner Travis Braden to late model standout Quin Houff and fast female Leilani Munter, a small contingent of the ARCA fleet have come to Daytona with hopes of capitalizing on the opportunity to prove their worth to prospective car owners and sponsors.

Beyond the part-time prospects and hopefuls are a group of series regulars – Gus Dean, Bret Holmes and Dalton Sargeant among them – that hope to start off the season with a bang en-route to a potential championship run.

Then, there’s Bobby Gerhart.

Gerhart, 58, has never found great success in limited NASCAR starts. However, when it comes to Daytona, no other ARCA driver compares.

Returning in 2017 for his 30th-career start at Daytona, Gerhart boasts a resume that includes eight wins, four poles and 10 top-five finishes at the Daytona Beach, Fla. facility.

Gerhart indicated during the Jan. test that this season could see his final ARCA start at Daytona, and the Lebanon, Penn., native would love nothing more than to walk off into the sunset with a ninth victory, supplanting Iggy Katona (57) as the oldest ARCA winner at Daytona.

Trying to predict the winner for the 80-lap sprint is akin to trying to figure out how many jelly beans are contained in a jar at social functions – not impossible, but certainly difficult.

A look at last month’s test shows Venturini Motorsports (VMS) are the likely favorites based off speed. Gragson and VMS teammate Spencer Davis led the way in the session, with Ken Shrader Racing’s Austin Theriault (fourth) and Cunningham Motorsports teammates Shane Lee and Dalton Sargeant (third and fifth, respectively) completing the top five.

However, with a stacked field, varying strategies and the unpredictability of restrictor plate racing it’s just as likely that someone unexpected could make a trip to victory lane on Saturday afternoon.

Fans can get their first glimpse of the action from 4-6 p.m. ET on Thursday when the field heads on-track for a two-hour practice session. The field will then return on Friday for a final one-hour morning practice before qualifying at 3:30 p.m. ET ahead of Saturday’s race. Timing and scoring can be found on arcaracing.com.

The season-opening Lucas Oil Completed Engine 200 Driven By General Tire will begin at 4:15 p.m. ET. Coverage can be found on FOX Sports 1.

Schedule

Thursday, Feb. 16

4:00 – 6:00 p.m.: Practice

Friday, Feb. 17

9:30 – 10:30 a.m.: Final Practice

3:30 p.m.: Group Qualifying

Saturday, Feb. 18

4:15 p.m.: Lucas Oil Completed Engine 200 Driven By General Tire (80 laps / 200 miles)
*All Times ET

Entry List

Entry No. Car No. Driver Manu. Owner
1 0 Con Nicolopolos Chevrolet Wayne Peterson
2 1 Travis Braden Ford Travis Braden
3 2 Eric Caudell Chevrolet Wayne Hixson
4 2 Andy Seuss Chevrolet Chris Our
5 3 Mike Senica Chevrolet Wayne Hixson
6 5 Bobby Gerhart Chevrolet Bill Gerhart
7 6 Michael Lira Ford Theresa Williams
8 6 Scott Edwards Chevrolet Wayne Peterson
9 7 Codie Rohrbaugh Dodge Codie Rohrbaugh
10 9 Thomas Praytor Ford Thomas Praytor
11 10 Ed Pompa Chevrolet Andy Hillenburg
12 11 Bryan Dauzat Chevrolet Andy Hillenburg
13 15 Leilani Munter Toyota Bill Venturini
14 16 John Ferrier Chevrolet John Ferrier
15 18 Matt Tifft Toyota Coy Gibbs
16 20 Zane Smith Toyota Billy Venturini
17 22 Shane Lee Ford Kerry Sherer
18 23 Bret Holmes Chevrolet Bret Holmes
19 25 Tom Hessert Toyota Cathy Venturini
20 27 A.J. Fike Ford Don Fike
21 28 Michael Self Toyota Matthew Miller
22 30 Terry Jones Toyota Terry Jones
23 32 Gus Dean Toyota Kevin Cywinski
24 33 Justin Fontaine Toyota Kevin Cywinski
25 34 Willie Mullins Ford Darrell Basham
26 37 David LeBeau Ford Norm Hutton
27 38 Ray Ciccarelli Ford Michael Lira
28 42 Bo LeMastus Dodge Bo LeMastus
29 46 Sean Corr Ford John Corr
30 48 Brad Smith Ford James Hylton
31 52 Austin Theriault Chevrolet Ken Schrader
32 55 Noah Gragson Toyota Billy Venturini
33 58 Clint King Ford Michael Lira
34 66 Mark Thompson Toyota Bill Venturini
35 67 Cody Lane Dodge Jamie Maloney
36 69 Ricky Sanders Ford Bill Kimmel
37 71 Gene Paul Dodge Gene Paul
38 77 Dalton Sargeant Ford Briggs Cunningham
39 78 Kyle Weatherman Chevrolet Mason Mitchell
40 80 Caesar Bacarella Chevrolet Brian Finney
41 81 Riley Herbst Toyota Coy Gibbs
42 83 Derrick Lancaster Dodge Derrick Lancaster
43 88 Kaz Grala Chevrolet Mason Mitchell
44 98 Quin Houff Chevrolet Mason Mitchell

 

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