Race Weekend Central

Who Will Become First-Time ARCA Winners in 2024?

When Gio Ruggiero went to victory lane at Five Flags Speedway in the ARCA Menards Series East season opener, he became the newest winner in the ARCA platform.

As a consequence of the postponement of the ARCA Menards Series West race at Irwindale Speedway, ARCA has a three-week break between races, the longest for the rest of the season.

In the national series, 2023 champion Jesse Love, who won 10 of the 20 races, graduated to the NASCAR Xfinity Series. As such, who is on the shortlist to earn their first victory in one of the three ARCA series in 2024?

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The Rev Racing Duo

Lavar Scott and Andres Perez de Lara, picked by the Frontstretch panelists to be the top two championship favorites, have the equipment, talent and experience to win in 2024. Perez de Lara finished runner up in the ’23 standings and he could have won at Michigan International Speedway if not for a blown engine. He accrued 10 top fives and 15 top 10s and led 87 laps.

At Talladega Superspeedway, he led 28 laps, second most to winner Love, en route to fourth. Perez ran well in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway before a last-lap crash resulted in a 12th-place showing. Perez de Lara is an instant favorite to win at Talladega. Remember, Nick Sanchez won there two years ago in the same Rev No. 2.

Scott meanwhile only ran a part-time slate in the national series in ’23 to accompany his full-time East run. Two racetracks in particular stand out for the 20-year-old: Dover Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway. At Dover, he started eighth and quickly drove to the front, leading laps 3-6. His No. 6 was fast, albeit borderline out of control. Scott never lost control of his racecar, but its ill-handling relegated him to fifth. If Rev can give him a better handling No. 6, Scott can lead more laps and should be inside the podium.

At Iowa, while William Sawalich dominated most of the race, Scott quietly finished fourth after starting third. Other than Sawalich and Ruggiero, does anyone have the speed to match those two? Scott’s performance there last year ought to give him a leg up on his competitors, battling for the trophy.

Kris Wright

Venturini Motorsports is stout at intermediate racetracks, especially at Kansas Speedway. VMS has won four wins in the last five years there, including Corey Heim’s 2020 triumph. Kansas is the lone racetrack to host ARCA twice and Kris Wright will be fast.

In his career there though, Wright has six total starts. In his two ARCA starts there, he has two top 10s, including a top 10 driving for Fast Track Racing. Wright is in better equipment, VMS is good at 1.5-mile racetracks and Wright will be one to watch at Kansas.

Truthfully, given VMS’ overall success – the organization just earned its 101st ARCA series victory – Wright should be running well in all races, but the intermediates should be the races where he’ll shine. He’ll be interesting to watch though. After the first two races of the season, he is 19th in points, already 35 markers behind leader Greg Van Alst. For Wright’s championship aspirations, winning would do instant wonders for his odds.

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Connor Zilisch

Connor Zilisch finished fourth in his East debut at Five Flags hours after finishing fourth in his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut. He nearly won his national debut at Watkins Glen International in 2023 before Love overtook him for the W right before the duo crossed the finish line. Zilisch also accomplished that feat while driving with a broken sway bar.

Zilisch is returning to The Glen this year with Pinnacle Racing Group, one of his four other events outside of his full-time East schedule. He can win sooner though.

Due to his Truck duties at Circuit of the Americas, Zilisch missed practice and qualifying at Five Flags and still finished fourth. It’ll be intriguing to see how he fares against the national series drivers at Dover, but he very well could give PRG back-to-back wins at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. That will be his fourth time in an ARCA racecar, giving him more vital time in the racecar, and as a 0.596-mile short track hosting a standalone East event, his two biggest competitors will be Sawalich and Ruggiero. With all the hype surrounding him, it should be a matter of time before Zilisch takes home his first ARCA trophy.

Jack Wood

Don’t look up Jack Wood’s statistics on Racing Reference. I know those aren’t impressive. Instead, think about what he is doing this year: running full-time West for longtime series powerhouse Bill McAnally Racing.

BMR in 2023 slid back a bit with Tanner Reif behind the wheel. The team still finished sixth in the owner standings with five top fives and seven top 10s in the 12-race season. In 2022, the team’s two full-time entries finished third and fifth in the standings with a lone win. In 2020 and 2021 though, Love won the title in the team’s No. 16. What car number is Wood driving? No. 16.

Wood’s career in the ARCA platform has modest results: seven top fives and 24 top 10s in 41 starts. Running part time in 2020, he wound up 11th in the standings on the strength of one top five and six top 10s.

Of his four West top fives, two – both were fourth place – are at Sonoma Raceway. The West heads there on June 7. BMR has never won at Sonoma before, so look for the team to add that racetrack to its win list this year.

The West and national series both compete on Saturday, April 20, albeit at different racetracks. The national series will be at Talladega with the green flag scheduled to fly at 12:30 p.m. ET. TV coverage will be provided by FOX Sports 1. That night, the West will visit Kevin Harvick’s Kern Raceway. FloRacing will provide live coverage beginning at 11:15 p.m. ET. The East’s next race at Dover will be a combination race with the national series. It’ll take place on Friday, April 26 at 5 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FS1.

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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