(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

ARCA Racing Series Breakdown: 2019 General Tire #Anywhereispossible 200 at Pocono

For the second consecutive week, Toyota dominated the running of the ARCA Menard’s Series, with Riley Herbst leading the first 68 laps of Friday’s event at Pocono. And for the second week in a row, Ty Majeski and his Chad Bryant Racing Ford was there to strike when the pay window opened. Benefitting from pitting a lap earlier than Herbst under green on lap 68, Majeski stormed past Herbst as he exited pit road, pulling away over the final 10 laps to score his second consecutive, and second career, ARCA win. 

Herbst, Christian Eckes and Raphael Lessard finished out the top four, the only four cars to finish on the lead lap.

From the replays, it wasn’t clear where Herbst lost time to Majeski on those final pit stops; both teams took two tires and neither stop appeared to have anything go wrong. Be it on entry speed, exit speed, or that short-pitting was just the right call, Majeski and the No. 22 got clean air, which proved insurmountable. 

Michael Self endured an 11th-place finish in what was an eventful day for the series’ points leader, suffering both a broken axle and a broken alternator over the afternoon. Though the curse of the points leader did continue at Pocono, Self does maintain a narrow lead over Bret Holmes, who finished fifth. The top five drivers in the standings (Self, Holmes, Travis Braden, Eckes and Joe Graf, Jr.) are all within 130 points of each other leaving Pocono.

The Good

Two weeks ago, iRacing standout Majeski hadn’t raced in major stock car competition in 2019 and hadn’t raced in ARCA since 2017. Two weeks later, Majeski has won consecutive superspeedway races, single handedly doubled the win total for both Chad Bryant Racing and Ford Motor Company in ARCA competition from a year ago, and resurfaced on the prospect list in NASCAR country. Though gapped by Herbst during the initial green flag run, Majeski maintained a gap to Herbst from a lap 33 restart on, allowing the No. 22 to capitalize on their successful short-pit on lap 68. Hats off to the No. 22 pit crew as well, as they delivered after struggling with their first stop of the day that saw Majeski lose spots on pit road.

Eckes didn’t exactly contend for the win Friday with his third-place finish, but there’s plenty to take away from the first Pocono race for the Venturini Motorsports prospect, namely a 2019 to play for. Involved in a furious battle to make up ground since a hospitalization prevented him from racing at Salem, Eckes has scored four top 10s in the last five races to close to within 75 points of his teammate Self for the points lead. The championship campaign is on.

Lessard had a rookie moment or two at Pocono this Friday (attempting to use the high line through the tunnel turn on lap 35 dropped Lessard out of the top five quickly), but on a day where the top two cars throttled the field, for Lessard to score a top five finish without incident was not only a career-best finish; it was also arguably the strongest debut of any driver in the ARCA field.

It’s Tricky

Yes, Herbst finished second and dominated almost the entirety of Friday’s race, but that’s to be expected for a third-year ARCA driver in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. For all the laps led, the end result saw Herbst lose a race off pit road. And while the pit crew of the No. 18 didn’t have their best day (the team visibly lost control of a tire pitting after the race’s sole caution on lap 29), JGR is one organization whose cars have proven able to aggressively enter and exit the pits. Podium finishes work for an organization this strong in year one, not year three.

Venturini Motorsports brought two K&N West Series standouts to as East Coast a track as they come, and both endured rather than enjoyed their finishes. As mentioned, Self maintains the points lead heading to Michigan, but suffered from multiple mechanical issues that resulted in a finish four laps off the pace outside the top 10. And boy, his post-race interview was about as dejected as one’ll ever hear a series points leader. Then there’s Hailie Deegan, whose second ARCA race went far better than her debut at Toledo; Deegan finished seventh without incident. Having said that, Deegan also dropped immediately from her fourth-place starting position, finished well off the lead lap and never factored in the battle for the top five. 

Despite winning the pole and maintaining the series points lead, it wasn’t a strong day on the whole for the Venturini organization (Deegan’s crew failed to fuel her during pit stops after the lap 29 yellow, while Self suffered mechanical malaise and Harrison Burton’s No. 20 struggled through two cut tires and a sour engine). For as dominant as VMS has been in recent years, such hasn’t been the case at Pocono; Venturini cars have only won once in the last 10 Pocono races.

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” seems to be the mantra for Holmes and his family-owned team as they debuted a former MDM Motorsports Toyota Camry in Friday’s race; the team finished fifth but off the lead lap. Also debuting a Toyota race car was Wayne Peterson Racing’s No. 06 team; Tim Richmond finished 14th but 12 laps off the pace.

The Bad

The one NASCAR regular in the field was Burton, who finished sixth with, as mentioned, two cut tires and a sour engine. Failing to lead a lap from the pole and top 10 finishes are not what’s expected of a Truck Series regular in a depleted ARCA field, though his car did him no favors this Friday.

Any chance Cole Glasson had of capitalizing on the trouble that gripped a number of the stronger cars in Friday’s race went out the window by lap 21, as Glasson fell victim to a cut tire on the frontstretch after pit road entry. Forced to limp around for nearly a full lap, Glasson never recovered, finishing three laps down in ninth. Glasson’s result was the worst for Win-Tron Racing’s No. 32 in the spring Pocono race since 2016.

Bobby Gerhart’s home track (no, it’s not Daytona) was not kind to the longtime ARCA competitor; Gerhart visibly limped around the track on lap 22 apparently without power, only to return to the track and come to a stop on the backstretch on lap 29, bringing out the only caution on Friday’s race. Gerhart’s DNF was his first at Pocono since 2016.

The Ugly

Over the past 30 years, ARCA has raced twice a year at Pocono. Until today, an ARCA race at Pocono had never taken the green flag with fewer than 25 cars, much less the 18 that started Friday’s race. That’s despite being part of a NASCAR companion weekend, and being one of only two superspeedways (we’re going by traditional definitions, a superspeedway being more than a mile long) that allows drivers under age 18 to race on. And just as a depleted field at Talladega ended up putting on a dullard of a race earlier this spring, with the lack of a strong draft allowing Todd Gilliland to parade to an easy win, there were similar complaints heard during the running of Friday’s race. And though there was some irony to the angst over what was for a while a dull race:

There is a simple visual component to this. By race’s end, there were 14 cars running on a 2.5 mile triangle. That’s not conducive to an exciting race, be it on TV or in the stands. The merger of ARCA and the K&N ranks can’t come soon enough… assuming all the existing race teams actually run all the races.

Final Inspection

  • Let’s go back to that Herbst pit stop where the team visibly lost control of a tire bouncing back to the pit wall (the tire ended up coming to a stop in an empty pit box in front of the No. 18 Toyota). First, an ARCA official actually went after said tire, only to abandon his pursuit when it became clear the tire had stopped in an empty box, impeding no car’s entry or exit from their stall. And then, nothing else happened. The race went on. ARCA’s lack of an equivalent to NASCAR’s “Hawkeye” pit system proved to be a very good thing… no point issuing race-altering penalties for pit stops that impact no one but the team involved.
  • The ARCA Racing Series seems to be partying like it’s 2010. For one, that was the last time only four cars finished on the lead lap in an ARCA race at Pocono. But that was also one of the most involved title chases the ARCA Menard’s Series has seen this century (Patrick Sheltra prevailed over Craig Goess and Tom Hessert in a battle that went to the season finale at Rockingham). Now, leaving Pocono, there’s five drivers within striking distance of the series lead. If there’s one upside to the attrition that’s gripping the series, it’s that the standings are staying close.  
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