As the Frontstretch ARCA editor, I have heard and seen the criticisms of the ARCA Menards Series. ARCA brakes, low car counts, lack of competitive races, lousy purses, the list goes on. Some of those criticisms are indeed warranted and true.
But since ARCA took control of the formerly NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, now rebranded as the ARCA Menards Series East and West, in 2020, one key aspect of the series is true: Its developmental system is working.
ARCA’s tagline is “We build champions.”
Two and a half years ago, I analyzed the accuracy of that statement. It was a mixed bag at that time as only two of the drivers in the article had made it successfully to the NASCAR Cup Series.
With the World Series about to get underway, let me use a baseball analogy here: ARCA is NASCAR’s equivalent of Single-A. It would be incredibly rare for an ARCA champion to leap all the way into Cup in one or two years. The fact that Ty Gibbs won the 2021 ARCA championship, the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship and now competes full time in Cup speaks volumes to Gibbs’ talent behind the wheel.
Gibbs is only one of several drivers who have graduated from ARCA to the NASCAR national series. Using drivers who have competed in ARCA since ARCA fully fell under the NASCAR umbrella, here are some of the drivers who have won in ARCA and advanced from ARCA into NASCAR.
That list does not include Hailie Deegan or Rajah Caruth, both of whom competed full time in ARCA for a season, went winless and still made it to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series the following season. Deegan will move up into the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2024 too. She’ll join the newest ARCA champion, Love, who will replace 2018 ARCA champion Sheldon Creed.
Love won 12 races in the 2023 ARCA season, but the lack of regular competition for him is a valid argument. It’s where he won that makes him worthy of a promotion. He won at superspeedway Talladega Superspeedway, road course Watkins Glen International, short track Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway, The Tricky Triangle of Pocono Raceway, 1.5-mile intermediates Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, and 2-mile Michigan International Speedway. All those racetracks are on the NASCAR circuit. Love not only has experience at those racetracks, but he also has trophies from winning at them.
Some of the drivers on the above list, including Love, drove for Toyota-backed Venturini Motorsports, the longtime ARCA powerhouse organization. The list of VMS drivers competing in NASCAR is also astounding, including two-time Cup champion Joey Logano.
ARCA is not perfect. The low car count is partly to blame on the low purses. Without sponsorship or a pay driver, it is tough for competitors to make it to the racetrack for the whole season. The fact that Love led more laps this season than sixth-place Brad Smith completed is one of the aspects of the series that makes the bare-bones stats deceiving.
The challenge for this historic series now is to continue to successfully be the first rung of the NASCAR ladder.
Where then does it go from here?
These suggested changes might not be well received by those longtime fans, but these can help NASCAR teams find the next Truck rookie to make the playoffs like Sanchez, the next ARCA-to-Xfinity star like Love, or even the next franchise player like Gibbs.
For one, go to racetracks that matter in the industry. With all due respect to Salem Speedway, the short track does not host a premier late model race like Berlin Raceway, is not a part of the national NASCAR series schedules like IRP and does not pay a massive amount. It doesn’t even host another major racing series; ARCA holds that distinction.
Instead, go to fellow Indiana short track Winchester Speedway, which hosts the late model Winchester 400, or World Wide Technology Raceway, which hosts a Cup race weekend.
Giovanni Ruggiero won the 2023 Winchester 400. If ARCA would race at Winchester instead of Salem, it’s possible Ruggiero, who has one ARCA Menards Series East start, would wheel an ARCA racecar, thereby adding another competitive up-and-coming driver to the field. Brandon Varney, Jake Finch and William Sawalich, who’ve all driven an ARCA racecar, also competed in the Winchester 400. Finch did not compete at the 2023 ARCA Salem race. Would he have entered the field if the race were at Winchester instead? It’s possible, and certainly something series officials ought to consider about ARCA.
Yes, the ARCA purses must be raised. I know it is a lot more difficult to accomplish this than say it, but without higher race purses, why would teams want to go to Elko Speedway or some of the other cool venues on the ARCA circuit? More money would attract teams and drivers.
As for the drivers, wouldn’t it be cool to see some of the late model stars in the ASA Stars National Tour such as Cole Butcher, Austin Nason and Gabe Sommers compete in ARCA events? The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour boasts some drivers who have ventured into ARCA competitions before, such as Mason Diaz, Landon Huffman and Carson Kvapil. How does ARCA attract them? Purse money would be a great start.
All the names mentioned, as well as many more drivers out there, deserve an opportunity in ARCA, and all would most likely be competitive too. This is ARCA’s next challenge, attracting more up-and-coming hotshot drivers to continue feeding the NASCAR national series.
Overall, ARCA is serving its purpose well as it continues to embrace its role as a developmental series. Heck, even Gainbridge began its foray into sponsorship with Rev Racing in 2022 before expanding into the NASCAR ranks in 2023.
To truly produce more up-and-comers, like some of the talents competing on the west coast in the West series, some changes should happen. The more eyeballs on ARCA, the more drivers and teams who compete — and the more the series can produce more stars who will race their way into NASCAR.
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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