The ARCA Menards Series returns this weekend after a few weeks off. The series takes to 5 Flags Speedway for the first time since 1996 for the ARCA Pensacola 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions. There are no former winners in the field (the last winner was Frank Kimmel). When ARCA was last on track, Harrison Burton held off Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland to win at Daytona. Both Burton and Gilliland will not compete in Saturday’s race while two ARCA young guns take over the rides.
Chandler Smith will take over the No. 20 entry for Venturini Motorsports that Burton earned the victory in at Daytona. Smith made a heavy impact last season, earning the pole in his first career start at Nashville. He went on to score four straight poles, including at Nashville, before snagging his first career victory in the fourth start at Madison. His season statistics were what impressed as the 16-year-old from Talking Rock, Georgia held an average start of third and average finish of fourth.
The other two entries for Venturini Motorsports are stout featuring 2016 Snowball Derby champion Christian Eckes and Michael Self. Eckes takes the points lead as Burton isn’t entered in Saturday’s race. Eckes is looking to pull the momentum he earned from his fourth-place finish at Daytona. As noted above, Eckes has a victory at 5 Flags Speedway in the Snowball Derby. As for Self, he’s looking to rebound from his 31st-place finish after the early accident with Willie Mullins.
GMS Racing makes its return to the ARCA Menards Series for the first time since 2015 with Sam Mayer. The organization that has become a powerhouse in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series fielded an entry in ARCA from 2012-2015 with Spencer Gallagher, Josh Williams, Grant Enfinger and Scott Sheldon. The organization picked up nine victories, 27 top fives, 40 top 10s and three poles along with the series championship in 2015 with Enfinger. Mayer made two starts in ARCA last season with MDM Motorsports, finishing 10th in his debut at Iowa Speedway and seventh in his second start at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Ty Gibbs and Tanner Gray will make their series debut this weekend. Gibbs will pilot the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing while Gray will pilot the No. 54 for DGR-Crosley Racing. Both drivers raced in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season opener at New Smyrna with Gibbs finishing second and Gray finishing 12th.