Through two races in the 2023 ARCA Menards Series, there have been two different winners, both earning their first career wins in the process.
Most notably, excluded from those winners is Jesse Love, who is widely considered a title favorite for Venturini Motorsports. Also missing is the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 car, which has been driven by William Sawalich and Connor Mosack in the two events thus far. Both cars were considered to be the strongest in the field heading into the season; however, through two races, both have failed to find victory lane.
For Venturini, this season marks the first since 2017 in which the team did not find victory lane within the first two races to start a season. That year, Austin Theriault won the season-opening racing at Daytona International Speedway for Ken Schrader’s team, and Chad Finley won at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville for his father Jeff’s team.
While Venturini has had strong runs at both Phoenix Raceway and Daytona, the team has had a good deal of tough luck. Love was in the mix for most of the race in both events, and was taken out in wrecks that were not of his own doing both times. While he was able to rebound at Daytona, the wreck at Phoenix ended his race. The team has also had good runs out of Amber Balcaen at Daytona and Toni Breidinger at Phoenix, though has still been unable to claim a checkered flag.
As for the Gibbs No. 18, the team has also found a bit of poor luck thus far into the season. Mosack showed good speed at Daytona, winning the pole and running among the leaders for most of the race until he was spun late. He was unable to rebound completely but still came back to the line with a runner-up finish. Much of the same goes for Sawalich, who spun early at Phoenix but rebounded back to the lead, then was spun again on a late restart, finishing 11th.
However, through the larger teams’ misfortunes, many of the smaller teams have capitalized. Both Greg Van Alst and Tyler Reif won their first career races at Daytona and Phoenix, respectively, and neither were heavy favorites entering those events.
The 15-year-old Reif’s win at Phoenix put him among the youngest winners in series history, behind only Todd Gilliland, who won his first career ARCA race two days after his 15th birthday in 2015 at Toledo, and Landen Lewis, who was halfway to his 16th birthday when he won at Du Quoin in 2021.
The win was also significant, as Reif joined Gilliland, Myatt Snider and Christopher Bell, among others, as drivers to win in their main ARCA division debut. Additionally, not only was it the first win for the Lowden Jackson Motorsports team, but also the first top 10. Previously, the team’s best finish was 12th, which was achieved three times in West division races, twice by partial owner Chris Lowden and once by Reif, all coming in the 2022 season.
For Reif, he will spend the remainder of the 2023 season running full time in both the ARCA East and West series, both with Lowden Jackson Motorsports.
As for Van Alst’s Daytona win, the story is much the same. Entering the 2023 season, the 41-year-old had only recorded two previous top fives. The first of which came at Winchester in 2021, when he finished runner-up to race winner Ty Gibbs, and the second when he crossed the line fifth at Charlotte in 2022.
Van Alst’s career in itself is extremely unique. After running three ARCA races in 2002, Van Alst stepped away from the series for two decades, focusing on his fencing company, Top Choice Fence. To even return to the sport in 2021 was a tall order, but winning that same event two years later became all the more impressive.
Van Alst scored another top 10 at Phoenix, sending him to Talladega next month as the series points leader, with Frankie Muniz a narrow 10 points behind him.
While it’s still early on, it seems plausible that the 2023 ARCA Menards Series season is the year of the small teams, and the underdogs.
About the author
Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University
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