The track announcer at Salem Speedway proclaimed prior to the start of qualifying that the track record of 24 years looked safe following practice on Saturday afternoon. He was correct…but not by much.
Chandler Smith, a 15 year-old who two weeks ago won the pole and scored a top 5 finish in his ARCA debut at the Nashville Fairgrounds, took to the top of the practice charts early, stayed there all day Saturday, and then won his second consecutive pole with a blistering lap of 16.844 seconds, less than a tenth off the track record, and two tenths faster than his practice time.
Josh Berry clocked in second in the Chad Bryant Racing No. 22 Ford, followed by Nashville race winner Zane Smith, Gus Dean, and Chase Purdy.
Smith was the only driver to score a time under 17 seconds during qualifying. Sheldon Creed, the de facto points leader because current leader Michael Self is not at Salem this weekend, qualified seventh after developing a motor miss in the latter part of practice.
Both ARCA practice and qualifying went off without incidents on track, though drivers throughout practice could be seen visibly struggling to deal with the ever-bumpy surface at Salem. Many young drivers in the field, including Natalie Decker and Joe Graf Jr., spent much of practice working with their race teams to stop relying on heavy braking into the corners, as such actions were pushing cars dangerously high up the race track.
There were two debris cautions that slowed Saturday’s 90-minute practice, with one coming from debris off the No. 06 of Con Nicolopoulos. Brad Smith, driving the Hylton Motorsports No. 48 car, came off the track smoking with about 30 minutes left in the session and did not take time during qualifying. The team is expected to start and park Sunday.
Including the No. 48, 25 cars are slated to take the green flag for Sunday’s Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at 2:15 Eastern, with live coverage on MavTV. Frontstretch will have an in-depth breakdown of the race on Monday morning.