(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

ARCA 101, Part III: Meet the Contenders

Over the past two days, Frontstretch has laid out the respective changes and the impact they will have on the ARCA Menards Series. But who will contend for victories? Who are drivers to keep an eye on this season? This final installment of ARCA 101 answers those questions.

There are only five drivers competing full-time in the main ARCA series this season: Hailie Deegan, Drew Dollar, Tim Richmond, Michael Self and Brad Smith. Realistically, the championship will be between Deegan, Dollar and Self.

The favorite for the title should be Self. Back with Venturini Motorsports for a second full-time season, he is the most experienced of the three front-runners. Self has seven career ARCA wins and won in the ARCA Menards Series West at Phoenix Raceway, which was recently added to the main ARCA tour. He has even competed at Watkins Glen International in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Moreover, Self is paired with reigning championship-winning Crew Chief Kevin Reed. Late last season, Self told Frontstretch he was uncertain if he would return this season. He will make the most out of this opportunity.

Deegan is a star in the making and increasingly gaining popularity. DGR-Crosley will give her a fast No. 4 Ford. If she wins — and she should have several chances — it will be a popular victory. Her biggest challenge is she will be visiting many of the ARCA tracks for this first time this season, so she must learn quickly.

In Deegan’s six prior ARCA starts, two of those races ended in DNFs and she finished two laps down at Pocono Raceway. Her other three starts were promising. She finished eighth at Elko Speedway and Kansas Speedway. At Lucas Oil Raceway, with a fast short-run car, Deegan finished a career-best fifth.

Last year, Dollar competed in eight ARCA Menards Series East races, one West series race and two ARCA races. He only accrued two top fives in those starts. Shannon Rursch will be his crew chief, so Dollar will receive good feedback. But can his growth accelerate from only finishing in the top five to becoming the champion? I have my doubts.

Who else will reach victory lane this ARCA season? The duo of Chandler Smith and Ryan Repko will be forces to be reckoned with. Smith has seven ARCA wins in only 20 starts. He won five races last season — he could very well win that many or more this season.

Repko has three ARCA and three Xfinity starts. Despite his inexperience, Venturini Motorsports is still the premier ARCA team. Its veteran leadership will greatly help Repko, and he could win one of his five races this season.

The ARCA Menards Series Sioux Chief Showdown has three advantages of all the other races in the series: drivers who are at least 15 years old can compete in those races, there are modified pit stops and there is more money on the line. Because of those reasons, the Showdown races should have higher car counts and better racing.

Sam Mayer will try to defend his East series title and also compete for the Showdown title. He has seven top fives and nine top 10s in 10 career starts. He also finished on the lead lap in all his races; those statistics boast well for his Showdown title hopes.

Bret Holmes scaled back from full-time competition to part-time status. Without the worry of points-racing, Holmes is seeking one thing in his starts: wins. That mindset change could lead to Holmes and crew chief Shane Huffman taking some risks to vault Holmes into contention.

Taylor Gray will turn 15 years old on March 25, so he will miss the opening Showdown race at Phoenix Raceway. He will compete in the remaining nine Showdown races for DGR-Crosley. His youth may lead to him making a mistake or two, so he and full-time teammate Deegan should work together to expedite their learning curves.

At Lucas Oil Raceway last season, Ty Gibbs told Frontstretch that he will likely be competing for the Showdown title. In 11 starts last season, Gibbs, grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, won two races and accumulated seven top fives and nine top 10s. He also won the West series race at Phoenix, so he should be a threat to win the second race of the season.

Also, Gibbs finished all six of his East series starts inside the top five, including a win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Having raced at many of the tracks on the ARCA schedule already should bode well for the 17-year-old.

The blending of the rule books allows teams to race the same car in all three series — ARCA and the East and West series. This change means teams such as Rev Racing can field entries in ARCA, and Rev Racing will field Chase Cabre and Nick Sanchez in the Showdown races.

Cabre won the East series race at Memphis International Raceway — can he win the ARCA race there this season? As for Sanchez, he only made three starts in the East series, but he enters his fourth season with Rev Racing. His comfort with the team should help ease his way into racing in the Showdown.

Venturini Motorsports won 14 of the 20 races in ARCA last year. Chad Bryant Racing won three times, Joe Gibbs Racing was victorious twice and DGR-Crosley went to victory lane once. This year, although there are only five full-time drivers, there should be more parity. The aforementioned drivers will all be contenders.

Finally, will there be a surprise winner? How about Gus Dean winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway? Will a Chad Bryant Racing driver breakthrough and win for the first time? Will a dirt ringer or road course racing driver win one of those respective races?

The ARCA season begins at Daytona with the Lucas Oil 200 on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 4:30 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.

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About Mark Kristl

Mark Kristl
Mark joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is an Eagle Scout & a proud University of Dayton alum. He also writes about NASCAR for Beyond the Flag.

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