More than 50 drivers will turn laps at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway this weekend in the ARCA Menards Series preseason test. Some drivers will utilize the test session as practice for their upcoming championship campaign. Others use it to turn laps to prepare for the season opener in Daytona. Four drivers are participating through the Road to Daytona program.
Lastly, other drivers will wheel their cars during this time to acquire their superspeedway license so that they can compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener at Daytona.
Unfortunately, NASCAR has made its superspeedway license process too easy. It negatively affects ARCA and some of those drivers who are approved quickly a disservice.
Last year, ARCA Rookie of the Year Hailie Deegan finished runner-up in the ARCA season opener at Daytona after she, too, completed laps in the test session. She now competes in the Truck Series as a rookie. In that Truck Series season opener, she will race against fellow rookie Carson Hocevar. Hocevar turns 18 on Jan. 18, so he will finally be old enough to compete on a superspeedway.
Hocevar is participating in the ARCA test at Daytona, but Niece Motorsports will not enter him in the ARCA season opener. Therefore, Hocevar’s first laps of competition on a superspeedway will be the first lap of the Truck Series race. Yet his fellow rookie Deegan competed in the ARCA races at both superspeedways, Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, last year. That’s quite the difference in experience levels between two rookies. Why should Hocevar be allowed to start a Daytona Truck race without any previous race experience on superspeedways?
How then can NASCAR improve this license approval process?
NASCAR ought to require all Truck Series rookies, regardless of their superspeedway experience and age, to compete in the ARCA season opener. Currently, this year’s Truck Series rookie class consists of Deegan, Hocevar, Chandler Smith and Kris Wright. Those four are talented drivers, but only Deegan and Smith have competed on a superspeedway before.
If those four were required to run the ARCA season opener, it would aid all parties. For ARCA, there would be more storylines for its season opener, generating excitement for its season. Fellow ARCA drivers would see an uptick in the competition level from last year when only four drivers ran full time.
Those four Truck rookies would prove to NASCAR that they are ready to compete in a NASCAR national series superspeedway race. Finally, because Trucks and ARCA only compete on superspeedways a combined four times all year, it would give those drivers more opportunities to gain experience driving in the high speeds of those tracks.
This year though, those drivers would gain nothing from competing in the ARCA race to prepare them for the Truck Series season opener. NASCAR moved the ARCA season opener to the same day as the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener, which is the day after the Truck race at Daytona.
The change was detrimental to ARCA, especially as series officials seek ways to bolster car counts. Because of the change, those drivers are not required, nor does it make sense to stay an extra day just to compete in the ARCA season opener.
This is the problem I have with the Arca race being after the truck race now, all you have to do is run the test and not the actual race
— ARCA/NASCAR S&P Cars (@StartAndParkCar) January 14, 2021
Moreover, in just its second year under NASCAR management, ARCA has lost its spotlight, as now it is forced to share the day with the Xfinity Series. Eight ARCA races will be on FOX Sports 1 this season. However, race fans will more likely only take time out of their Saturday to watch the Xfinity Series race that day, as it is the series directly below the premier NASCAR Cup Series.
Niece Motorsports will take part in the ARCA Daytona test this weekend, but it has no plans to enter the Lucas Oil 200.
— The Pit Lane (@thepitlanearca) January 14, 2021
Why will Niece Motorsports not field an entry for Hocevar in that ARCA race? Because it is not financially worthwhile.
The Snowball Derby arguably is the best super late model race in the country. Many ARCA drivers have competed in that race. Former ARCA champ Christian Eckes won the 2016 edition. Of the drivers turning laps in this ARCA test, Corey Heim, Hocevar and Kyle Sieg all raced in the Snowball Derby. Five-time Snowball Derby winner Rich Bickle will also compete in both the test and season opener.
Comparing the ARCA season opener with the Snowball Derby, there are differences between the two beyond the tracks. While the ARCA race will be on FS1, the Snowball Derby is available online, streamed via Speed51.
Thirty-three drivers raced in the 2020 ARCA season opener, whereas the 2020 Snowball Derby started a full 36 drivers, and 18 drivers failed to qualify for the race.
In summation, drivers shouldn’t desire to compete at the Snowball Derby, at 0.5-mile Five Flags Speedway, more so than an ARCA race on national TV at a track termed the “World Center of Racing.”
NASCAR can both improve its superspeedway license process while simultaneously boosting the car count and competition level for the ARCA Daytona race by moving the race date to the Saturday before the Super Bowl. FS1 would broadcast the race under the lights at Daytona, adding excitement to the event. More drivers might be interested in competing in that race, as their sponsors would garner primetime recognition. Those Truck Series rookies would accumulate valuable experience racing in that 80-lap race in preparation for their Truck Series debut at Daytona.
Furthermore, ARCA would not be competing with any other racing series for notoriety. Fans would be able to watch all the races at Daytona and not miss the Super Bowl either.
The ARCA season will begin at Daytona with the Lucas Oil 200 on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 1:30 p.m. ET, with TV coverage provided by FS1.