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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

ARCA Menards Series Breakdown: 2019 Southern Illinois 100

Despite the field boasting the return of Ken Schrader, who won his 21st career ARCA Menards Series pole Saturday afternoon, Christian Eckes proved utterly dominant at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, taking the lead from Kelly Kovski on lap 10 and leading the rest of the way, scoring his third win of the 2019 season and his second career ARCA win on dirt (Eckes won at Springfield last year). 

Defending DuQuoin winner Logan Seavey finished second, with Corey Heim, points leader Michael Self and Kovski rounding out the top five.

For Eckes, the only serious challenge to his race lead came around lap 90, when teammate Seavey finally got out of traffic and closed to the bumper of the No. 15 car. However, Seavey was unable to get alongside Eckes in either corner, as the groove at DuQuoin proved narrow for the entirety of the race.

Eckes’ victory was significant in the battle for the ARCA title, as by winning and leading the most laps, he has unofficially closed to within 70 points of Self for the series lead with three races remaining on the schedule. What’s more, the schedule is setting up well for Eckes to make up more ground, as he has previously scored ARCA wins at both Salem Speedway and Lucas Oil Raceway. 

Saturday night’s race marked the fastest ever running of the Southern Illinois 100, with the race going from green to checkers in roughly an hour and five minutes.

The Good

As previously stated, Eckes’ win was a big deal in the context of the ARCA title chase. But in the larger scope of Eckes’ career, this win may prove even larger. With Todd Gilliland on an extremely hot seat at Kyle Busch Motorsports now that he missed the Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs and endured another disappointing result with a damaged truck at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park last week, Eckes, being old enough to run superspeedways, has emerged as a leading candidate for a Truck ride at KBM in 2020. For Eckes to prove completely dominant in what was essentially a playoff race for his No. 15 team, and to be primed for a serious run at the ARCA title in the coming weeks, can only bolster his credentials.

The only car to break up the Venturini Motorsports party at the front of the field in the second half of Saturday’s race was Chad Bryant Racing’s No. 22 and Heim, who finished a career-best third in a convincing performance that saw the youngster pass and hold off points leader Self on a dirt track outside of his usual forte. Heim has yet to find victory lane for CBR, but he has carried his share of the weight alongside Ty Majeski in keeping the No. 22 team in contention for the ARCA owner’s title in 2019.

By leading eight laps and finishing fifth, Kovski scored the best finish for a part-time dirt ringer team during ARCA’s state fair tour (Seavey drives in a full-time VMS entry). Kovski passed Schrader for the lead on the second lap of the race and was the only driver other than Eckes to lead multiple laps Saturday night.

Riley Herbst’s return to ARCA competition for the first time since Chicagoland back in June resulted in an uneventful sixth-place finish, his second consecutive top-10 finish at DuQuoin. It wasn’t a result that’s going to put Herbst back on the radar screen, but it didn’t do any damage either.

It was very, very good to see Schrader back on track for an ARCA dirt race …

The Bad

But the No. 52 proved to be a non-factor in Saturday’s race. Schrader only led one lap before washing up the track on lap 2 and handing the lead to Kovski, and though he kept his car in the top five until pit stops after a lap 33 debris caution, a penalty for an uncontrolled tire sent Schrader back into the pack, from which he never emerged. The eighth-place finish was Schrader’s worst at DuQuoin since 2005.

Joe Graf, Jr. was in contention for a top 10 before incurring a penalty for changing lanes early on a lap 50 restart. Forced to pit under green to serve the penalty, Graf finished 11th, equaling his DuQuoin result from a year ago.

Carson Hocevar’s team battled overheating throughout the first dirt race at Springfield, and it wasn’t 20 laps into Saturday’s race before the same issue forced the No. 28 down pit road under green. Hocevar’s 15th place finish snapped a streak of eight consecutive top-10 finishes for the Michigan development driver, and was his worst finish since Pensacola back in March. 

The Ugly

Any hopes Will Kimmel had of duplicating his strong top-10 effort at Springfield went up in literal dust by lap 20, which saw the No. 69 on pit road with the hood up. Kimmel’s car would soon be retired from the race, with the driver telling the MAVTV broadcast that overheating had his engine “laying down” in terms of performance; the longtime ARCA competitor said he parked the car because the team didn’t need to burn up an engine. The race marked Kimmel’s first DNF since Toledo last May.

Final Inspection

An ARCA race with no wrecks is always a good thing.

The first comment posted on ARCARacing.com after Schrader scored his first ARCA pole since 2015 was “I wish I had MAVTV.” That MAVTV has made it possible to see these dirt races without having to driver 12 hours to Illinois has been wonderful … for the lucky few of us that have the channel (or can afford to pay for a streaming package that has it). With ARCA merging with K&N Pro next season, and most K&N races now readily available for all on FansChoice TV regardless of their cable package, it would be in the series’ best interest to, at a minimum, get the dirt races on a similar webcast. The ARCA dirt races are as unique as stock car races get these days, and they can and will sell themselves and the series.

Kovski scored a top five, but wasn’t a factor at any point during the second half of Saturday’s race. Schrader finished eighth, Ryan Unzicker 10th. As the broadcast elaborated on, Unzicker and his team struggled for the entire race with getting their car to turn in ways needed to allow the dirt late model veteran to pass, eventually proving unable to do so. The only dirt ringer to make noise up front was Seavey in a powerhouse Venturini Motorsports machine. For better or worse, the days of the independent ARCA one-off showing up and winning appear to be numbered.

Speaking of Seavey, a missed detail of the race’s lone pit stop for the No. 20 team was visible when the driver ran over an air hose; the crew was quick to notice it and got Seavey backed up before servicing the car. The significance of this observation? Live pit stops are a very different practice from short track/dirt track racing. It remains of vital importance that ARCA races provide a means for drivers to learn this art.