Race Weekend Central

ARCA Preview: General Tire 200 at Talladega

For the 62nd time in ARCA Menards Series history, it will visit Talladega Superspeedway. The 2.66-mile racetrack will host the third race of the series’ 2024 season.

Only one former winner, Gus Dean — and more on him in a bit — has been victorious at Talladega. Moreover, of the 36 drivers entered in the field, only three – Dean, Jake Finch and Greg Van Alst – have won an ARCA-sanctioned event before.

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The Venturini Motorsports duo of Dean and Finch must be at the top of the list of contenders. Dean won the season opener at fellow superspeedway Daytona International Speedway. As noted, he is also the lone ARCA driver with a win at Talladega, in 2016. Overall, Dean has one win, three top fives, five top 10s and 25 laps led in his seven ARCA Talladega starts.

Finch was the best of the field at Daytona until Dean lied about his plans on the final restart, enabling him to grab the lead and Finch subsequently became collected in the last-lap melee en route to an 11th-place finish. It was not indicative of Finch’s performance at Daytona when he led a race-high 65 laps, including the 35 before the final restart.

Moreover, with the format for setting the starting lineup at Talladega, Finch should start first. He’ll look to be in that position when the checkered flag flies.

Finch also has reigning championship-winning crew chief Shannon Rursch atop the pit box. Rursch has won three ARCA Talladega races: one in 2020 with Drew Dollar, one in 2021 with Corey Heim and one in 2023 with Jesse Love. Those are VMS’ three Talladega victories.

Which team snapped that Rursch-led VMS winning streak at Talladega in 2022? Rev Racing’s Nick Sanchez in the No. 2. The pilot of the No. 2 last year, Andres Perez de Lara, led 28 laps in his first full ARCA superspeedway start. Perez de Lara finished 12th at Daytona earlier this season and is tied for second in the points, five behind leader Van Alst.

For Perez de Lara’s teammate Lavar Scott, this will be his first Talladega start. Scott has a pair of Daytona starts, fourth in 2023 and 15th in ’24.

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All drivers are chasing Van Alst in the points. Van Alst heads back to Talladega for the first time since he broke his back in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race there last year.

“I’m ready to get the monkey off my back,” Van Alst told The Shoe Show. “I’m not nervous about it. I don’t get nervous for races much anymore except for Saturday night [when his son Ryder Van Alst made his stock car debut at Anderson Speedway]. I was ready to throw up watching him. But I don’t get nervous for my racing. I don’t know if it’s just experience or you know, it’s just I can’t control what I can’t control. But I’m definitely going to try to take a little bit of a different approach. Last year at Talladega, not so much in the truck but in the ARCA car I was trying to be aggressive and get to the front.

“The way they do the starting position I think we’re going to either 21st or 22nd, I hadn’t seen it. So, you know just like Daytona, I’ll see what the initial green flag gives us and then I’ll probably try to settle in. Hopefully, we can make inside the top 10 fairly early. And then I’ll try to find a couple drafting partners and just ride. You know, being the points leader is a pretty big deal. Obviously, we want to win. But leaving Talladega as the points leader is our goal. So, I would love to roll our car into the trailer just like we did at Daytona. Leaving the track as the points leader is what our goal is going to be.”

Thomas Annunziata debuted at Daytona to a second-place result. The 19-year-old impressed his team owner Jeff McClure. Both men are eager to build upon that success at Talladega.

“We’re ready to go,” McClure told Frontstretch. “Obviously at Daytona, he had a good run. A lot of luck there, the kid did a good job. We have a lot better car to start with than a lot of people do at Talladega so we’re excited about it.”

Annunziata will pilot the same Chevrolet racecar that he drove at Daytona, though the racecar has a different nose on it due to the normal wear and tear of a chaotic Daytona event.

“He dodged everything that he had to dodge,” McClure continued. “We messed up on a pit stop and we had to go to the rear at the halfway point. He still drove back up through the field nicely. For no experience, completely being his first time down there – he did a little bit at the test – he did an excellent job; I’m looking forward to Talladega cause now we know somewhat to expect. He’s pumped up, he’s ready to go.”

The experience of the 84-lap race at Daytona will be beneficial for Annunziata logging 76 laps at Talladega. Why? Because he ran in a large multi-car pack at Daytona; that translates well for Talladega.

“I’m expecting a lot out of him this time,” McClure added. “Just like I told Thomas, I said, ‘You check up hard enough, you’re going to get hit in the rear and spun out. So always keep that in mind. Mistakes in front of you mean you still got to keep rolling.’

“He did hit the No. 32 car [driven by Christian Rose] and apologized. He bumped him hard in the tri-oval. That was a pure rookie mistake. Other than hitting the No. 32 car, he did exactly what I told him to do. He kept the momentum up and if he had to hit something, then he had to hit something. Never checked up to get hit in the ass. And that’s how we finished the race. If he would’ve checked up there in the end going into turn 3, he would’ve been just like the rest of them, turned right into the fence. Same old typical ARCA wreck at Daytona or Talladega. It goes in not just in ARCA but for everybody, you know.”

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Annunziata came up one spot shy of winning the race, leaving McClure winless in ARCA ownership. McClure is confident that’ll change at Talladega.

“I expect to go down there and win it,” he said. “We don’t get to go to all of them but when we go, we’re going 100%.”

With the starting lineup format, Annunziata will start deep in the field as McClure’s No. 44 entered 2024 40th in owner points. Although McClure dislikes it, he understands the series’ reasoning for using the current format. There is an upside though.

“We know all the Venturini cars are going to be locked together by points and we know they’re going to be locked together once they can,” he continued. “By breaking the field up more like this, it gives opportunities for independent cars like me, Van Alst and a couple other of my buddies to team up and already have a group going against Venturini once we get to them. We’ll be charging like a bull from the green flag. We’re going to be charging as hard as we can go. Nothing unnecessary, but we’ll be going forward the whole time.

“And it’s hard to make a plan for Talladega, too. You don’t know who you’re going to be running with after the start, what kind of group we got ‘til we get to the backstretch, so much of that is dictated as it plays out. We may be forced to ride around or drop back to get to somebody better before we go.”

In the Daytona race, which had a full starting field of 40, 10 cars finished on the lead lap and only 15 made it to the checkered flag. McClure thinks Talladega will be different than the nine-caution season opener.

“Hopefully, it repeats historically like it usually does. Usually when we have a real nasty Daytona, Talladega’s fairly clean.”

The green flag for the General Tire 200 will fly 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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