Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Michigan's New Surface the Next Challenge for ARCA Teams; Rising Star Larson, Test Leader Newberry Making Debut Starts
TOLEDO, Ohio -- ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards drivers and teams were tasked with having to adapt to new pavement Saturday at Pocono Raceway, and that's just the case again in this week's RainEater Wiper Blades 200 at Michigan International Speedway.
Led by series newcomer Brennan Newberry and three-time race winner Alex Bowman, drivers at a May open test posted blistering speeds that could certainly break Cale Gale's 2011 ARCA track qualifying record of 189.623 mph.
ARCA officials have since trimmed an inch from each car's rear spoiler and added required tapered spacers for every team in an effort to preserve engine life at such high speeds. Even with those changes, Brennan Poole set a new qualifying record at the similarly repaved Pocono track last week - by over 2.5 mph.
Practice for the RainEater Wiper Blades 200 will begin at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, and the 95-minute session will provide the first indication of how teams will perform under new conditions on Michigan's new surface, paved for the first time since 1995.
Poole, the series points leader and winner of the last two races - at Pocono and Minnesota's Elko Speedway - has tested at Michigan but never competed. He tested in a car driven to Michigan's Victory Lane by Mikey Kile in 2010 and to second place by Max Gresham last June.
"I tell you, (the track) is really fast," Poole said. "Last year, I only got 20 laps, but it's amazing how much more grip the track has. You're not out of the gas a whole lot, that's for sure. I wasn't able to flat-foot it for a whole lap, but you're really only out of the gas for three or four car lengths, then right back in it. It's crazy fun."
Before his victory at Pocono, the Texan won the pole, his second in 11 ARCA starts. He'll have the chance for a third in Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell, which starts at 10 a.m. Friday, ahead of the 5 p.m. race. The 100-lap, 200-mile race will air live on SPEED. ARCARacing.com will feature live timing and scoring coverage of all on-track events.
The test leader Newberry will not be the only driver making his series debut at Michigan. 19-year-old standout Kyle Larson, a development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, will make his first ARCA appearance after finishing eighth on the test chart for Eddie Sharp Racing in May and scoring his first win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East last week.
Larson, of Elk Grove, Calif., drove to 22 wins last year alone, including victories in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series and USAC's Midget, Sprint, and Silver Crown divisions. In September, Larson won all three USAC divisions in one night at Eldora Speedway in Ohio. He has made six stock car starts on tracks this year but all were on tracks under one mile in length, so Friday's ARCA race will be his first on a track like Michigan.
"This is my first experience on a big track like this and in an ARCA car," Larson said. "Eddie Sharp's got great cars."
Asked to compare his new surroundings in a stock car to his upbringing in other vehicles, Larson gave plenty of details.
"It's totally different," he said. "The sprint cars are really quick. The ARCA cars are a lot quicker than the K&N cars, but the stock car experience is more slow-moving. The steering is slower and the acceleration is a lot slower. In a sprint car, I can feel where everyone is around me. Here, you have to rely on the spotter a lot. It's all about learning."
Larson hopes to add the July 27 Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway to his ARCA schedule, and says he'll be in an Eddie Sharp car there if that opportunity is available.
While top-five competitors like Chris Buescher, Chad Hackenbracht, Tom Hessert, and two-time Michigan winner Frank Kimmel all seek their first victory this season and hope to chase down Poole atop the standings, another title will be on the line starting with Friday's race.
The Bill France Four Crown, depictive of the series' variety, is a separate point fund that tests drivers on four very different tracks. This year's Bill France Four Crown will include events in four different months on the calendar, and competition for the celebrated prize begins this weekend at Michigan before moving to New Jersey Motorsports Park's road course in July, the dirt mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in August, and Salem Speedway's short track in September.
2012 is the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards' 60th Anniversary Season, featuring 20 races at 18 tracks. The complete 2012 event schedule is available at ARCARacing.com.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has crowned an ARCA national champion each year since its inaugural season in 1953, and has toured over 200 race tracks in 26 states since its inception. The series has tested the abilities of drivers and race teams over the most diverse schedule of stock car racing events in the world, visiting tracks ranging from 0.375 mile to 2.66 miles in length, on both paved and dirt surfaces as well as a left- and right-turn road course in its most recent season. This year, the series visited Alabama's Mobile International Speedway and Minnesota's Elko Speedway for the first time.
Founded by John and Mildred Marcum in 1953 in Toledo, Ohio, the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) is recognized among the leading sanctioning bodies in the country. Closing in on completing its sixth decade after hundreds of thousands of miles of racing, ARCA administers over 100 race events each season in three professional touring series and local weekly events.