After four months of waiting, the ARCA Racing Series heads back into action with this Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway.
Drivers are expected to hit the track for their first official on-track action today with the first practice for the 80-lap race scheduled for a 4:00 p.m ET start.
A lot of storylines exist heading into this season from numerous team changes to the announcement of the impending retirement of the sport’s most winningest driver.
Here’s what you need to catch up on before the green flag for the 2016 season drops in two days.
No odds-on title favorite, but plenty of contenders to choose from…
Following the conclusion of the 2014 season, a season that featured a close title fight between eventual champion Mason Mitchell and Grant Enfinger, it was a no-brainer for Enfinger to be seen as the frontrunner for the title in 2015 with Mitchell relegated to a part-time position.
However, this year, Enfinger has moved up to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and he leaves no true favorite behind.
The most credible threats for the title outside of Enfinger last year were Tom Hessert, Josh Williams and Austin Wayne Self, with the latter also departing for the Truck Series.
This season, Hessert and Williams remain as full-time competitors and will be joined by Chase Briscoe, Matt Kurzejewski, Kyle Weatherman and the returning Frank Kimmel as the drivers to likely duke it out for the championship.
All-in-all, 2016 should provide one of the most competitive title fights in the ARCA Racing Series in recent years.
Will the record for most first-time winners in a season from 2015 be topped? Likely not.
As far as first-time winners go, I don’t see the 2016 season eclipsing the figure of 10 put up in 2015. Why? See the names I listed above.
While Williams, Briscoe and Kurzejewski are still yet to score their first-ever victory, I believe that each of the drivers I listed as a potential championship contender will take the majority of race wins this year.
Yes, you may have your NASCAR regular swoop in and take a win in at any of the companion weekends and the restrictor plate and dirt tracks should serve as wildcards, but the majority of race wins this year should be concentrated around the few contenders I named.
How will Frank Kimmel fare in his final ARCA season?
2016 marks the final season of Frank Kimmel’s historic career in the ARCA Racing Series and his first full-time season since 2014.
The current 10-time series champion has one more shot at one final championship and 20 more chances of expanding his already impressive series record of 80 race wins, but, the main question that stands is just how far can he go this year?
Whenever Kimmel is entered full-time for any given season, he has to be considered a threat, however, there are several other lingering questions regarding his team’s ability for 2016.
Kimmel’s new team, Team Stange Racing, hasn’t competed in the series since 2014 and makes their return after having middling success two years ago; however, key personnel additions of Kelly Bires [crew chief] and Kyle Shear [in-house fabricator] show that the team is committed to overhauling its program for Kimmel (and for his son Frankie in 2017.)
It’s too early to predict just how Kimmel’s 2016 effort will pan out just yet, however, by the time the series departs Toledo Speedway in May, the picture should become more clear.
Where’s the season going to be won (or lost?)
Grant Enfinger’s utter dominance of the short tracks of the series in 2015 was a major factor in his championship performance from one season ago and whoever performs well on the short tracks
Enfinger took wins at Mobile International Speedway, Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Berlin Raceway and in the Fall Classic at Salem Speedway en route to his first-ever title.
With tracks at a half-mile or shorter in distance making up eight of the 20 races that comprise the ARCA schedule, whichever driver comes out of these tracks looking the best will likely be your champion.
A driver who will be most pleased to see all eight short tracks will be Weatherman – the 2015 Calypso Short Track Challenge winner.
Although he didn’t win on a short track last season, the Roush Fenway Racing development driver finished no worse than 11th on any short track last season and recorded an average finish of 5.75 at the eight mile-and-a-halves on the circuit last year.
Who will be the surprise of the year?
It hasn’t been a particularly new trend in the sport, but it’s hard to fail to notice the number of recent stars in stock car racing that have come from dirt racing backgrounds.
Cunningham Motorsports has gone with the decision to field two full-time drivers this year with both drivers coming from the dirt racing ranks.
Briscoe, driver of the No. 77 car, has already showcased signs of brilliance on asphalt following two top-10s in both of his ARCA starts to date with the team while fellow rookie Kevin Thomas Jr. moves to the ARCA Racing Series after making his asphalt debut several months ago.
Young NASCAR stars Kyle Larson, Rico Abreu and Christopher Bell each have gotten up to speed quickly on paved tracks and one would expect the same out of both Briscoe and Thomas Jr.
Photo Credit: ARCAracing.com