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(Photo: ARCA Menards Series)

ARCA Racing Series Breakdown: 2019 Fans with Benefits 150 at Iowa

There were ample chances for drama in Friday night’s Fans with Benefits 150 at Iowa Speedway. Problem is, Chandler Smith was WAY too fast for anyone to keep up with him, and by race’s end he left Iowa Speedway with his fifth win of 2019, the seventh of his ARCA career:

After leading the first 100+ laps of Friday’s race, Smith lost the lead on pit road after a lap 103 debris caution when the jack dropped as his team was still changing right side tires. Falling to sixth, it took only 11 laps (and some of those were under the same yellow) for Smith’s No. 20 to retake the race lead from Ty Gibbs. 

Fast forward to lap 141, and Smith nearly saw his dominant race go up in smoke again. Rocketing down the frontstretch on the high side, Smith appeared to take the lapped car of Tim Richmond by surprise, with Richmond spinning immediately after Smith passed him at the start/finish line. The ensuing caution brought about a final restart on lap 148, which saw Smith drive away uncontested to the win. Christian Eckes, Michael Self, Carson Hocevar and Gibbs rounded out the top five.

Smith’s dominant run was aided, however, by the latest struggles of his Venturini Motorsports teammate Self, who struggled for nearly the entirety of Friday’s race with a car that was stuck in fourth gear. Self, who was easily the hard charger of the race after having to retake positions after every restart, was actually running down Smith in the laps prior to the lap 141 caution, and may have had the pace to challenge the No. 20 if he could have restarted properly. Despite those issues, Self lost only five points to Eckes, and leaves Iowa with a 90 point lead in the title chase.

The Good

Venturini Motorsports swept the top three spots in qualifying, and followed that up by sweeping the top three finishing positions. Smith’s prowess on short tracks has been well known dating back to his debut at Salem last spring, but Friday’s race took it to another level, with the youngster leading 139 of 150 laps and absolutely shredding the top 10 the one time he lost the lead on Friday. The fastest car won the race, no questions asked.

Though, it would have been interesting to see what Self could have done with him if he’d had a working transmission. Self was forced down pit road under a lap 10 caution for Scott Melton’s spin with a car that was stuck in fourth gear; the team was unable to fix the shifter under that yellow, and as a result Self lost spots on every restart the rest of the race. That he was able to come back to finish third was an accomplishment in itself:

Lastly, Eckes finished second and in doing so made up five points on Self in the title chase. 

Outside of the Venturini camp, Hocevar’s fourth place finish was his best since Nashville in May… and his No. 28 team’s best since Pocono last month. That’s not to say it wasn’t taxing:

Travis Braden finished just outside the top five (sixth), but the No. 27 team showed sustained speed for much of Friday’s race that it hasn’t in many short track races in 2019. Especially notable was Braden’s green flag pass of Gibbs on lap 135 for fifth place. Granted, Gibbs was struggling on that run and would get the position back by race’s end, but it still was an example of RFMS Racing passing a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota under green. That’s progress.

The Bad

Speaking of Gibbs, it’s perhaps holding him to an unfair standard to call a fifth place effort a “bad” result. But given that Gibbs restarted the race inside of 40 laps to go with the lead, only to fade to seventh by the final caution on lap 141 as the driver battled a loose condition, Friday can only be chalked up as a missed opportunity for the No. 18 team.

Bret Holmes entered Iowa Speedway second in points and left that way, but unfortunately it’s a race car down. 20 minutes into practice Friday, Holmes’ primary car spun after dropping oil, slapping the turn 4 wall and forcing his team to a backup car. The team spent so much time preparing the backup that Holmes was unable to take a lap during qualifying and started shotgun on the field. By night’s end, Holmes finished eighth to score his 10th consecutive top 10 finish, but now only leads Eckes by 20 points for second in the standings. Perhaps the only positive from Holmes’ night was throwback night came early for the ARCA Menard’s Series:

The Ugly

There was plenty of ugly to go around on lap 141. Seeing Richmond spin himself in an apparent knee-jerk reaction to a passing Smith is concerning on a driver and spotter level. Seeing Wayne Peterson Racing’s newest race car suffer damage is concerning. That this incident marked the second race of 2019 that saw a Peterson car suffer crash damage is even more concerning. Here’s hoping the team is able to get their car in order with the Pocono race only a week away.

Final Inspection

  • Iowa Speedway dubs itself “the fastest short-track on the planet”, but given it’s 7/8 mile length there were stretches of this race where the low car count (19 took the green flag) made this race feel especially sparse. Here’s hoping the K&N merger will help the show at Iowa next year… after all, the combination K&N races at the track have always been good shows.
  • While that merger with NASCAR is a positive, some negative NASCAR vibes were felt during this race even though that sanctioning body was nowhere to be found at Iowa Speedway this weekend (ARCA was part of a doubleheader with IndyCar to run Saturday night). Those vibes? That this race was stopped twice for debris cautions. Though MAVTV made it known that the lap 74 yellow flew from debris dropped after Eric Caudell hit the turn 1 wall, the second yellow on lap 103 was for a lot… less:

Come on now… ARCA doesn’t become NASCAR till next year…

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