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ARCA Preview: Daytona 200 at Daytona

The 2023 ARCA Menards Series season is upon us. Daytona International Speedway hosts the season-opening Daytona 200, an 80-lap race to begin the 20-race campaign.

For the first time since the 2017 season opener, ARCA has a 40-car field.

Venturini Motorsports is the team to beat at the 2.5-mile superspeedway as the organization has won five straight races there. Additionally, the team won the road course race there, too, so it truly is the best when ARCA visits Daytona Beach.

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“They’re always very strong at the superspeedways cause the superspeedways are one of those things that you have to have other people and you have to work together with other people,” Gus Dean told The Rowdy Maglite Show. “But you really can’t trust anyone at the same time where the Venturini [team] is a little bit different.

“We have four teammates and it’s known going into the race that the four teammates, we won’t race each other until the last lap. We’re going to stick together and we’re going to teammate race the entire race and that’s how, in my opinion, Venturini has been able to dominate the superspeedways in the past. They’re one of the only teams with enough cars in their stable to be able to pull off something like that.”

In the ARCA test session at Daytona in January, all four Venturini drivers drafted together to earn the top four fastest lap times on the leaderboard.

Of the four, Dean is the most seasoned superspeedway driver. He has one victory at Talladega Superspeedway plus six ARCA starts at Daytona. Of those six, Dean has one top five and one top 10, a fifth-place finish in the 2022 edition.

“I’ve always had great runs at Daytona,” Dean said. “I think I’ve been taken out leading Daytona on the last lap three times and I think I’ve been in the top three at Daytona a few more times than that when I’ve been taken out very late in the race. You know, I’ve had some tough luck at Daytona for sure but I definitely love the superspeedways and the superspeedway style of driving.

“I do feel like I have a slight advantage as far as seat time goes. There’s a lot of rookies in the field and not to make myself sound any older than I feel, but I feel like have more experience than 90% of the drivers that are going to be out there with us on a superspeedway.”

The lone full-time Venturini driver, Jesse Love, is making his ARCA superspeedway debut. Nevertheless, his crew chief Shannon Rursch has four ARCA superspeedway victories, including the last two at Daytona with Corey Heim.

The No. 20 has won three of those five Venturini Daytona wins, so Love will have a fast racecar. To boot, he was third quickest in that practice session, only 0.01 seconds behind.

The two women drivers, Amber Balcaen and Toni Breidinger, both ran full-time in 2022 en route to sixth and seventh place points finishes, respectively. In the Daytona test, they wheeled their Toyotas to the top, a historic accomplishment for the duo.

In his second full-time season, Greg Van Alst is hungrier than ever for his first-ever ARCA trophy. He would love for it to be at Daytona.

“I love everything about Daytona,” Van Alst told ARCA Racing. “This place is so special to me for a lot of reasons, including our accomplishment last year. Thankfully, we haven’t had to do much to our superspeedway car over the last year other than make the necessary tweaks to get ourselves ready for the test.

“Surprisingly, our 2021 car was better than the car we had in 2022. I’ve also learned a lot about these cars and what we have to do while building and preparing them.”

Van Alst is debuting a new paint scheme on his No. 35 too.

“I feel like we are bringing the best piece we have ever had,” Alst continued. “With that said, we will be looking for the feel we had in the car in 2021. I’ll know when I feel it […] we will be a team on a mission next month [for the season opener ]and nobody should take us lightly.”

Christian Rose parlayed his seventh-place ARCA Menards Series East finish into a full-time main series ride with AM Racing. Rose wound up with a 31st-place DNF in the 2022 ARCA Daytona race and he’s eager to remedy his performance.

“It’s been business as usual,” Rose told GRID Ranking contributor Casey Campbell. “Fine-tuning, going back and looking at what we can do better, what I can do better, and how to put our best foot forward cause we’re running for a championship, so to go down to Daytona and make a statement will be great but also coming out with points.

“We’re wanting to come out there with the car in one piece and do our job and make sure we come out and don’t wind up 30th and putting ourselves so far back right out of the gate.”

If Frankie Muniz has his No. 30 in the middle of a three-wide group, there will be plenty of “Malcolm in the Middle” jokes. Nevertheless, the actor-turned-racecar driver wants to prove he belongs in this full field.

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Although he only participates in ARCA on a part-time basis, Willie Mullins has been a force to be reckoned with on superspeedways, with one top five and three top 10s in his 11 starts. The highlight of those was his runner-up result in the 2018 Daytona event, one shy of his first career win.

“We’re just hoping that no mistakes happen and we get to have a good clean race and try to have a solid top five,” Mullins told Frontstretch. “Every year we’ve gotten better and we’ve finished second, had a lot of top 10s there. We go there and try to compete for a win now. There’s only so many times you can show up to the same track and not have a win. So, it’s about due for us.

Mullins is also fielding Brayton Laster in the No. 03. The duo will have sporty paint schemes for the race.

In his ARCA debut in this race one year ago, Laster finished 13th. Mullins is confident Laster can best that performance.

“Contend for a solid top five. His car is the one I finished second with in [the] 2018 [race] so we’re excited to take that car back and do the same thing.

“He doesn’t have much experience yet with superspeedway racing so we’re hoping he makes good decisions. That’s how you have good success there is good decisions at Daytona so that’s what we’re hoping for and hopefully, he can get through any trouble that comes up and have a good finish.”

Amazingly, of those 40, only Dean and Love have an ARCA win on their resumes. The rest are left hungry for their first trip to victory lane.

Ultimately, Mullins believes the five entries to beat are the four Venturini drivers and the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18, piloted by Connor Mosack.

“And then all the independents are also trying and just as hungry as I am for a win,” he continued. “We’re all trying to do the same thing and trying to come out of there with success. “It is always challenging there when you show up with that many cars and you’re going to have a lot of good cars there to compete against. So that’s why qualifying is one of the most important situations we have.”

Qualifying will take place on Friday, Feb. 17 at 1:30 p.m. ET. Then the 2023 ARCA season gets underway with the Daytona race on Saturday (Feb. 18) at 1:30 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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Auto racing is one of the few sports where your genitals don’t matter. Opportunity is the bigger issue. Glad they are in the field, but if they aren’t with a good team, then that tarnishes all women that try to move into the larger series. Danica was in a decent car but was in over her head. As long as they earned their way in and aren’t there because society says they should be there.

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