After a dominating performance to take the win last week at Madison, breakout superstar Chandler Smith and his team set their sights on the next ARCA Menards Series race at the newly renamed World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
It’s a bigger entry list this time around, as there are 22 racers entered hoping to drive into victory lane. Chandler Smith will be making his first ever stock car start at this track. The 16-year-old will also have extra track time as he will be competing in his second Truck Series start as well. At the end of Saturday’s Truck race, Smith will be in a stock car or racecar a mere 14 hours.
“I think it’s going to be all mental. You are going to have to want to have the drive to do it. If you are like ‘oh my gosh, I have to do that?’, if you have that attitude, you are going to suck at it,” he said. “I’ve never been to the track before. I know you need to be patient and hit your marks there. There is definitely going to be a big learning curve. I have never raced on a track like that before. I have practiced there a little on the simulator. I have a good bit of laps under me and I have a general idea so when we get there I will know what to do.”
Another driver who will be making his first ARCA start at Gateway will be his Venturini Motorsports teammate, Michael Self. Even though Self has no starts or experience at the track, he is excited to get on track Saturday.
“Gateway has definitely been a track that I’ve been looking forward to racing at,” Self says. “I love the bigger tracks, and this one is kind of unique in that it’s an intermediate track by length classification, but a short track in the sense that it’s completely flat and not particularly fast. I’m anxious to make my first laps out there and see if I can figure it out.”
In 2019, Self has three wins, seven top fives and top-10 finishes along with three poles. He looks to carry that momentum through the second half of the season.
“When I think about the first half of this season, there were definitely some negative moments that stand out, but more positive moments. There really hasn’t been a race where we’ve just struggled for speed throughout the weekend. We’ve either shown up and been fast off the gate like at Michigan, or Shannon and the guys have worked hard to figure things out and get us where we need to be, which happened at Madison. I have all the confidence in the world in those guys and look forward to every weekend with them, knowing we’re still learning about each other, but also that there’s a lot of trust and good chemistry established.”
At 19-years-old, Gavin Harlien will be making his first ever ARCA start this weekend competing in the No. 55. It will be the first of three races for Harlien and the Venturini Motorsports team.
“Making my first ARCA start is obviously really an exciting opportunity for me and one I’ve been looking forward to since our deal came together,” said Harlien. “But I’m probably most excited about sharing this moment with my sister, Presley, and running the Autism Awareness paint scheme on my Toyota Camry.”
Harlien does not have much stock car seat time, but he did get in a car last week at Motor Mile to get some testing done.
“With limited stock car experience, it was great to get behind the wheel last week and spend a day testing with the team. I was able to work with Frank Kimmel and get comfortable behind the wheel working on pit stops and restarts, two things we don’t do in the trucks. I feel good about coming into this weekend but I also know my first time out is all about gaining experience. Venturini Motorsports has a great team and I’ll have a few of the best teammates on my side at Gateway to learn from.”
Harlien will be making his other two starts at Iowa and Salem Speedway, and competing in the Stadium Super Trucks Series in the meantime.
After a disappointing finish last weekend at Madison, Chad Bryant Racing driver, Corey Heim will look forward to getting on track this weekend at Gateway and putting last weekend behind him.
“I’m still pretty frustrated about last weekend at Madison, to be honest,” said Heim. “These Chad Bryant Racing guys pour their guts out to put competitive cars on the track and for us to be taken out by someone is tasteless. But by the time the garage opens at Gateway this weekend, I need to put Madison behind me and focus on making my Gateway debut as positive as possible.”
Like Harlien, Heim tested last week as well
but at Gateway.
“I think our test went great last week, added Heim. “We unloaded with a great car and got better with each and every run. I think we’ve got a great price for this weekend’s race. Gateway is a very unique track as it is, I’ve never raced on something like it. Both corners are completely different, and you have to downshift in turns one and two, which I’ve never done before. I think a good goal for us this weekend will be a top-five.”
Heim has five starts to his ARCA Series career in 2019 with a best finish of fifth twice occurring at Pensacola and Salem.
A driver who does have experience at Gateway, however, and is possibly being overshadowed, is Bret Holmes and in the family owned No. 23 machine. Holmes has one start, which came in last year’s race where he finished 10th.
“I think we will be a lot better than we were last year,” Holmes said. “It is a very different place. It took me a while to get a hold of it. I watched a lot of videos from there. They put down some traction compound so that’s something we’ll have to get used to. We haven’t decided whether or not we will be shifting. It’s a very unique track, and I like tracks like that. It’s a cool size. It’s hard to pass at Gateway but it’s a cool place to go and make some laps at.”
Despite earning a top-10 finish, he says that it will not be comparable to the race this year.
We can’t compare this year to last year,” he said. “A lot of it has been some changes in mentality. Last year it just felt like nothing was going right for me. When you’re not doing well in racing it seems to carry over to outside of racing and things just didn’t seem to be going right. With Shane (Huffman) on board, it has really changed so many things. I don’t like to think about last year a lot. I don’t even like to watch the races from last year. It’s just a part of it. You go through people and make changes and then you get to where you want to be and you get to start over again.”
Chrisitan Eckes for Venturini Motorsports also has one ARCA start to his name and he earned a fourth-place finish after starting second in last year’s race. Eckes also led 36 laps in that race. Like his teammate Smith, Eckes will also be doing double duty by competing in the Truck Series race as well.
“I’m pretty excited about running the double this weekend at Gateway,” said Eckes. “I couldn’t pick two better teams in Venturini Motorsports and Kyle Busch Motorsports to go do it with, Gateway is one of my favorite race tracks and a place where I feel we should have won at last year for sure. I’m ready to go give it my all and hopefully end up in victory lane twice by the end of the night.”
Another driver who is looking to turn his season around and make a late race charge back to the front is Joe Graf Jr. Graf Jr. finished eighth in last year’s race in the No. 77 Chad Bryant Racing Ford.
“Madison wasn’t what we hoped, even though we came out of there with a top-10 finish,” said Graf Jr. who occupies fifth in the championship standings with 10 races remaining. “As a team, we’ve got to do a better job with execution and start running more consistently inside the top-five. Gateway would be a good place to kick off the second half with that.”
Looking to beat all those guys with experience mentioned above is KBR-Development driver, 16-year-old Carson Hocevar.
“I am really excited to get to Gateway, as it will be a whole new challenge for me with aero and intermediate style of racing. It will be difficult with the limited amount of track time and lack of experience on a track like this. I’m very confident in our KBR guys though, as well as my ability to adapt quickly and perform well with our Chevrolet.”
Hocevar has eight starts in his young ARCA career with four top fives and six top-10 finishes, along with two poles.
ARCA Menards Series drivers will have two practice sessions to gain experience this weekend.
The first practice session is slated to last 50 minutes from 11:35 a.m.-12:25 p.m. CT and the final practice will last roughly 55 minutes and will take place from 1:30 p.m.-2:25 p..m. CT. ARCA General Tire pole qualifying is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.CT. Practices and qualifying can all be seen live on Arcaracing.com.
The Day to Day Coffee 150 for the ARCA Menards Series is set to get underway shortly after 6:45 p.m. CT, 7:45 p.m. ET, live on MAVTV.