Even though COVID-19 has put a damper on a lot of people’s plans for the summer, there will be some who will still celebrate the Fourth of July Independence Day weekend. Whether it’ll be at the lake, at someone’s house, or in their own backyard.
With part of the world celebrating Independence Day weekend, the ARCA Menards Series drivers will be racing at the famed Lucas Oil Raceway on Friday July 3, just one day before the world celebration. 20 cars will take the field when the green flag flies Friday night in Clemont, Indiana for round No. 5 of the 2020 schedule.
As the entry list is short, you can still expect some great, exciting, short-track action. In fact, Lucas Oil Raceway famously known as Indianapolis Raceway Park, held numerous NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Truck Series events at one time in the past. Though, it has mainly become a track for ARCA drivers to test their talent on the rough 137.2 miles short-track. Despite many rookies being entered in the field, we preview Friday’s night race, which will be live on MAVTV.
New on the entry list this week is Hattori Racing Enterprises driver Max McLaughlin, son of Busch Series racer Mike McLaughlin. Max is scheduled to make his ARCA Menards Series debut on Friday night. With Max making his LOR debut, he’s kept busy by racing in the ARCA Menards East Series at New Smyrna and Toledo. By testing at Toledo, the Ohio track is almost similar in size, and the HRE team did some testing at Toledo to try and help get some prepared notes ahead of the race.
“We went to test after Toledo to try and improve on some things and I think we learned a lot that will help us at Indy this week,” McLaughlin said. “It looks like a place that is really racey and is pretty unique compared to the other places we run, and definitely isn’t your typical short track. The corners are really long with some progressive banking, so getting our Mohawk Northeast Camry to cut in the center of the corner is going to be huge. I felt like we were really close at New Smyrna to start the year, and I think we can have similar speed this week at Indy. The guys at HRE have put in a ton of effort on our program and it’d be great to give them another win, as well as everyone at Toyota and TRD.”
Shifting gears to the DGR-Crosley team. Hailie Deegan has one previous start at Lucas Oil Raceway, which came last August. The California native started seventh and finished fifth. Deegan has been gaining some momentum as of late, by finishing in the top 10 in all four starts. She hopes to carry that through Friday’s event.
“Lucas Oil Raceway is fun. I feel like we haven’t raced at a short track in a really long time,” Deegan said. “It will be nice to mix it up from holding it wide open a lot, having these long straightaways at Pocono, Talladega and even Daytona at the first race. I think this will get everybody back into the groove for short-track racing. That’s what I’ve been used to coming up through stock car racing, so I think we’ll have a good run there.”
Her teammate, Thad Moffitt, made his track debut three years ago in 2017, when he finished 11th barely missing out on a top 10 finish. Since then, his finishes has been up and down, where he finished 15th in 2018. However, Moffitt did not compete in last years outing. With that in mind, Moffitt is excited about short-track racing again.
“I think this track is pretty unique. I like the way we run the fence and there are multiple racing grooves,” Moffitt said. “I think the restarts can be pretty interesting at that track and I’m excited to race there with my DGR-Crosley team. We definitely need a good run and I’m confident we’ll have a fast Ford Fusion this weekend. Being back at a short track will even the playing field and with three DGR-Crosley teams there, we’ll be able to lean on each other a little bit throughout the day.”
Taylor Gray, brother of Truck Series driver Tanner Gray, looks to make his ARCA Menards Series debut this weekend. Recently, the North Carolina native competed last weekend at the Utah Motorsports Complex double header. In those two races, Gray finished fourth in the first event, and 11th in the final race. By having no starts at LOR, Gray has one start earlier this season, which came at Toledo. Unfortunately, transmission troubles forced him to retire and credited with an eighth place result. Gray will utilize Friday’s practice session to the best of his ability.
“I have a lot of confidence in my DGR-Crosley team going into my first race at Indy,” Gray said. “While I was living in Indy working on my family’s NHRA drag cars, I would always ride by the short track and now being able to race there this Friday is really cool for me. My goal for the race is to be competitive and gain experience. There is a short practice session in the afternoon, so I think coming home with a top-five finish would be great.”
Keeping on the topic of debuts, Ryan Huff continues to have a series of first in his rookie season. Huff will see Lucas Oil Raceway for the first time Friday afternoon in the short practice session. Last week at Pocono Raceway, the Virginia native finished ninth in his first outing there as well. Huff’s main goal for Friday night, will be to keep the car clean and gain a respectable finish.
“It’s another new track for me, but I just have to stay positive and work hard,” Huff said. “Andy is going to be in my ear helping me through my learning curve. Thankfully, we have practice and qualifying this weekend – so learning as much as I can about the track before qualifying is super important. Once that green flag drops, it’s just staying on the lead lap and being smart and setting ourselves for a good finish.”
Huff will be able to lean his Fast Track Racing teammates, Dick Doheny and Mike Basham for any advice he may seek.
GMS Racing will field Sam Mayer once again in the No. 21 Chevy. Mayer made his superspeedway debut last weekend at Pocono Raceway, where he found himself in contention, but ultimately finishing third to earn a top five finish. The Wisconsin native heads back to a track, he has competed at before. Mayer’s last outing came last year, where he started 10th and wound up third. He’s also made a start in his second ARCA start back in 2018, resulting in the seventh position.
“We had probably the second fastest car (at Lucas Oil) last year,” said Mayer. “We just missed it on the last pit stop. We went a little too far on the adjustment. If we hit our marks this time — and I give the correct information — (crew chief) Mardy (Lindley) is obviously going to make a really good call, no matter what, we’ll definitely have the car to beat if everything goes to plan.”
As always the norm, the Venturini Motorsports will be the team to beat, as they have drivers Drew Dollar, Chandler Smith, and Michael Self. Of those trio, Dollar is the lone one to make his track debut. Despite that, the Georgia native has been watching a lot of previous race to help gain more knowledge when race time comes, which could come beneficial should Dollar be the leader late in the race.
“Ready to finally get back to a true short track this season. Lucas Oil Raceway looks like it produces some really good racing, so I am excited to get there,” Dollar said. “I know I am going to have another fast Venturini Motorsports Toyota Camry. This is another track I’ve never seen in person, but I have been studying a lot and feel like I’ll be able to get up to speed quickly.”
Chandler Smith is the only driver out of the group to have scored a victory at Lucas Oil Raceway. Smith’s victory came last year after he started third and led just seven laps, and so far, the Wisconsin driver has a solid track record by ending up third in his first start in 2018.
“LOR (Lucas Oil Raceway) has been a good track for Venturini Motorsports as a whole in the past and I was fortunate enough to visit victory lane there last season,” Smith said. “We aim to repeat last year’s win and I am looking forward to hitting the track in my JBL Toyota Camry.”
For Michael Self, he has pretty much won every where on the ARCA circuit except LOR. He’s been close multiple times, especially in 2017, where Self finished in the runner up spot after leading 29 laps. In his first outing with Venturini, he came home a disappointing 11th, two laps down. Self has noted his results at the Indianapolis race track can be better.
“Lucas Oil Raceway (LOR) has been a track that I’ve struggled with recently,” Self said. “I had a really solid run there in 2017 and led a bunch of laps, ultimately finishing second, but since then I’ve had a really hard time getting my cars balance right for me. Kevin (Reed) has had a lot of success at LOR, so I am excited to be paired with him and see if we can get it figured out.”
Hoping to challenge the Venturini stable is the Chad Bryant Racing team, who will have 23-year old Derek Griffith behind the wheel again. Griffith comes of his ARCA debut at Pocono after finishing eighth, his first ARCA top 10 outing. Friday’s event will be another challenge for him by not having competed there in his career. Though, Griffith is a fan of short track racing and hopes that will come into his playing field.
“I am looking forward to getting back to a short track for sure,” said Griffith. “Last weekend at Pocono Raceway was great experience for myself and I look forward to getting back to a bigger track soon, but I’m focused on Friday night and the chance to put our No. 22 Original Gourmet™ Food Company Ford in Victory Lane.
“I have a lot of “studying” to do this week in watching previous races, taking notes and talking to my team, but I’m eager to get on the track and experience Lucas Oil Raceway for myself,” added Griffith. “Having the opportunity to practice and qualify on Friday is something I think we can execute well and get a good feel of where we need to be for the race. It’s going to be important for me to know how the track reacts throughout the day and with the race being run at night, I know I can give my feedback to Paul (Andrews, crew chief) and he’ll make the right adjustments that will keep us in contention.”
His crew chief, Paul Andrews knows Griffith is capable of getting the job done.
“I know we can go there and win on Friday night,” offered Bryant. “Derek is a quick learner and I think he’ll get comfortable with the track much like he did with New Smyrna and put us in a position to win. Derek is a smart racer and his instincts I think will be pivotal to our success. We’ve had fast cars all season long and I know we can continue to showcase that on Friday night.”
Other drivers scheduled to compete in the Calypso Lemonade 200 are Ty Gibbs, Bret Holmes, Howie DiSavino III, Kyle Sieg, Brad Smith, Brian Finney, and Justin S. Carroll.
In the past five ARCA races at Lucas Oil Raceway, there have been five different winners. Those include from 2019 to 2015 in this order, Chandler Smith, Christian Eckes, Dalton Sargeant, Chase Briscoe, and Travis Braden. Of those five winners, only one of them came from the pole, which was seen by Eckes in 2018. The lowest in the five race span was 12th in 2017 set by Sargeant.
On tap for Friday’s schedule includes one practice session, scheduled for 3:30 p.m./ET lasting until 4:15 p.m./ET. General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 5:45 p.m./ET with no live TV coverage.
The Calypso Lemonade 200 is slated to get underway at 8 p.m./ET live on MAVTV.