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For Steve Arpin, a Welcome Homecoming at Toledo

Steve Arpin spent much of the last month living a dream… driving for one of the strongest organizations in NASCAR, for the company that Dale Earnhardt Jr. built.

Though this weekend, with NASCAR’s all-stars taking center stage in Charlotte, Arpin was a long ways away on the Toledo Speedway bullring in Ohio. And he’s loving every minute of it.

“I love being back” said Arpin of returning to ARCA competition after making his first three career Nationwide Series starts. His enthusiasm definitely showed; during our interview, Arpin spun around mid-question to take a gander at Frank Kimmel‘s car being pushed back into the garage. His remarks? “That thing’s already got a donut on it. Sweet!”

But that’s not to say that the experience of racing on stock car racing’s big stage was lost on the ever energetic Candian.

“It was the coolest thing ever,” said Arpin of his time with JR Motorsports. “I got to drive some of the best equipment in the garage for some of the best people in the garage, and just like these guys here, they’re real racers, they’re out there to have fun.”

“We got over there, and of course Carl Edwards has been great [to me]. So has Kenny Wallace, he’s been to all of these places so many times. Lots of guys. Kasey Kahne came over at Darlington and started talking to us. They were really excited and nice over there, and treated me like I’d been there for a while.”

Arpin obviously made an impact with the JRM bunch, as he confirmed that he’ll be back in the No. 7 car for the upcoming Nationwide race at Charlotte next weekend. And that’s perhaps surprising. While Arpin had flashes of brilliance in his three starts (especially at Talladega, where he qualified fourth), the stats sheet wasn’t so kind; Arpin failed to crack the top 20 in any of them. And this with an organization that fired Kelly Bires after only five starts due to a lack of performance that included four top-20 finishes.

“It [was] a humbling couple of weeks over there,” Arpin acknowledged of his first foray into NASCAR. “We had a lot of things happen that were out of our control, and we had some things happen that I need to learn from to make sure they don’t happen again.”

But Arpin brought an intangible to the No. 7 team that wouldn’t be reflected on the stats sheet… and is also directly attributable to his current home with Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA Racing Series. That is, he knows full well how to compete for a family-run organization.

“The biggest thing to remember though, [even though] there was a lack of results, is the chemistry,” observed Arpin of his tenure with the No. 7 team. “They’re a real, real good good group of guys, and they’re a real family-run operation.”

“When you’re dealing with a family-run organization, you’ve got to have chemistry. And if everyone’s not going in the same direction, with the same goals and out to do the same things, it’s just not going to work. I think that’s where I made a difference and that we’re going to keep moving forward with.”

JRM apparently has the same plan in mind; not only is Arpin slated to run Charlotte this coming week for the organization, but he was also featured on the driver roster earlier this week when JRM announced the signing of new sponsor Grand Touring Vodka for the 2010 and 2011 Nationwide Series seasons.

That said, Arpin’s full-time home remains Venturini Motorsports, and his goal remains the 2010 ARCA Racing Series championship. Starting eighth for Sunday’s 200-lap event at Toledo, I asked Arpin if he had learned anything on the NASCAR side of things that were going to translate into an ARCA crown.

“I don’t think I’m going to say that in public,” quipped Arpin. “I definitely think there’s a couple of things that I’ve learned mixing and mingling with those guys, learning the tricks of the trade and what they do. I think I learned a lot, but I’m going to keep that to myself.”

“Maybe I’ll tell you after I win the title.”

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