The ARCA Menards Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway to start the kick off of Talladega’s 50th anniversary season. History was made the last time ARCA was on the high banks of the Talladega Superspeedway when Zane Smith and Joe Graf Jr. battled it out to the finish line and became the closest finish ever in the ARCA Menards Series with Smith earning the victory. Smith, of course, has moved on to the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports but the other half of that equation, Graf Jr., will look to finish one position better.
The last time the ARCA Menards Series circled the track, it made its first of two visits to Salem Speedway in Salem, Indiana. Rain plagued the event with Michael Self being declared the winner, his second victory of the 2019 season. Though the weekend turned out well for Self, his Venturini Motorsports teammate wasn’t as fortunate. Christian Eckes was admitted to the hospital for a small esophageal tear in his trachea, a result of complications due to food poisoning. As a result, Eckes was unable to compete, with Daytona winner Harrison Burton taking over his ride. Eckes would have zero chance to earn points handing the points lead over to Travis Braden. He now sits in eighth, 105 points behind Braden with a deep hole to fill.
Eckes will begin looking to climb back up the ladder on Friday where he returns to the No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota Camry. He earned the pole at the season-opener at Daytona and put on a performance worthy of a veteran finishing fourth. He will make his second restrictor-plate start on Friday and if the first start was any indication of how he will perform, it won’t take very long for him to get back into the points battle.
Speaking of points battle, his Venturini Motorsports teammate knows a thing or two about winning on restrictor plate tracks. Self earned the victory in the season opener at Daytona last year and was trending toward making it two-for-two in this years season opener had he not been collected in an early incident with Willie Mullins. Self has shown in the very few plate races he’s run that he can get it done and the way he is looking dominant this season, look for Self to be up front on Friday.
There are three former winners in the field with Gus Dean the most recent winner (2016). Brandon McReynolds and Bobby Gerhart are the only other former winners entered in the field with McReynolds winning in 2012 and Gerhart in 2001. McReynolds ran up front a majority of the race at Daytona before being collected in a late-race accident.
Four of the five drivers who finished inside the top five at Daytona return to the Series this weekend. Todd Gilliland will pilot the No. 4 for DGR-Crosley while Grant Quinlan will pilot the No. 30 car for Rette-Jones Racing. One of the best restrictor plate racers without a victory will return to the series in the No. 43. Sean Corr, who has come so close so many times will get another chance at finally earning a victory in the ARCA Menards Series. Burton is the sole exception who will not be competing in Friday’s race.
Brad Smith will return to Talladega Superspeedway for the first time since James Hilton’s death. Hilton and his son were killed in a car accident on the way home from Talladega following last year’s General Tire 200.
Ed Pompa, D.L. Wilson, Riley Herbst, Thad Moffitt, Natalie Decker, Bryan Dauzat, Andy Seuss, C.J. McLaughlin, and Thomas “Moose” Praytor all return to the series this weekend.
Vizion Motorsports is slated to have two entries in this Friday’s race but have not announced a driver lineup nor filed an entry listed on ARCA’s website. The latest driver seen attempting to gain sponsorship to run with the organization was Bobby Dale Earnhardt. There is no word on the other entry at this time. Brenden Queen and Paul Williamson both piloted entries for the organization in February to 29th and 30th place finishes.