DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Sprint Unlimited may be the main event at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night but there are no shortage of storylines for the ARCA Racing Series which opens its 2015 campaign with the Lucas Oil 200 at 4:30 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.
A victory at the World Center of Racing has the potential to change lives with virtually every contender explaining that “winning at Daytona would mean everything.”
A good finish could possibly mean the difference between affording only a partial season or participating in the full season throughout the summer. For others, a start in the Lucas Oil 200 will surely provide valuable experience for he or she starts in the Truck Series or XFINITY Series racees next weekend at Daytona. In short, this particular field of 40 is one of the most compelling in the 53-year history of ARCA at Daytona International Speedway. With that in mind, here are a few storylines to follow during the race itself.
Pole-Sitter Mark Thompson, Oldest in Daytona History
Mark Thompson won the pole on Friday for the Lucas Oil 200 and at 63-years-old, became the oldest fastest qualifier in the history of Daytona International Speedway.
Thompson won three previous ARCA poles, all at Michigan International Speedway – two in 1996 and one in 1997. He surpassed Vern Slagh to become the oldest ARCA pole winner and track officials confirmed that he is also the oldest pole winner of any event in the history of the 2.5-mile speedway.
Defending Winner Enfinger Still Looking for Sponsors
Grant Enfinger won the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway last February en route to a remarkable six win-season and a second place in the championship standings split between Team BCR and GMS Racing. Despite all the success, Enfinger wasn’t even sure he would even race this season, his only job being an engineer and mechanic at GMS.
But Engfinger and GMS officials announced last week that Enfinger would return for the full season and chase his first career championship. However, Enfinger confirmed that the full season announcement may have been a little ambitious.
“There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out but everyone at GMS Racing made a huge commitment already,” Enfinger said. “I feel very fortunate to have Alamo Rental car on the hood this weekend and I think they are going to come back for a few more races as well.
“We have a good start but we need a few more things to come together before we can run for a championship.”
Needless to say, a second-consecutive victory would go a long way towards shoring up his 2015 plans.
“It would help finalize some things for sure,” Enfinger added. “It would help our confidence and more than anything else, it’s always good to win.”
Defending Champ Mitchell Still Working on 2015
Iowa youngster Mason Mitchell won the ARCA Racing Series championship in 2014, defeating Grant Enfinger by 255 points. Mitchell had hoped his championship would transition him towards a full-time Truck Series career in 2015, even making his debut at Homestead in November in preparation.
Mitchell brought in Austin Wayne Self to drive his flagship No. 98 ARCA car this season but has not been able to put a package together to compete in NASCAR. While he has some plans coming together, Mitchell is competing in the Lucas Oil 200 just to continue momentum and possibly score a marquee victory at the World Center of Racing.
“Winning here would be huge because this is the only race we have locked down,” Mitchell said. “It would be good for morale, good for the team. I have some things in the works to go Truck racing or maybe XFINITY racing. Iowa is back on the ARCA schedule and it would be huge to go there as well as it’s my home track.”
Patrick Starpoli Turning Heads
Harvard graduate and former NASCAR K&N Pro Series West winner Patrick Staropoli was in the right place at the right time and the remarkable turn of events has him racing in the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona.
Staropoli is competing in the race for Empire Racing and linked up with the squad when they needed a last minute driver for the annual December ARCA Daytona test. He was the fastest driver during that session and it led him to getting signed for the event with sponsor American RF. This is a major opportunity for the Florida native because after taking 2014 off and returning to school in 2015, this is the only race he currently has on his schedule.
He’s again capitalized on the opportunity, posting the fastest time in practice and qualifying 17th for the race.
“This is my one race,” Staropoli said. “As a Late Model driver, I just dream of going to the Snowball Derby because even running a race like the Florida Gov Cup really tests are budget. This is the only thing we have scheduled so I’m going to give it everything I got.”
Before heading to Daytona, Staropoli actually had to take a hematology exam on Thursday at the University of Miami where he is currently enrolled in its Medical School. Staropoli says while the teachers have been understanding, they are often hesitant to grant him schedule changes and make-up dates due to his racing.
In short, aiming to become a doctor and Sprint Cup driver at the same time is incredibly taxing.
“It’s a juggling act,” Staropoli said. “It’s gone surprisingly well. When I first came back to school they said, ‘you just came back from racing..’ so they didn’t want to move the test. But I explained the last minute nature of the test and they understood.
“I think deep down inside they know they have other things their students are really passionate about and encourage them to do that when they can.”
Buster Graham Looks for Redemption
Popular Louisiana part-timer Buster Graham has returned to Daytona this season, one year removed from his most competitive speedway race yet where he was running third before getting spun out by Chase Elliott, igniting a multi-car incident that ended his day.
Still paired with Ruolo Brothers Racing. Graham believes he will have just as good a shot on Saturday assuming that he can make it to the end of the race. He is still miffed about the incident with Elliott but is fully focused on making up for it on Saturday.
“I know what happened,” Graham said. “I don’t think it was intentional at all. It was racing and I just hate that it happened. The thing that gets me though is his attitude at the end of the race. He wasn’t going to worry about it. It wasn’t just me because he took out a bunch of good cars. You know who’s backing him so he’s got no worries.
“This race is just a big deal. So many of us are on tight budgets and it takes everytrghing we got to get here and getting wrecked, any year, I didn’t like that driver not worrying about or even not asking us of we were alright.”
On a positive note, Graham may have the best designed car in the race — one sponsored by Louisiana Tech.
This opportunity for Louisiana Tech and Graham was made possible through a school booster who connected the university with the Roiulo Brothers race team. The supporter wanted to help promote the university by providing the resources needed to create the Tech-themed wrap, uniforms and apparel.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to drive the No. 17 Louisiana Tech car in this race,” Graham said. “It’s an honor to represent such an outstanding, upper tier university and to sport the Bulldog colors and logos. At the end of the race, I hope to be able to climb out of the car on Victory Lane and talk up Louisiana Tech. We are going to do our best to make the Bulldogs proud.”
Thomas Praytor Requires New Engine, Perseveres
Thomas “Moose” Praytor has entered the 2015 Lucas Oil 200 in his own family team based out of Mobile, Ala. and opened the weekend by blowing a motor in Friday practice. A quick call to Roush Yate Engines however put the team back on track.
Praytor announced that he would return full-time for a third straight season and making the grid was a testament to their dedication, given the adversity the new team faced in practice.
“A tremendous amount of effort from our friends at Roush and Walley Finney making a middle of the night road trip to make it happen,” Praytor said. “I just knew we were done but with friends like we have incredible things keep happening for our race team.”
Frank Kimmel Pairs With Former Rivals Venturini Motorsports for 2015
Short Tracker Daniel Hemric Prepares for Truck Series with ARCA Start
The Lucas Oil 200 will be live today on Fox Sports 1, for the first time live on MRN Radio and live timing and scoring on www.arcaracing.com.
Lucas Oil 200 Starting Lineup
- Mark Thompson
- Cody Coughlin
- Tom Hessert
- Brett Hudson
- Clay Campbell
- Daniel Suarez
- Blake Jones
- Will Kimmel
- Sean Corr
- Leilani Munter
- Frank Kimmel
- Scott Sheldon
- Grant Enfinger
- Bobby Gerhart
- Matt Kurzejewski
- Tyler Audie
- Patrick Staropoli
- Austin Hill
- David Levine
- Buster Graham
- Daniel Hemric
- John Lowinski-Loh
- Mason Mitchell
- Brad Smith
- Ed Pompa
- Josh Williams
- Austin Wayne Self
- Terry Jones
- Bo LeMastus
- Garrett Smithley
- Thomas Praytor
- Karl Weber
- Sarah Cornett-Ching
- James Swanson
- Donnie Neuenberger
- Bobby Hamilton Jr.
- Bill Catania
- Cole Powell
- Barry Fitzgerald
- J.J. Pack