The ARCA Racing Series is set to conclude its 63rd season on Friday with the Full Throttle S’loonshine 98.9 at Kansas Speedway.
A year removed from his breakout season, in which he won six times but finished second in the championship standings, Grant Enfinger sealed the deal in 2015 and will officially clinch the title by simply taking the green flag on Friday night.
Enfinger was even more dominant this season, having won six races with one still remaining and a 6.7 average finish in which he also won his second straight season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.
With a new spec engine package, powered by Ilmor, and a new composite body shared with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, ARCA has enjoyed an exciting and successful season, full of parity and stops at some of the most storied tracks in the country.
The 2015 season also saw the emergence of Josh Williams as a full-time championship contender, the debut of young guns like Todd Gilliland, Travis Braden and William Byron, plus the continued legacies of veterans Frank Kimmel and Ken Schrader.
All told, it was a great season and here are the top-5 moments from the ARCA Racing Series in 2015.
Herr’s Chase the Taste 200 at Winchester
If we’re being honest, there’s never a bad race at Winchester Speedway in Indiana and the Herr’s Chase the Taste 200 was no exception. In a reversal of fortunes from 2014, the Mason Mitchell Motorsports No. 98 car was chasing down defending winner Brandon Jones in the closing laps. Where last year, Jones made a last lap bump and run on Mitchell, current driver Austin Wayne Self used a late shove to get around Jones and take MMM to its first victory of 2015.
Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis
The ARCA event at the former Indianapolis Raceway Park always feels nostalgic, serving as a reminder of what the Brickyard 400 weekend once felt like before NASCAR moved the XFINITY Series to the big track in the Circle City.
But even without the bright lights and big names of NASCAR, ARCA put on a show deserving of the weekend with its most star-studded short track entry list of the season. Eventual NASCAR K&N Pro Series champion William Byron dominated most of the evening but was beat on tire strategy by the debuting CRA Super Series champion, Travis Braden, who came back from one lap down on new tires to steal the checkered flag.
The field also contained JJ Haley, Brian Keselowski, Chase Briscoe and Matt Wallace in one-off efforts. It was truly a spectacular night with a surprise finish that highlighted the best of ARCA in 2015.
Troop Aid 200 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville
The ARCA Racing Series returned to historic Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville for the first time since 1992 and delivered a show that harkened back to the 1980s when the venue hosted Winston Cup racing. As it does for Super Late Model racing, Nashville featured side-by-side racing throughout the field, and a fierce battle for the lead between the likes of Enfinger, Williams and Kyle Weatherman.
Ultimately, Enfinger took the top spot, accomplishing a life-long dream of competing and winning at Nashville on the same night.
#ThisIsMySpeedway 150 at Iowa Speedway
Despite winning the ARCA Racing Series championship in 2014, Mason Mitchell was forced to take a back seat in 2015 in order to manage his race team while searching for the funding to compete in the NASCAR Camping World Trucks or XFINITY Series full-time by 2016.
The time off only increased his hunger and lust for success and his victory in front of his home crowd in Newton, Iowa, was one of the brightest spots in all of racing this season. Mitchell is arguably the most visibly passionate and charismatic prospects in the entire industry and showed during his post-race celebrations. He celebrated in the grandstands and proceeded to wax poetic in the media center about his desires to become the best in the world.
Menards 200 Presented by Federated Car Care
The Menards 200 at Toldeo Speedway provided perhaps the most surprising and awe-inspiring ARCA finish of the season. Making his ARCA debut two days after his 15th birthday, Venturini Motorsports prospect Todd Gilliland had consistently run near the top-5 all afternoon at the Ohio half-mile, but found himself in contention on a restart with 20 laps to go.
A dominant Grant Enfinger stalled as the leader off the reset, causing Austin Wayne Self, Frank Kimmel, Bubba Pollard and others to crash into him. When the dust had settled, Josh Williams found himself in the lead with only Tommy Hessert separating Gilliland from the lead.
The 15-year-old, who had only one Late Model Stock Car victory to his resume, methodically picked the two veterans off. The Victory Lane was one of the most emotional of the year as both David and Michelle Gilliland were in attendance to celebrate with Todd, alongside car owners Bill and Billy Venturini.
THE VOICES BEHIND ARCA
The ARCA Racing Series enjoyed a significant increase in media coverage this season, anchored by veteran reporter Chris Knight and radio/television personalities Tim Clagg and Charles Krall. Their favorite moments from 2015 can be enjoyed below.
The biggest ARCA story in 2015 has been the ARCA Ilmor 396 engine. The engine has proved to be a huge equalizer in the series, especially for smaller teams. It’s allowed drivers like Travis Braden and Matt Kurzejewski to be competitive and be able to compete for wins. The engines had very few problems for its first year on-track.
The fact that we had 10-first-time winners was also significant.
The Series has seen the most first-time winners since the 2010 season when 12 drivers earned their first win. It’s just a testament to tough the competition has been this year.
And let’s talk about Josh Williams for a second. I always knew Josh had the potential to be a star and this year he’s proved it racing full-time for the championship. His family owned team has competed this year with a shoe string budget and gone head to head with the big teams in the series. While Josh hasn’t won a race it truly is impressive to see what he’s done this season.
You have to start with Todd Gilliland’s improbable win at Toledo. He had just met ARCA’s age limit two days previously and found himself in contention to win when leader Grant Enfinger found trouble.
I’m surprised Ross Kenseth’s win at Michigan hasn’t been brought up yet. Ross put his name on the radar of many teams with a strong win on one of the fastest tracks on the tour. He backed it up with a solid run in his only other series start at Kentucky when he finished fourth.
The entire day at DuQuoin is a favorite of mine every year. The series’ two state fair appearances are what makes it unique. A condensed schedule of practice, qualifying and then a 100-mile race all in the space of four hours make them very special.
DuQuoin’s rural location and our unique broadcast location in turn one always make for a memorable event. Grant’s second straight DuQuoin victory made him a virtual lock for the championship.
And then, on a personal level, the Winchester race was hard to top. My first appearance on national television as pit reporter for CBS Sports Network was something I’ll never forget. The warm reception by the entire garage area and the wave of nice comments from friends were the culmination of a dream that started when I was Amy East’s pit spotter back in 2001 and 2002.
I have to start with Mason’s victory at Iowa. The pressure to perform in his hometown with a new sponsor can’t be understated. Battling (Kyle) Weatherman, who looked like a lock to win, until that late caution and then scratching and clawing his way to the lead on the restart was pretty thrilling.
Toledo was exciting too. Enfinger looked like he had another win in the bag and then, BOOM, issues with the caused a massive wreck on the backstretch and opened the door for Todd to win.
And then there was Talladega. Bake who? Blake Jones benefitted from Tommy Hessert’s misfortune to clinch his first ARCA win in his just his second start. And of course, the work of Grant Enfinger at the beginning of the season is hard to overlook, winning the first three races of the season for a second straight season.
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