Race Weekend Central

ARCA Preview: 2023 General Tire 200 at Talladega

On March 10, Tyler Reif won the ARCA Menards Series race at the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway. One month and 12 days later, the ARCA field will compete for 76 laps at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.

Thirty-four drivers will race in the General Tire 200. Who in the field can capture the trophy?

Starting first, due to ARCA setting the lineup via 2022 owners’ points, is Taylor Gray. The 18-year-old makes his first start of 2023 and his first start piloting the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Gray lacks superspeedway experience, though he won the 2022 ARCA race at Pocono Raceway.

But JGR hasn’t won ARCA races at Talladega. Instead, it’s been fellow Toyota team Venturini Motorsports that has superspeedway dominance, though surprisingly only two wins at Talladega, in 2020 and 2021.

See also
Taylor Gray Starting 1st in ARCA Talladega Race

Half of the Venturini quartet have won ARCA races before, though: Jesse Love and Gus Dean. Love starts second in his second superspeedway race as he finished seventh in the 2023 season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Two-time ARCA winner Dean will drive the No. 25 Toyota. He won the 2016 ARCA Talladega race and he has one win, two top fives and four top 10s in his six starts there. Due to mechanical issues, Dean wound up with a 35th-place DNF at Daytona. He’s ready for redemption at Talladega and is starting eighth.

“I’m just cursed at Daytona,” Dean said in a press release. “Man, I love racing at Daytona. It’s such an awesome place where I’ve always had fast cars but for some reason or another, bad luck strikes. Thankfully, I’ve fared much better at Talladega Superspeedway, and I hope I’m able to showcase that for my Venturini Motorsports team on Saturday.”

Outside of the three Toyotas, who else could wind up in victory lane on Saturday? How about Daytona winner Greg Van Alst? The points leader masterfully made a last-lap pass for the win at Daytona, and he finished 11th in the 2022 Talladega race. Starting seventh, Van Alst will have a fast No. 35. It’s his Daytona-winning racecar, after all.

“I am excited for Talladega,” Van Alst told Frontstretch. Furthermore, his emotional win added to his confidence for the General Tire 200. “I’ve raced as an underdog or ‘the other guy’ for so long that I’m my own worst critic,” he said.

The 2023 ARCA series season has seen four different first-time winners. Van Alst won Daytona, Reif nabbed Phoenix, William Sawalich won the ARCA Menards Series East season opener at Five Flags Speedway, and Sean Hingorani claimed the ARCA Menards Series West race at Irwindale Speedway. Andy Jankowiak is eager to add his name to that list as well.

“We feel great,” he said to Frontstretch. “I think we’re a little bit more prepared after Daytona. We had a fast racecar at Daytona. Every time we get dinged up a little bit, with my help from KLAS Motorsports and my crew chief Mike Dayton, we’ve been doing a good job putting things back together and get better each time, so I feel pretty confident.”

Jankowiak started fifth at Daytona, but his involvement in a crash relegated him to 32nd-place DNF. His KLAS team repaired his No. 73 Ford, and he’ll drive it at Talladega.

The difference between the two superspeedways is minimal, according to Jankowiak.

“It ends up being a similar philosophy,” he said. “Probably the biggest difference is they don’t let us qualify at Talladega so we’re always trying to figure out how to get through the first half of the race and get up into the top 10 where we get some faster drafting help from the faster racecars. That always ends up being a variable at Talladega.

“Driving-wise, there are minor details. I have a very experienced spotter in TJ Majors guiding me through that. It’s superspeedway racing, so you’re working through the different circumstances that are a product of that type of racing as the day goes on. Try to keep the nose clean, keep the fenders on it, hope you catch the right lines and try to get to the front.”

In his two Talladega starts, Jankowiak has seventh- and 13th-place finishes.

“It’s sort of funny,” he added. “The first year we had a slow car and we finished seventh. Then last year we had a fast car and finished 13th. That’s just an example of the circumstances of superspeedway racing. Last year we couldn’t get a good line on the restarts and we kept getting shuffled back. Then in 2021, we had a slow car but a great restart in the end.

“It’s a lot of luck; you plan for everything that you could plan for and make the car as good as you can make it to make sure you have the good equipment to take advantage of opportunities when they come. It’s still sort of dictated by what’s happening and who’s around. We’ve shown some speed in the race and testing at Daytona so we’re a car that teams gravitate toward and work with as the race goes.”

Still, Jankowiak has his eyes set on winning the race. It would also be special for his sponsors Whelen and Thermal Foams, Inc., out of Kenmore, N.Y. The General Tire 200 is the first ARCA race in which Thermal has sponsored Jankowiak.

“With the new team KLAS Motorsports, our superspeedway program was certainly our strongest attribute when it was AJ Racing,” Jankowiak continued. “I expect us to keep making gains and be competitive across the board. We’ll see what happens. It’s one race at a time. We feel like we have a shot.”

Jankowiak will run four of the first five ARCA races and 10 overall in the 2023 season. He’s also planning events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, both Kansas Speedway races, Michigan International Speedway, Pocono, Watkins Glen International and Bristol Motor Speedway, plus either Salem Speedway or Toledo Speedway.

He and his new team are building their ARCA program with one goal: to win races.

“Outside of superspeedway races, if we performed well, realistically a good run for us was going to be a fifth-place finish,” Jankowiak said. “We needed to make some adjustments, evolve and grow to take the next step to fight for wins, and that’s what KLAS is working to be.”

See also
ARCA’s Superspeedway Legends

Jason White led the ARCA field when it took the white flag at Daytona before losing the race and winding up ninth. He’s prepared to put the No. 44 Jeff McClure Racing Chevrolet back up front and remain in that spot until the checkered flag waves.

“I am never one to get cocky or arrogant,” White told ARCA. “I know again we’ve got a fast car. I think going in we’ve just got to take it and see what cards get dealt to us and throw them on the table when it’s time to go and see where they lie.”

In both main-series races in 2023, there were surprises within the top 10, in addition to the winners themselves. There are several other drivers who believe they have a shot to win on Saturday. 2020 champ Bret Holmes is making his lone ARCA start this season, dreaming of finally winning at his home racetrack. Rookie Andres Perez de Lara looks to repeat Talladega wins for his No. 2 Rev Racing team.

And let’s not forget Frankie Muniz and Tony Cosentino. The two of them are second and third, respectively, in the points. Cosentino is ready to have some fun at Talladega.

ARCA RACING SERIESTalladega SuperspeedwayPeppers Polarized Eyeware

Posted by Tamayo Cosentino Racing on Thursday, April 20, 2023

The 76-lap race will have a competition caution around lap 38. Hopefully the 2023 version won’t have a forced, ridiculous end like last year.

The General Tire 200 will take place on Saturday, April 22 at 12:30 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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