ONE: Is Writing Off the ARCA Title the Right Move for Steve Arpin?
Ninth in points after failing to score a top-10 finish in ARCA competition since winning at Texas back in mid-April, Steve Arpin is abandoning his pursuit of the 2010 ARCA championship. Josh Richards will drive the Venturini Motorsports No. 55 at Mansfield this coming Saturday, while Arpin will drive the JR Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Gateway. Arpin will also miss the ARCA race at Pocono on July 31, presumably to participate in the Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway that same Saturday.
For Arpin, it has been a pronounced slide in the points since winning back-to-back races at Salem and Texas had his team leading the ARCA title chase. Be it spinning in a last-lap incident at Talladega that saw the No. 55 challenging for three wins in a row, being an innocent victim at Toledo or suffering mechanical woes at Michigan, circumstances out of Arpin’s control have derailed a team that has still been among the fastest in the ARCA ranks.
But despite the slump, the question has to be asked… is abandoning a title run premature? Despite all the results outside the top 10, Arpin still sits in the top 10 in the ARCA standings and well within striking distance in the most open title chase ARCA has seen in years. And as has been previously stated, the No. 55 team has been anything but slow on the track. In short, one race win in the next few weeks, be it on the short tracks of Mansfield and Berlin or at Pocono (Arpin has won on a short track and intermediate this year), and the team is right back in the mix.
Plus, with teammate Mikey Kile also smack in the middle of the championship hunt, losing the consistency of having another full-time driver in the seat to offer feedback and setup input is bound to have some impact, however minute, on the Venturini operation that Kile is depending on to win a title… and Arpin will still be racing with for wins the rest of 2010.
The limited Nationwide Series starts are a great opportunity, but so is a shot at a national touring series championship.
TWO: Will Patrick Sheltra Rebound After Top-10 Streak Snapped?
After suffering problems under the hood less than halfway into Saturday night’s race at Iowa, Patrick Sheltra saw his season-long string of top-10 finishes snap and his points lead in the ARCA Racing Series disappear. Sheltra now finds himself trailing leader Justin Marks by 70 markers heading into the weekend’s event at Mansfield.
Though by no means an insurmountable challenge, there’s two reasons for the series’ most consistent team in 2010 to be concerned. First, Mansfield was none too kind to the Sheltra Motorsports camp last season, with a 21st-place finish the result after suspension problems cost the No. 60 nearly 30 laps.
Second though, is that for all the consistency that the No. 60 team has shown in 2010, they’ve been one of the few operations near the front of the pack not to find victory lane. While a consistent top-10 team since Daytona in February, the No. 60 hasn’t been a top-five car all season long. And with all the forward momentum the team had possibly gone entering the summer stretch that saw Sheltra score only a handful of top-10 finishes during the 2009 season, the timing was not right for this bunch to find misfortune. Whether this team is truly ready to challenge for the ARCA title will be decisively determined this Saturday night.
THREE: Can Hessert Turn a First Win Into Many?
Despite a strong field that included Matt Crafton and a second RCR entry for Ty Dillon, Tom Hessert scored his first win in what was a dominating performance at Iowa, the first time outside of the plate tracks that Cunningham Motorsports has returned to the form that saw the team come within a few points of the ARCA title with Parker Kligerman behind the wheel.
That lull in performance level had to be expected with a new driver in Hessert joining the team. After all, it took Kligerman five races last season to get acclimated with the team before scoring his first win at Toledo. The story was told after securing win number one; Kligerman would then win four of the next five en route to a nine win season.
The question now is whether or not Cunningham’s best performance of the 2010 season can translate into the same type of sustained run for Hessert. An ARCA driver that has contested a full schedule before, Hessert has seen the vast majority of the tracks coming up on the schedule, and as Kligerman demonstrated last season, the equipment is capable of running with anything that will be seen in the ARCA garage.
If the same chemistry that was there for the No. 77 team in 2009 has now emerged with a return ti victory lane, Hessert will get familiar with victory lane in a big hurry… and this title race will have yet another player.
FOUR: Is 2010 the Year for Kimmel’s 10th Title?
Frank Kimmel‘s 400th career start in ARCA competition this past Saturday night fell a few spots short of a storybook ending, with the No. 44 machine bringing home a sixth-place finish, his fourth consecutive top-10 finish and a result that moved the nine-time champion to within 120 markers of the points lead.
While the 2010 campaign has still yet to see the Kimmel of old that was next to unbeatable on the short tracks, driving the famed No. 46 for Tri-State Motorsports, Kimmel is certainly lurking and within striking distance approaching a slate of his best tracks, including the bullrings of Mansfield and Berlin as well as the schedule’s two dirt tracks at Springfield and DuQuoin.
Perhaps more importantly though, is the inconsistency that his competition has displayed on the intermediate circuits. While the Venturini, Win-Tron Racing and Eddie Sharp Racing camps have all flexed more muscle than the Kimmel Racing team on those tracks this season, each of those teams have seen mechanical failures, pit strategy and other elements go wrong even on their most dominant days. Just ask Marks at Texas, Kile at Pocono or Craig Goess at Michigan.
Lurking and under the radar is something new for perhaps the greatest driver ARCA racing has ever seen. And that’s bad news for the competition.
FIVE: Tim Richmond Memorial on Saturday
Saturday night at Mansfield will feature the second running of the Tim Richmond Memorial race, an event deservedly dedicated to one of the most colorful and talented drivers to ever take the wheel of a stock car.
Let’s just say that’s another one of the many things seen in ARCA racing that won’t be seen at a NASCAR venue anytime soon.