Race Weekend Central

What Have We Learned in the 2024 ARCA Season?

A quarter of the ARCA season is complete. Five of the 20 ARCA Menards Series races have been contested, three of the eight ARCA Menards Series East races are done and two of the 12 ARCA Menards Series West races have been run.

What have we learned so far about ARCA racing in 2024? Read on for my answers.

See also
When Will a Full-Time ARCA Driver Reach Victory Lane?

Is It a Two-Horse Race for the Title?

Andres Perez de Lara leads Greg Van Alst by six markers in the standings. Next closest is Amber Balcaen, 19 points behind, with Christian Rose and Kris Wright trailing by 20 and 22 points, respectively.

Josh Calloni analyzed whether none of the top 10 in points having a victory, or led many laps, is good or bad for the series.

At the same time, Perez de Lara and Van Alst have risen to the top for a reason: consistency. Perez de Lara has completed all but one of the 525 laps thus far this season with Van Alst logging 523. Of the series regulars, they’re the only two with average finishing positions better than 10th place.

Perez de Lara leads the series with top 10s (four) and Van Alst has zero DNFs thus far, tied for the most.

The summer months of June through August have nine races, 45% of the 20-race season. Of those nine, six are short tracks, while the rest are one dirt track (Illinois State Fairgrounds), one road course (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course) and the two-mile Michigan International Speedway. Can someone else join the mix for the title? Absolutely.

Yet Perez de Lara and Van Alst are the two who control their own destinies. Perez de Lara finished runner up one year ago, had the second-most top 10s, third-most top fives and completed the second-most laps. Additionally, his Rev Racing team won the drivers title in 2022 with Nick Sanchez. This group knows how to get it done.

Comparatively, in his ARCA career, Van Alst has two top fives and nine top 10s at short tracks, an average finish of 7.5 at Michigan, a 12th place at Mid-Ohio and 13th place at the Springfield Mile. If he can match those numbers, or gain a few spots, he’ll remain firmly entrenched in the championship hunt.

If either driver falters, Wright — in top-tier Venturini Motorsports equipment — and Rose seem poised to pounce. Wright has risen up the standings following finishes of 38th and 12th to start the season. Rose led the standings after Dover Motor Speedway, but two straight struggles cost him.

With talented youngsters William Sawalich, Gio Ruggiero and Connor Zilisch along with an array of talented part timers leading laps and trophy hunting, it will be challenging for the series regulars. Simultaneously, it makes the drivers title fight even more interesting.

Cook Racing Technologies Isn’t Learning, It’s Fighting Bad Luck

Fresh off the press, Tanner Reif plans to run full time in the national tour in 2025. Using this year as a learning year, he is not learning during races, he’s fighting bad luck.

In five total starts in ARCA this year though, Reif has two lead lap finishes and three DNFs. It’s hard to learn when he isn’t on track or he’s driving poor-handling racecars.

“Luck-wise, it hasn’t been great but I like working in the shop,” Reif told Frontstretch during the East event at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. “I like working on racecars. It’s going pretty good other than luck and the actual racing aspect of it. Everything else is going great.”

CRT won the West owners title in 2023, yet misfortune has continually struck Reif in ’24.

“It’s good,” Reif said about his acclimation to the organization. “Bruce [Cook, CRT team owner] has a lot of knowledge. I’m learning a lot even though it’s kind of been a struggle bus so far this year. Learning a lot, becoming a better driver and all around, just understanding the knowledge of the ins and outs of racecars.”

Consider this: Reif posted the fifth-fastest time during the practice session at Nashville, but his No. 42 broke an oil pan, so his practice session ended and he was not able to qualify. Then in the race, his beleaguered racecar continued to hamper his performance, he crashed trying to enter pit road, and he only completed 26 of the 150 laps. One hundred and twenty-four laps of learning were gone due to the misfortune.

Reif and CRT aren’t doomed, especially for their efforts next year, but it’s hard for a driver to improve his race craft when he isn’t on track and has woes whilst on track.

See also
Entry List: 2024 Dutch Boy 150

The East Series Has the Most Talented Drivers

Ruggiero won the season opener at Five Flags Speedway. Zilisch won the first East combination race with the national tour at Dover. Sawalich won at Nashville. The three drivers are separated by six points as the East has its final standalone event at Flat Rock Speedway on Saturday (May 18).

Yet unfortunately none of them are running full time in the national series. Zilisch and Sawalich will both turn 18 in 2024 whereas Ruggiero is 19 but not contesting the full main series schedule.

They’re still second, third and fifth in most laps led in the national tour. In the East, they’ve combined to lead all but one lap. Sawalich already has five career wins in both the main and East series. Zilisch nearly won his series debut last year at Watkins Glen International. And Ruggiero has reigning national division championship-winning crew chief Shannon Rursch calling the shots.

They’re fun to watch because they’re all incredibly talented. When the national tour has its four remaining combination races with the East, good luck to everyone else trying to win the race. Even when the national tour vied against the West regulars at Phoenix Raceway, Sawalich won and Ruggiero finished second (Zilisch did not participate in that race). Again, for drivers such as Perez de Lara, Van Alst and others, earning bonus points by winning the pole, leading laps and winning the race will be hard feats against these three talented teenagers.

Shoutout to Zachary Tinkle

Zachary Tinkle’s maturation as a driver has been impressive. In 2021 and 2022, he totaled one top 10 across all the ARCA platforms. Since then? Eight top 10s and his first-ever top five, a fourth-place result, at Nashville Fairgrounds.

In the eight-race ’23 East season, Tinkle finished fourth, 89 points behind Sawalich. Average that out and he trailed by 11 points per race to Sawalich. In three East races this year? He trails by 18, down to an average of six.

Tinkle’s No. 11 was down on horsepower at both Five Flags and Dover and he finished six laps down in both 150-lap races. He still wound up eighth and 10th though. With the woes fixed for Nashville, he came home one lap down in fourth. And at Nashville, Sawalich led 145 of the 150 laps, so despite the quick pace, Tinkle was fourth fastest.

Tinkle won’t win the East championship – unlike the other three, his team Fast Track Racing does not receive any manufacturer support – but his improvement has been noticeable and he will push the other three to perform well.

Now imagine how Tinkle would perform if Fast Track had manufacturer support or he had a large sponsor.

See also
Zachary Tinkle Leads ARCA East Underdogs Top 10s at Nashville

The West Will Be Decided Between Three Drivers

Phoenix was the lone combo race for the West with its main counterparts. And only three West teams finished inside the top 10, two in the top five.

Kevin Harvick’s Kern Raceway therefore was the first litmus test for the field in ’24. What did we learn? The title will be decided between Tyler Reif, Trevor Huddleston and Sean Hingorani, if Hingorani indeed runs full time.

Reif won the pole and led a race-high 104 of the 150 laps, but he came home third. Huddleston took the lead on lap 107 and led until the last lap, finishing 0.058 seconds behind the winner.

Reif has been with Todd Souza’s Central Coast Racing for eight races and his results have been impressive. Three poles, four top fives, four top 10s and 164 laps led for someone who debuted in the West less than two years ago and switched teams midway through the ’23 season.

His goal remains the same as last year: win the title. He finished 36 points behind Hingorani in ’23, but 12 ahead of Huddleston.

Huddleston meanwhile is a veteran with 67 career starts. Last year was his career best in terms of poles, laps led and points finishing position. He fought hard at Kern for the victory and missing capturing that trophy cost him three bonus points.

As we’ve seen since ARCA adopted its points system, three bonus points for each victory matter.

Hingorani led the series in wins, top fives, laps led and average finishing position. The question surrounding his ability to repeat is whether he’ll be full time. He joined Hattori Racing Enterprises for a part-time slate but departed after one race. He finished fourth at Kern driving for Sigma Performance Services, but the team is less than one year old. If Hingorani pilots an SPS racecar for the rest of the season, will he be able to match Huddleston and Reif? Hopefully he is at all West races because that’ll make the West championship fight even more exciting to watch.

The East visits Flat Rock on Saturday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET with live coverage provided by FloRacing. The national tour takes over the following weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday, May 24 at 6 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FOX Sports 1. Then the West has its third race of its season on Friday, May 31 at Portland International Raceway at 8 p.m. ET, also on 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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