Race Weekend Central

Just How Good Is William Sawalich?

For the 13th time in his ARCA Menards Series career – including combination races featuring two series – William Sawalich went to victory lane. Despite only competing part time in the ARCA Menards Series West in 2024, he leads the field with two victories.

At age 17, Sawalich has an ARCA Menards Series East championship ring and five trophies from the ARCA Menards Series national tour.

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William Sawalich Wins ARCA West Race at Portland

Sawalich currently sits second in the East standings as he seeks to defend his title. Although he is 23rd in the national standings, he is sure to rise by competing in the next six straight and 11 of the final 15. His No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team is chasing its third title in four years and it is third in the standings, chasing its nemesis Venturini Motorsports.

With 33 ARCA series races under his belt and more to come this year, the question is, how good is Sawalich?

First, let’s compare to him to his predecessors in the No. 18: Ty Gibbs and Sammy Smith.

Gibbs is a franchise talent, already competing for a NASCAR Cup Series playoff berth and victories. He won his NASCAR Xfinity Series race in his series debut. In ARCA, he won the 2021 main series title with one of the greatest single seasons in series history. Combining all three ARCA series, Gibbs totaled 27 wins and finished in the top 10 in 91.0% of his races [61 of 67].

Comparatively, Sawalich has about half the wins and a top-10 finishing percentage of 87.8% [29 of 33]. Presumably, that percentage will rise by competing in more races in top-tier equipment, but Sawalich is not as talented as Gibbs. Few drivers are. Gibbs was also challenged in ’21 by Corey Heim, who is excelling in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and could be in line for a Cup ride of his own next year.

Smith’s ARCA tenure was similar to Sawalich’s. Smith won back-to-back East titles, when Sawalich followed suit. Smith’s average East finishing position? 3.1. Sawalich’s? 3.2. Smith’s East winning percentage? 53.3% [eight of 15]. Sawalich’s? 41.6 [five of 12]. With four more races on the ’24 slate, Sawalich has a chance to increase those numbers, but he’ll need to beat his top-two East competitors, Gio Ruggiero and Connor Zilisch, along with the national series regulars as all remaining East races are combo ones with the main series.

What’s my point there? Using numbers only, Sawalich is as talented as Smith.

However, in ARCA, car counts are the quality of competition and are heavily scrutinized, more than in the NASCAR national series.

Last year, ARCA did not have its most talented frontrunners [sorry Frankie Muniz]. It’s only two years removed from Smith, Rajah Caruth, Daniel Dye, Taylor Gray, Jesse Love and Nick Sanchez regularly fighting for the lead and wins.

Love won the ARCA title last year and he shared the racetrack 13 times with Sawalich. Head-to-head, Sawalich bested him 7-6. Love won five times whereas Sawalich won four. They both finished in the top 10 in 12 of the 13 and their finishing positions are incredibly close, 3.6 for Sawalich vs. 3.8 for Love.

Love already has a win this Xfinity season and he could’ve scored a few more (he still is headed to the playoffs).

Bored with statistics yet? If you’ve read this far, then you probably also care where Sawalich won, because a victory at a track where NASCAR goes carries more weight into a prospect’s writeup.

Sawalich boasts wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, a dominant triumph at the Milwaukee Mile, and at Phoenix Raceway after an impressive duel with Ruggiero. He also won this past weekend at Portland International Raceway, a track the Xfinity Series visited the following day. None of those wins are at big high-speed racetracks such as Michigan International Speedway, Daytona International Speedway or Kansas Speedway, but he is underage to compete at those.

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If his deal from last year remains unchanged, Sawalich will compete full time in Xfinity in 2025.

Is he ready? Honestly, at this point, he ought to run more ARCA races too. Run those big racetracks such as Kansas, Michigan, Daytona, Charlotte Motor Speedway, etc. to gain experience there to help his learning curve in Xfinity.

JR Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing and other top teams have talented drivers too. Sawalich would be quick in Xfinity equipment but those seasoned Xfinity drivers are talented too, experienced and will be tougher to best than Sawalich’s foes in ARCA.

Sawalich indeed has a bright future ahead of him, but he won’t be another Gibbs who skyrockets through the ranks to Cup. Like Smith, Love and Sanchez, he has much to learn, but has shown he is talented at wheeling a racecar.

About the author

Frontstretch.com
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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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