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ARCA’s Will Kimmel on the Verge of Several Breakthroughs in 2016

True to form, Will Kimmel never stopped working on his superspeedway car, even after picking up the phone for an interview on Monday — just three days before the start of practice for the season-opening ARCA Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona.

While the Kimmel name evokes memories of championships and glory, the team operated by the father-and-son duo of Bill and Will is still very much a blue-collar entity that participates for the love of the game.

As the only full-time employee in the shop on a daily basis, Will serves a dynamic role of driver, crew chief and engineer simultaneously. He continues to get the most out of his famed no. 69 entry by running a limited schedule and only participates in the events that he feels most-equipped to win.

Through his first 91 ARCA starts, that first victory has eluded him, but Kimmel feels as though a breakthrough is looming right around the corner, regardless of the continuous struggles to simply get to the track each season.

“I feel like from a financial standpoint, we are the best we’ve been since (uncle) Frank and my dad went their separate ways,” Kimmel said. “I don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin when I feel like we’re almost there. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice tires on a given weekend just to make a full season if that means we’re going to deny ourselves a chance to win.

“We want to spend our money wisely because it just doesn’t make sense to nickel and dime our way to the race track. Right now, we’re showing up to the race track with top-5 cars, and to go full-time now as we are, we could fall to 10th to 12th.”

As it stands, Kimmel expects to run 12 complete races this season and believes that will remain the case unless someone else comes to him between now and this weekend with an offer to go full-time. Those races are Daytona, Talladega, both Poconos, Michigan, Kentucky, Chicagoland, both Salems, both dirt tracks and the road course event at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

“What would have to happen for me to run a full season is that someone would have to come up to me with the money to do it right after Daytona,” Kimmel said. “We would need to hire people to get in the shop to start preparing the cars, because while we have a little bit of time between now and the next race, it’s not a lot.

“We’ve got some good people at the shop but they’re green so we need manpower and we’re going to want to test at Salem and for Nashville. We’d want to do it right.”

For Daytona on Saturday, Kimmel believes he’s done everything as right as possible in order to break through on the biggest stage of the season. He’s driving a car that Ty Dillon and Cale Gale once piloted at The World Center of Racing and he’s put a lot of time and energy into getting race-ready for 2016.

In fact, the car is still black and Kimmel wasn’t even able to apply his usual red base on the car because he wanted to focus entirely on its performance. While he wishes he had more time to fine-tune the car, he believes he’s more than capable of winning in it.

“This car is my baby,” Kimmel said. “I’ve put more into this car that I’ve put into any before it. I’m really excited for this weekend. I take a lot of pride in our family and our heritage in the sport. The black with dayglo numbers actually traces back to the cars Dad won most of his races and championships in.

“This car pays tribute to that. It’s us. It’s who we are.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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ARCA’s Matt Kurzejewski Blessed with 2016 Opportunity

With the ARCA Racing Series seemingly poised to enter an extended period of growth, Matt Kurzejewski stands equally prepared to become the face of the tour moving forward.

There’s a great deal to like about ARCA this year, starting with the most diverse schedule in stock car racing, an expanding roster of talented drivers and the cost-conscious way in which it tries to conduct itself.

In many ways, Kurzejewski is the embodiment of the ARCA spirit.

He’s a young driver that competes for the love of the game while balancing a career away from the track. For Kurzejewski, that career is serving as director of operations at the family business, Costy’s Energy Service.

That combination of business savvy and professionalism, combined with the 2015 ARCA Superspeedway Challenge championship eventually led him to Ken Schrader Racing and a significant full-time sponsor in Menards and Ansell Protective Products.

“The best way to describe it is that it was a joint collaboration between myself, Ansell/Menards and Ken Schrader Racing,” Kurzejewski said. “It was a bunch of people coming together to make something happen and I couldn’t be more honored to drive the No. 52 for KSR and Ansell, Menards and Federated Auto Parts.”

Menards is also the title sponsor for ARCA, so driving that entry along with KSR will mean an increase in responsibility and pressure for the 25-year-old. Much in the way he inherited the sponsor from 10-time champion Frank Kimmel, Kurzejewski could be poised to inherit the role as face of the series too.

But Kurzejewski isn’t putting a lot of thought into that narrative.

He says he simply feels blessed to have this opportunity and just wants to prove himself worthy of the support by winning races and contending for the championship. That mission starts at Daytona International Speedway in two weeks as Kurzejewski, Schrader and veteran crew chief Donnie Richeson prepares to tackle the prestigious Lucas Oil 200.

“I can’t say enough good things about the people that Ken has surrounded himself with,” Kurzejewski said. “I’ve really enjoyed meeting JR Bishop and everyone at Federated — great people.”

Richeson has served as crew chief under Schrader for over a decade across a variety of disciplines and Kurzejewski already feels at home with the team that’s been assembled around him.

Kurzejewski said he only looked at the timing charts once during the entire weekend at Daytona testing in January.

“I didn’t have to,” Kurzejewski said. “I just knew we were good. That’s a rare feeling to come by.”

Even though Kurzejewski exclusively ran the superspeedways last season, he does have an extensive short track background and has made eight NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts in 2009. So in short, he doesn’t expect a steep learning curve.

“We should be okay there,” Kurzejewski said. “I even think I’m a pretty good road course racer, so I’m looking forward to New Jersey too. The small characteristics of Salem or Winchester will be tough to pick up on but KSR and Donnie have such a big notebook that I think we’re going to be just fine.”

Additionally, Kurzejewski doesn’t expect his rapidly expanding driving career to get in the way of his day job at Costy’s either. The extent of his obligations at KSR are to show up when asked, test and compete on race day.

But as a safe-guard, Kurzejewski has built a solid infrastructure back in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, should he ever need to take several days off.

“I have a great group of people that I work with that can run the business with or without me,” Kurzejewski said. “I plan to stay involved in the day-to-day operations but I’m going to stay true to my people. I’m going to try to spend as much time with the team as I can in North Carolina but I feel pretty good about striking a balance.”

And like any race car driver, Kurzejewski still dreams of NASCAR but is more than content if this is as far as he makes it in his career.

“I got to this point by racing week-to-week or season-by-season,” Kurzejewski said. “I realize that so many people have spent all of their money and time just hoping to get to this point. I don’t take that for granted. I’m so incredibly lucky and happy to be here.

“I want to enjoy this season and keep progressing. If I ever get the opportunity to move up, I’d definitely want to take it. But I feel at home here in ARCA. My focus is on 2016 and I just want to win.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Late Model Champion Shane Lee Lands Ride with WinTron Racing

Late Model veteran Shane Lee is making the move up into the NASCAR ranks.

The 22-year-old from Newton, North Carolina will be racing in three Camping World Truck Series and nine ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards races in 2016. His debut with the team will be on February 13th when he competes in the Lucas Oil 200 at the Daytona International Speedway — ARCA’s season-opening race.

“It’s very exciting to get the chance to move up from Late Models and run bigger tracks and see what we can do,” Lee told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s pretty hard to move up. We got lined up with Dwayne Gaulding and Jason White, it really helped get me up into a higher level. We’re looking forward to running Daytona.”

Lee is a former Limited Late Model champion at Hickory Motor Speedway and has won four Late Model Stock Car races throughout his career — all at Hickory. Throughout his Late Model career, he’s also made starts at Myrtle Beach Speedway and Martinsville Speedway in the Valley Star Credit Union 300, Late Model Stock Car racing’s grandest event.

Despite his wealth of experience in Late Model racing, he knows nothing can prepare him for when he hits the high banks at Daytona.

“I don’t know how much the Late Models and Daytona will compare,” Lee commented. “90 mph and 190 mph are a big difference. I don’t know what to expect until we get out on the track.”

Lee’s nine-race schedule in the ARCA series includes races at Talladega Superspeedway, Pocono Raceway, Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis along with a handful of others. He will also run NCWTS races at Martinsville Speedway, Gateway Motorsports Park, and Michigan International Speedway.

Lee recognizes acclimating himself to the cars and trucks won’t be his only challenge. Live, green flag pit stops, which are not used at all in Late Model Stock Car racing, and group qualifying are two immediate things he knows he will have to pick up on and learn to be successful.

“There’s a lot of stuff,” Lee remarked. “The biggest thing with both ARCA and the truck that I expect to struggle with is pit stops. That’s something I’m going to be new at. Group qualifying will be different. It will be interesting and fun to learn. The only place we ever ran group qualifying at is Myrtle Beach and Martinsville.”

Lee has strong expectations for himself, but his expectations come with the reality that he is new to the bigger cars he will be racing in for much of 2016.

“Hopefully we can run pretty good,” Lee stated. “We’ll be with good guys. Equipment is pretty good so we shouldn’t have any problems running with them. The draft will be the biggest learning curve, just not screwing that up.”

Throughout the season, Lee hopes to gain experience and be a contender in the ARCA Racing Series while also scoring solid finishes in the Truck Series. However, he recognizes that he has to finish races and not make too many mistakes.

“Most of it is just making sure we finish all the races,” Lee explained. “Most of it is getting approval to run other races. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be in the top-10. We should be in the top-five in ARCA. We should be running pretty good in that. Top-10 or top-15 in Trucks may be a little more difficult.”

If this season goes according to plan, Lee anticipates racing full-time in either the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2017.

“After this year, we’re looking at doing the full-time Truck or XFINITY, but it all depends on approval and sponsorship and what we can get,” Lee commented. “White Gaulding Partners is doing all the marketing stuff; they’ve done a pretty good job with that.”

While Lee is focused on NASCAR racing, he still plans to have some fun in Late Model Stock Car racing. He says he plans to run the season opener at Hickory on March 5th and hopes to make a few starts in the Championship Auto Racing Series (CARS) Late Model Stock Tour where he scored two top-10 finishes in three starts in 2015.

EMAIL ANDY AT andy.marquis@popularspeed.com

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Dirt Ace Chase Briscoe Takes Aim at NASCAR with 2016 ARCA Effort

Growing up in the racing hotbed of Indiana, Chase Briscoe idolized the likes of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne. Each Sprint Cup Series contender cut their teeth in the Midwest in open-wheel competition and Briscoe dreamed of following in their successful footsteps.

Now at 21-years-old, Briscoe has what could be his only chance to forge that path, moving full-time to the ARCA Racing Series in 2016 with NASCAR ambitions at the forefront.

Briscoe has spent the past two seasons running sprints and midgets throughout the Midwest but has only competed in about 30 events due to a lack of funding. During that time, he caught the eye of longtime ARCA team owner Kerry Scherer, who tested him in one of his cars, and ultimately gave him two starts last season.

His best came at Salem in September, where he finished fifth and impressed the entire garage, especially considering it was only his fifth asphalt start. He had finished 10th in ARCA at Lucas Oil Speedway in Indiana and had also made two K&N West starts in 2013.
By all accounts, Briscoe is a raw and underdeveloped asphalt talent but there was potential there for the taking, which Scherer and Cunningham Motorsports has done for the 2016 season — signing him for the full campaign.

“It’s the culmination of a long dream process,” Briscoe told Popular Speed on Monday. “I didn’t have much pavement experience but I got called to North Carolina and met with (Cunningham crew chief) Paul Andrews.

“We tested at IRP and it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but we showed well enough in the race. Then came Salem and we had a great run. I must have showed them something and I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to race with them this season.”

Knowing that he could contend for wins and the ARCA championship with Cunningham, Briscoe has placed the entirety of his focus on asphalt this year. The Chili Bowl Nationals next week will be his final race on dirt for the foreseeable future as he wanted to make a declaration that he was serious about pursuing NASCAR moving forward.

“Growing up in Indiana, you look at guys like Tony and Kasey and they set the model for me to follow,” Briscoe said. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to race on dirt the past couple of years but I’ve always shown an interest in NASCAR. Cunningham Motorsports is really taking a chance on a young guy like me and I want to give them everything I’ve got.”

But before he can embark on his inagural stock car campaign, Briscoe hopes to continue the momentum established over the weekend in Tulsa where he won in two divisions at the Tulsa Shootout.

Making his debut appearance in the event, Briscoe led start-to-finish to win the 1200cc non-wing feature event and followed it up later in the night to win the winged 1200cc main event. Next up for him is the Chili Bowl in the Cole Custer Haas Automation entry and it’s well-established what success there could bring him.

“The Chili Bowl can do a lot for your career, definitely,” Briscoe said. “We had to go through the alphabet soup (of heats) last year and we passed a lot of cars. That can almost do more for you than qualifying into the race and just finishing 15th.

“We’re going to have a good car and I’m just excited to be able to open the year with the chance to win so many races.”

Briscoe will also test at Daytona with his ARCA team that weekend and will be flying back and forth to Tulsa. He’s really looking forward to Speedweeks because it’s a track he’s wanted to race at every since he was a kid. That’s where every racer wants to end up at some point and I just can’t thank Kerry and the team enough.”

Once through Daytona, Briscoe expects to be challenged by the most diverse schedule in all of Stock Car racing. As usual, ARCA will promote events on superspeedways, intermediates, short tracks, road courses and on dirt.

He hopes the road course event at New Jersey will be contested in the rain, as he believes it will suit his dirt tendencies to drive on a wet track. And speaking of dirt, he’s looking forward to the races at DuQuoin and Springfield as they may be chances to capitalize on his background against drivers with mostly asphalt backgrounds.

For the first time in his career, Briscoe has security and he simply wants to make the most of it.

“I’ve never had a season start out where I know I will be racing for a championship somewhere,” Briscoe said. “To know that I will have a fast car in the Chili Bowl and a championship contending team with me in ARCA means everything.

“ARCA could be my only shot at getting into NASCAR so my focus is 100 percent on that. I’m just thankful to even be talking about it.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Michael Lira Presses Reset on Driving Career in 2016

Despite the growth of Lira Motorsports over the past season, team namesake Michael Lira hasn’t been able to totally revel in the success of his family operation.

At least, not as a driver, and not yet.

On the other hand, the Michael Lira that currently serves as “director of driver development” is beyond ecstatic. After all, the team formerly based out of Port Orange, Florida recently expanded to North Carolina while transforming its modest ARCA program into a multi-race winner.

The season ended on the highest note possible as Lira Motorsports also made its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut in November at Homestead Miami Speedway.

In that race, drivers David Levine and Kyle Weatherman finished 17th and 23rd respectively, but more importantly, completed all the laps in what was also the tour debut for both youngsters as well.

In other words, mission accomplished all around for Lira and his team.

“Our goals that night were just to make the race and finish it,” Lira said of Levine and Weatherman. “We passed those goals, especially when you consider that our drivers had never raced trucks before, and one of them (Levine) had never raced on an oval before last season.”

So while Lira is overjoyed at his first foray into Trucks as a team manager, he also wishes he could have been out there debuting alongside his ARCA buddies, Levine and Weatherman.

Despite modest success at the ARCA level, posting six top-10s in 24 starts, Lira has had to place his own career on hold due to the lack of funding needed to advance to the highest levels.

But in many ways, Lira feels it’s for the best because at 18-years-old, he probably advanced up the ranks too quickly and could use more seasoning in Super Late Models before turning his attention to big track action.

“We just needed to take a break for awhile,” Lira said of his own career. “We had fast cars this season but a ton of bad luck. But we’re building back up to me getting after it. It’s just that I missed a lot of things coming up.

“We kind of skipped Super Late Models altogether, going from Pro Lates at New Smyrna to ARCA. The guys that race ARCA are really good and it’s probably valuable for me to get in a Super more at New Smyrna, the CRA and the Southern Super Series. You can learn a lot racing against Bubba Pollard, Augie Grill and those type of drivers, so that’s where I’m at right now.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Industry Insiders Tab K&N Champion William Byron as NASCAR’s Top Prospect

Newly crowned NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion William Byron is one of the most fascinating prospects to come through the development ladder in quite some time — and according to some of the smartest insiders within the industry, Byron has the potential and tools to become a superstar for years to come.

This would have been an outlandish statement a year ago as Byron was merely in his third season behind the wheel of anything. Remarkably, Byron had only started racing in 2012, at 14-years-old, after dabbling in iRacing and attending NASCAR races with his father.

But once the Charlotte native caught the racing bug, he committed to it wholeheartedly, placing his entire focus into mastering the discipline. In order to do some, he surrounded himself with some of the best in the business, including Legends ace Doug Stevens and NASCAR Truck Series star Daniel Hemric, who both guided the youngster in his formative seasons.

What both of them discovered was a naturally talented and disciplined youngster who carried himself far beyond his years. Hemric raced wheel-to-wheel with Byron in Legends and even fielded a Pro Late Model for him in 2014 and immediately saw the potential for excellence.

“As soon as I first saw him make a lap, I knew the potential was there,” Hemric said. “But then to see him study the sport, and really apply himself the way he does, I knew then that he had what it takes to get it done.”

Byron zoomed through the ranks over the next four years, driving Legends, Pro Late Models and Super Late Models during that time span before announcing a full K&N campaign for 2015. At the time he unveiled his HScott NASCAR ride, many in the industry felt the learning curve would be steep, especially against a field that contained tour veteran Scott Heckert, Chili Bowl Nationals champion Rico Abreu and fellow Late Model standouts Kyle Benjamin, Dalton Sargeant and Kaz Grala.

And once again, Byron exceeded expectations — winning in just his second start at Greenville Pickens Speedway. He would take over the championship lead the next week at Bristol and never looked back. While Byron has always placed high expectations on himself, he never thought the accolades would pile up this quickly.

He entered the season simply wanting to win a single race and earn the respect of his peers. He did that and then some, sweeping the championship, Rookie of the Year honors and the Most Popular Driver award in his debut season.

Despite the hardware, Byron has remained humble and quick to praise his fellow competitors.

“It really means a lot to win the championship,” Byron said. “I knew this had the potential to be a challenging season just because of the driver lineup that joined the series — from Dalton who came off finishing second at the Snowball Derby to Rico, who had won the Chili Bowl. There were so many championship possibilities.

“I made some mistakes (in the season opener) at New Smyrna and thought we could have at least finished third. So we were only a little surprised when we won at Greenville, but we didn’t start thinking about the championship until later in the season because there were so many talented people here.”

Byron has also immersed himself in ARCA, making two starts this season at IRP and Kentucky in order to prepare for a future in NASCAR once he turns 18 in November. While there, he drove for Venturini Motorsports, arguably the most notable development program in the sport.

Team manager Billy Venturini has coached a wide range of prospects, including Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Brennan Poole but believes time and experience could prove Byron to be the best of them all.

“I would say that Will is at the top of that list, right there with Logano,” Venturini said. “I’ve always said that Joey was the best that I’ve ever come across and Will is right there. Erik Jones was good when I got him but he wasn’t as naturally prepared, but has improved at an incredible rate. What makes Will so remarkable is just how naturally talented he is.

“All he needs is experience at this point. Look, he’s going to make some mistakes. He spun out at Kentucky in his first (intermediate) start but he’s not going to make them twice. He’s so intelligent. He’s just smooth and smart and works so hard to make sure that he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He has the potential to be as flawless as they come.”

Venturini doesn’t issue praise easily, adding to the credibility of the top prospect.

When told of the acclaim given to him by Venturini, Byron simply said to tell him ‘thank you’ and went on to credit Billy for all the advice and perspective given to him over the past several months. Even as the industry has lionized him since winning the championship last month, Byron is always quick to commend those around him, part of the reason he’s been so successful.

Byron is a sponge and is a blended byproduct of Hemric, Venturini, Stevens and K&N owner Harry Scott whom echoed the sentiments shared by Venturini.

“He’s just a tremendous talent,” Scott said. “He obviously started later than many of his peers but he has such a sharp mind for it. He’s smart and he gets it. He’s very suave in how he races and he’s always willing to listen to and learn from the veterans.

“He takes their advice to heart and that’s how these guys grow.”

Having enjoyed success in both K&N and ARCA, the next stage of growth for Byron is in Trucks and XFINITY where the popular teenager expects to spend 2016.

“We’re close to announcing our plans,” Byron said. “I don’t know the timetable for sure but I feel like we’re making the right steps. It’s something where I feel like we can grow and still be competitive — that’s important to me. I’ve got a lot of good people around me and I’m fortunate that I can kind of hand-pick the best situation.”

No matter where Byron lands, expect him to stay true to himself. Even though the industry is expecting greatness, Byron plans to remain humble, stay focused and continue learning, because after all, it’s already taken him further than he could have ever imagined.

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2015 ARCA Racing Series Top-5 Moments and Reflection

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.

It was a reminder that the racing world needs more Mason Mitchells front and center on TV.

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.

While he’s several years away from competing in NASCAR, a star was born that day in Todd Gilliland.

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.

Tim Clagg:

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.

Charles Krall:

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.

Chris Knight:

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.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

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Enfinger All But Clinches ARCA Title in Banner Day for GMS

With a fifth-place finish in the Crosley Brands 150, Grant Enfinger unofficially clinched the ARCA Racing Series championship on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway with one event still remaining in the 2015 season.*

Sticking to the script, Enfinger also clinched on the same day that GMS Racing earned its first-ever NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory — with Austin Dillon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In all, Saturday was a statement that GMS has arrived as a weekly contender across the entire stock car racing landscape.

In addition to his duties as a driver, Enfinger is also an engineer at the GMS shop, making Saturday doubly-rewarding for the soon-to-be crowned ARCA champion.

“It’s a testament, not only to myself and how far I’ve come but everyone at the shop who played a part,” Enfinger told Popular Speed on Saturday night. “Everyone that takes the green flag at Daytona has a shot to win the champion and we have a very competitive series.

“It was a big day for us at GMS Racing. It shows how far we’ve come as an organization — a good year for us.”

Following a six-win season and the potential for one more in two weeks at Kansas for the season finale, Enfinger has certainly established himself as a force in the ARCA Racing Series. He has accumulated 14 wins in 90 starts and wouldn’t mind returning for more.

He also said there is the potential for him to return to the Truck Series in some capacity as well, a tour in which he has made six starts over three years from 2010-2012.

“It’s hard to say what we’re doing next year,” Enfinger said. “The good news is I feel like I do have options. It’s just a matter of making it a done deal. I have options for ARCA and maybe some stuff in the Truck Series as well.

“I’ve made a home at GMS Racing and I definitely want to stay here.”

*ARCA pays 250 bonus points for every five starts a team makes so technically, Enfinger will have to start in order to clinch

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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ARCA Notebook: Salem

SALEM, IN – Veteran ARCA driver Frank Kimmel has made Salem his home. Having created a successful career which started in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana, the Kimmel family has become an ARCA staple. With three Kimmel’s (Will and Frankie) in an ARCA field for the first time since 2012, the stakes were high for family bragging rights, While the young Kimmel’s, Will and Frankie, found success, the elder statesman Kimmel faltered due to a hit against the outside wall as the result of a cut tire.

“It’s a bummer, the car was really good,” Frank said before adding. “It’s cool to see all three of us run so good.”

Tires were the central focus of the race, with Hoosier’s last minute decision to limit teams to only four sticker tires forcing a quick alteration in strategy. Standings leader and race winner Grant Enfinger was among the last to pit and charged through the field to capture victory, while championship contender Josh Williams chased but came up short. After the race, even with a rear tire having lost air, Williams was one of the few drivers to praise Hoosier’s decision.

“I like it, I wish we did it at every short track,” Williams said. “I think it brings the driver out of the chassis more. You can’t just come in, put tires on, and mask it and keep going. I really like the tire thing; I think we should stick with it.”

Other News and Notes

Youth is Served

  • The beauty of the ARCA Racing Series is its variety in track and driver. At Salem, Ken Schrader became the oldest pole sitter in series history at age 60, and later fought through the field including a battle with 17-year-old Tyler Dippel, who impressed as the only Lira Motorsports entry to finish within the top five. Despite the strong run, Dippel feels he peaked too early in his first ARCA pavement start.

“We probably didn’t save enough, I think I went too early,” Dippel said. “I was saving them the whole race and just decided to go 100% just 15 laps early. Just fell back a little bit at the end there, lost a position. But overall I think we saved (tires) pretty good, my team gave me a really good car but it was my first race on asphalt in the ARCA car, so I think that was the learning curve and we’ll get ‘em next time.”

Veteran Schrader Nearly Sweeps Through Field

  • Sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments, ARCA staple Ken Schrader clawed his way meticulously but came up just short with a second place finish. After the race, Schrader was visibly upset, knowing he had a car capable of winning. It was a long night for the veteran Schrader, who despite his disappointment praised Salem Speedway for their efforts of late.

“Track was awesome, and the paving job that they’ve done on turn three and four is excellent. It was a pretty decent race to watch, we’ve got so many cars running good now, and then different tires threw everybody off.”

Fike Fades After Foray Near Front

  • It’s been a turnaround season for A.J. Fike, who saw himself leading with less than 50 laps to go at Salem after clawing through the field and pitting on lap 110. Pressured by Will Kimmel, Fike was among the most significant comers-and-goers throughout the race, believing he had salvaged a top five in his first Salem race in over a decade, eventually finishing seventh.

“Car really fell off in the last 10 laps,” Fike admitted. “I was hanging on for dear life. I was praying just to finish and not get wrecked. Come out, we led some laps, we ran top-10, first time I’ve run Salem in 11 years, I think we’re pretty happy about it.”

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Grant Enfinger Solidifies ARCA Championship with Win at Salem

SALEM, IN – @GrantEnfinger entered the Federated Car Care ARCA Fall Classic 200 at Salem Speedway knowing that he had the chance to expand on his 180 point lead in the standings with just two races remaining on the schedule, tipping his advantage in points over second place @Josh6Williams that appears insurmountable.

Enfinger, en route to his first ARCA championship, knew that tire conservation would decide the race especially with Hoosier restricting teams to just four tires for the 200 laps. While Enfinger is new to the experience of clamping down on a title, the lessons he has learned throughout his late model career strongly contributed to a clutch, title deciding moment.

“I’ve done a lot of this type of racing,” Enfinger said post-race. “I grew up running late models around Mobile and Pensacola where you’ve got to concern your tires. A lot of that went into it; we were able to conserve our tires and still run a reasonable pace. This is one of those tracks where you can push it harder, go slower, and kill your tires.”

While Enfinger charged through the pack late after getting new tires, Williams found himself marred towards the end of the lead lap and eventually finished eighth. Despite strong runs and keeping pace with Enfinger near the top five for dozens of laps early, Williams acknowledged his title chances had all but ended after Salem.

“I think we’re running for second at the moment,” Williams admitted after the race. “I don’t know if it’s possible to catch him, he’d have to have like two DNF’s to the tail end of the field two times in a row for us to even get close.”

For Enfinger, the dagger to the title hunt also proved to be a statement win, the ones that define championship drivers and teams when looking back on an entire season of work. Having rolled off the trailer without much speed in the car, Enfinger qualified 10th but used late strategy on a pair of cautions to snatch a victory.

“We unloaded and we were not good,” Enfinger said. “That’s probably the worst we’ve unloaded during practice, but the guys rallied behind us and never gave up. Fortunately, we were able to test a couple of weeks ago; we resorted right back to where we were at the test with (crew chief) Jeff Stankiewicz there. 20 laps in I felt like we had a car that could win the race.

Jeff Stankiewicz made a heck of a call back there, keeping us out at lap 110. By lap 140 I was questioning that call but as soon as that caution came out that was the blessing we needed.”