Race Weekend Central

Can Anyone Beat William Sawalich in ARCA East in 2023?

Since 2021, Joe Gibbs Racing has been a frequent visitor to ARCA victory lane.

Ty Gibbs and Sammy Smith combined to win 31 trophies across all three series in 2021-2022. In the ARCA Menards Series East, Smith has won back-to-back series championships and Gibbs finished ninth in the 2021 points to accompany his main series title.

Now the East series is set for its eight-race season, but a new champion will be crowned.

William Sawalich pilots the No. 18 Toyota full-time in the East, and he nearly won his ARCA national debut at Phoenix Raceway. Yes, Sawalich rightly is the favorite to win the East championship, giving the No. 18 three in a row.

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“Teaming up with Mark McFarland and the folks over there at Joe Gibbs Racing, he’s going to be somebody who is going to be tough to beat every single week,” ARCA Communications Manager Charles Krall told GRID Ranking contributor Casey Campbell. “He really will be. That’s a great racecar, great race team. Mark McFarland is as good as it gets on top of the pit box, so William is going to have a lot of pressure on him. That car has had a lot of success the last four years so if he doesn’t see that same success right out of the box, I think he’s going to start feeling some heat.”

Rev Racing won the main series drivers championship in 2022 with Nick Sanchez. This season, Lavar Scott wheels the No. 6 vying for back-to-back titles for the organization. Scott already impressed with a fourth-place showing in the ARCA season opener at Daytona International Speedway

The East series’ biggest racetrack is the Milwaukee Mile, much smaller than Daytona. Still, Scott’s performance has him feeling quite confident heading into the East season.

“I have no doubt we can keep that momentum rolling with more good results,” he told Frontstretch.

2023 is Scott’s first time wheeling an ARCA racecar. While he fully intends on bringing Rev more trophies, including the championship one, continual improvement is the priority.

“My biggest goal for my Rev Racing team is to do better and progress as the year goes on and become a better driver and develop,” he said. “Obviously, I want to bring home good racecars, I don’t want to wreck so they can make them go faster and not worry about fixing them. Obviously, I want to win. Winning is an important goal.”

Scott has leaned on Rev graduate Rajah Caruth for advice, especially because Caruth has East experience.

“In 2021, this was his place doing the ARCA East stuff so he has a big notebook for all the tracks I’m going to this year,” Scott said. “He did really well that year so having him for support and knowing I can go to him and ask questions, it’s a big advantage. I couldn’t appreciate his support anymore.”

Scott is from Carneys Point, New Jersey, 25 minutes from Philadelphia. As such, he especially wants to win at Dover Motor Speedway, his home track.

Obviously, Scott wants to improve and be successful in 2023. Although Rev found success in 2022, Scott doesn’t feel the pressure to follow up both Sanchez and Caruth’s achievements.

“I think the team and I know what we got to do together,” Scott said. “If we do our job, we can come away with a good finish. This is my first year in the ARCA East car so even if we’re not the best out of the gate, as the races go on, we’ll get better and better and definitely contend for a championship.”

Not quite 18, Luke Fenhaus already has an impressive racing resume. He won the prestigious 2021 Slinger Nationals at Slinger Speedway, thereby earning a Superstar Racing Experience berth at Slinger. Fenhaus proceeded to finish in that second event.

Then in 2022, Fenhaus won the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Pro Late Model Tour championship.

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Now he’s tasked with piloting the No. 28 for the new team Pinnacle Racing Group. Team owner Mark Webb bought GMS Racing’s ARCA equipment, so Fenhaus knows he has fast racecars.

“We’re trying to build on that,” Fenhaus said. “They ran up front with Daniel Dye, Sam Mayer, and Grant Enfinger … we’re in a good spot now too. We have good equipment. We’ve just got to put it all together, be smart about it in our races and that’s what it comes down to. I have to understand these racecars, learning them as I go and being smart throughout a race day.”

Shane Huffman won the 2020 ARCA title with Bret Holmes, and now Huffman will be atop the pit box guiding Fenhaus.

“He’s a unique individual,” Fenhaus said about Huffman. “You got to catch him on the right day, for sure. He’s a very smart dude, very hard working, wants to and is dedicated to winning. So, he puts hard-working people in good positions. At the end of the day, if you do your job and you’re dedicated to it, that’s all he asks. I’ve leaned on him for these racecars.”

Fenhaus has competed in late model events at Five Flags, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and the Milwaukee Mile. His experience will be beneficial, though he has much to learn.

“Just relying on the people around you whether that’s your crew chief, the people at Chevrolet that help me out,” he said about who has helped him prepare for this endeavor. “Chevrolet does a really good job helping us, whether it’s feeling the tire wear, understanding the racecar; there’s just so many ways Chevrolet helps.”

Fenhaus believes he’ll have a good opportunity to win at Five Flags. While there are differences in an ARCA racecar to the late models he’s already driven successfully, Fenhaus believes Pinnacle has the right people in place to vie for the East championship.

“This team has been so hard working thus far with Mark Webb, Lorin Ranier, Josh Wise, Shane Huffman and all of our guys together working on these fast racecars,” Fenhaus said. “Whatever the finish is, the credit needs to go to the team for sure who’ve busted their butts. That’s what it comes down to: Having a positive mindset, being smart about it, and working hard on it. That’s where races are won, right? They’re won in the shop.”

Tyler Reif won the most recent ARCA race at Phoenix, and he is eager to build on his success.

“I am ready for Five Flags. I’m pumped,” Reif said.

“Definitely way more confidence now than I thought. Going into Phoenix, I was going for a top 10. Starting out before the season started, I was more confident in the short track races anyway cause that’s what I’ve always done in a super late model tour. Winning the big track makes me even more confident so I’m excited.”

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Reif has no experience at the East racetracks. His Phoenix win raised his expectations for the East season.

“I’m going to shoot for top fives, maybe the win again in Pensacola and hopefully get my first pole award,” he continued.

Reif’s No. 41 Ford has already been to victory lane before. This racecar is the same one that Taylor Gray won the 2021 ARCA Menards Series West race at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Driving stellar equipment, Reif believes he is one of the championship favorites.

“My dedication and drive are definitely higher than the other drivers out there,” Reif said.. “I feel like they don’t do as much homework or work on the cars or as much sim time as I do. So, I definitely think I earn it and deserve it a little more. And I’ll probably try harder.”

In addition to specifically naming Sawalich as a favorite to win the championship, Reif predicted Venturini Motorsports’ Sean Hingorani will be one to beat as well.

Venturini battled the No. 18 team for the main series owners’ championship last year. Now the team is prepared to have Hingorani contend for both the East and West titles. He finished three laps down in 16th at Phoenix, but his Toyota powerhouse team will bring him a fast racecar.

So, can anyone beat Sawalich for the East title this season? It’s a tough challenge, but this is the deepest East field in several years. It should be very competitive.

The East season begins at Five Flags on Saturday, Mar. 25 at 8 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FloRacing.

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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