After well over a month off, the ARCA Menards Series makes its debut at Phoenix International Raceway this Friday night for the second race of the season. Even though the track will be new to ARCA, many drivers who are entered in this race have already competed on this circuit in some sort of fashion. Currently, just 25 cars are on the ARCA Menards preliminary entry list.
Despite Phoenix being a new track to the ARCA Series, Venturini Motorsports has four starts here including a start in the NASCAR Southwest Tour and one start in what was then, the NASCAR SuperTruck Series 25-years ago. The most recent start for the team came in 2011 when Auto Club winner Alex Bowman had a seventh-place effort that year.
However, this year, VMS drivers Chandler Smith, Drew Dollar and Michael Self will try to tackle the one-mile speedway located in Avondale, Arizona.
VMS driver Drew Dollar has one start under the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Series that came last year. Dollar started fifth and finished 18th due to a crash on Lap 95. The result may not show it, but Dollar claims this track is to his liking.
“I am ready to get out to Phoenix Raceway this weekend and get back into my No. 15 Toyota Camry,” Dollar said. “I was able to race there once last season in the ARCA West Series and learned a lot about the track. Phoenix (Raceway) is definitely one of my favorite tracks and one of the races that I have really been looking forward to.”
One driver, however, is making his 2020 racing debut and that’s Talking Rock, Georgia native Chandler Smith. Smith has just one start at Phoenix that came in the Truck Series last year, where he finished third last November.
“I am really looking forward to Phoenix this week and kick-starting my 2020 race season,” Smith said. “Running the truck race there last year helped prepare me for Friday night’s race and I am excited to get back in my No. 20 JBL Audio Toyota Camry and start back with my Venturini Motorsports team.”
Rounding out the VMS stable is veteran Michael Self. It’s been since 2013 that Self made his last start there. That year, he finished ninth after starting third. Although he does have a win which came in 2012.
“Phoenix is such a special track to me for so many reasons,” Self said. “It’s not just a track that I’ve won at, it’s the track where I learned how to big-track race. Early in my stock car career I really struggled there because I just didn’t know what to do on an oval that size. I specifically remember sitting down with my old West crew chief Steve Portenga after a bad run there during the 2012 spring race and talking through the technique of driving there.
“After he explained how he used to drive the track it seemed like things started to click for me. My driving style changed everywhere, and I won my first K&N West Series race not long after that and followed it up with my win at Phoenix (Raceway) in the fall of that same year. After that, I loved it and couldn’t wait to get back. I really have been waiting seven years to race there again.”
Ryan Huff is back in the No. 10 Fast Track Racing Team owned by Andy Hillenburg. Huff made his series debut at Daytona last month with a respectable 21st place finish. This weekend will be another new challenge for the Virginia native, but Huff is just lucky to be there.
“I’m very thankful for this second opportunity to race with Fast Track Racing this weekend at Phoenix,” said Huff. “We were making good strides during the race at Daytona before mechanical issues sidelined us during the race. This weekend, I want to go to Phoenix, continue to learn these cars and finish what we started at Daytona.”
With Friday being his first start at Phoenix, Huff will have practice time but he has noted that he’s watched footage to gain more knowledge about the track.
“Of course, we’ll utilize practice on Friday to our ability to get us a good setup for qualifying and then the race,” Huff said. I think we’ll see a difference the way the car handles – practicing and qualifying during the race and running the race under the lights. We just have to do a good job on keeping up with the balance of our car and hope when it comes to the closing laps we’re contending for a strong finish.”
Not new to Phoenix is upcoming star, Hailie Deegan. Deegan has one start at the track that came last year where she finished fourth after starting 17th. The Arizona native hopes to have another stellar performance this time around but says you have to keep your eye on restarts.
“Phoenix is really fun,” Deegan said. “I’d say the restarts are the most fun. You can be four-wide going into turn two and it gets sketchy sometimes. It’s a place where a driver can make up for what the car is doing and kind of technique it a little bit, which I think with DGR-Crosley having a good run there last year they had a fast car. I know they didn’t get the finish they wanted, but I’m excited to go back there with a good Toter Ford Fusion, a good setup and a good team. Hopefully, all that leads to a good finish.”
Deegan’s teammate Tanner Gray is also back in the field for his second ARCA start of the season. His only career start came last November, where Gray finished 17th, one lap down in the DGR camp.
“I’m excited to be back in the ARCA car and working with Blake (Bainbridge) and the 17 team again this weekend,” Gray said. “We have a couple of weeks off on the truck side, so it’s always nice to be able to stay in the car and get some experience at tracks that we will be visiting later in the season. I raced at Phoenix last fall in the Truck Series, and we really struggled as a whole. I feel like I have a better handle and more success on the mile-and-a-half tracks right now. It’s definitely a good thing that I can pick up some extra track time and get some more experience on the shorter tracks, especially knowing that Phoenix is the season finale in the Truck Series this year.”
Sam Mayer has been on a roll this season under the ARCA brand, winning on the West and East side. Even though this will be his first ARCA start this year, the GMS Racing driver made one start last year at Phoenix where he had a solid run by winning the pole and finishing second after leading 63 laps.
“I feel really confident heading into Phoenix with GMS,” Mayer said. “Last time we were there we had the fastest car, and I feel like we’re going to be like that again. I’m excited to have the opportunity to go three-for-three in 2020.”
Mayer also has one Truck start to his name as he finished 19th.
On Friday night, there will be many new drivers making their first-ever start. This rings true for Chad Bryant Racing driver Christian McGhee who will pilot the No. 22 in his first ARCA start.
“What an unbelievable opportunity for me to be apart of the Chad Bryant Racing team this weekend at Phoenix,” said McGhee. “This is a great chance for me to make some noise in the ARCA Menards Series with one of the strongest teams in the series. I’m hoping that we can have a strong performance together on Friday night in what is expected to be a very stacked field of race cars.”
McGhee continued, saying that the team had some great performances at Phoenix last year.
“The Chad Bryant Racing cars were fast last fall at Phoenix and most recently dominated the ARCA Menards Series East race at New Smyrna, so I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel and driving some of the best equipment out there,” he said. “I do realize that there is going to be a learning curve for me a little bit – at least at first getting used to the car but hopefully with guidance of Paul (Andrews) and Chad (Bryant team owner) we can get up to speed quickly and keep ourselves in the headlight throughout the race.”
“Obviously, we’re going to Phoenix to win but I think if we leave there with a top-five finish – no one would complain about that either. I just can’t wait to get to the race track.”
With all that said, other drivers trying to compete this Friday night include Armani Williams, Chase Cabre, Tim Richmond, Nick Sanchez, Tom Berte, Lawless Alan, Gio Scelzi, Zane Smith, Ty Gibbs, Jesse Love, Bret Holmes, Howie DiSavino III, Thad Moffitt, Takuma Koga and Gracie Trotter.
Friday’s race is scheduled to be the first under the Sioux Chief Showdown championship. The rest of the schedule includes Iowa, Gateway, Bristol, Memphis, Salem, Elko, Lucas Oil Raceway, Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen.
It will be a one day show as normal for the ARCA Menards Series at Phoenix International Raceway.
The one and only practice session takes place at 10 a.m. MT/Noon ET, with no live TV coverage. Qualifying is set for 2:30 p.m. MT/4:30 p.m. ET. The General Tire 150 is scheduled to get underway shortly after 5 p.m. MT/6 pm. CT/7 p.m.ET, live on Fox Sports 1. More coverage throughout the day can also be found on arcaracing.com.