NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch 5: Most Exciting Championship Battles in ARCA History

NASCAR may have three more weeks of racing left in 2021, but for the ARCA Menards Series, a new champion will be crowned this Friday (Oct. 22) night at Kansas Speedway.

Ty Gibbs and Corey Heim have been the cream of the crop in ARCA this year. The two young drivers have won a combined 16 out of 19 races and also combined for 33 top fives, 37 top 10s and over 2,000 laps led. Not only is the driver’s championship at stake, but Joe Gibbs Racing and Venturini Motorsports also want a taste of the title on the owner side. No matter who wins or who loses, both drivers have both put together amazing seasons.

We know both drivers will put on a good show. But how hard will they go? What level of excitement will they give us? Will it match the excitement of these five other championship battles?

1. 2008

The 2008 Hantz Group 200 at Toledo Speedway is probably ARCA’s most comparable race to the NASCAR Cup Series’ famous 1992 Hooters 500. The Ohio venue hosted an event that featured multiple championship-eligible drivers, big wrecks, chaotic controversy and an electrifying finish.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Scott Speed entered Toledo 1-2 in the standings with six combined wins between them. But Justin Allgaier, Frank Kimmel and Matt Carter were hot on their heels if they were to slip up. And boy, did they ever. On lap 27, Speed received a tap from Stenhouse, sending his No. 2 Red Bull Toyota into the turn 3 wall. Just 10 laps later, Speed returned the favor and wrecked both himself and Stenhouse in turn 1.

Just like that, the title fight was wide open. Allgaier inherited the points lead and never fell out of the top five all race long. Carter and Kimmel tried hard to dethrone him but couldn’t get the best of “Little Gator” in the end.

Allgaier, in his family-owned No. 16 machine, scored his third straight win and his sixth overall on the season. Most importantly, though, he captured the championship. Fast forward to the present, and he isn’t looking too bad.

2. 2009

Much like Gibbs and Heim in 2021, Parker Kligerman and Justin Lofton were the two aces of the ARCA Menards Series field in 2009.

The 18-year-old Kligerman looked to have plenty of promise as one of ARCA’s youngest stars, while Lofton had hopes of a stronger sophomore season and racking up more wins. Kligerman waited until race six, at Toledo, before he scored his first career win. Then, he went on a tear, recording eight more wins (including four in a row) and becoming a true championship threat. Lofton was strong, too, tallying six wins and only finishing outside the top 10 only twice.

The season finale finally arrived at Rockingham Speedway. Lofton started second, Kligerman fourth. Kligerman led the first lap but quickly lost it to polesitter Chad Finley, but both championship contenders minded their Ps and Qs. Kligerman didn’t take the lead back until lap 137 but held it for good, leading a race-high 66 laps.

Meanwhile, Lofton settled into the third spot, the exact position necessary to squeak by with the championship. As Kligerman won the race, Lofton almost threw it away on the last lap when he slid up into second-place Casey Roderick in turn 1. But he made it back to the line and amazingly won the title over Kligerman by just five points.

Kligerman serves as a pit reporter for NBC and still makes occasional Camping World Truck Series starts, while Lofton’s main focus has been trophy truck racing since his exit from NASCAR in 2014.

3. 2010

The 2010 season had many strong championship contenders who showed signs of promise, like Chris Buescher, Steve Arpin, Dakoda Armstrong, Tom Hessert III and others. But when the season concluded at Rockingham, it came down to just two.

Patrick Sheltra, driving his family-owned No. 60 Toyota, had been an ARCA driver for a few seasons and was riding off of a comeback 2009 campaign. Craig Goess, the pilot of the Eddie Sharp Racing No. 81 Toyota, was a late bloomer in the racing world, joining the series at age 28. But he scored a top-five points finish as a rookie in 2009 and was looking for more in 2010.

Goess scored one win, coming at Pocono Raceway, while Sheltra went to victory lane twice, at the Springfield dirt mile and at Chicagoland Speedway. The slim points lead belonged to Sheltra approaching the finale at Rockingham. He started in eighth but built himself a points cushion by leading the most laps at 74 to Goess’ zero.

Both were non-factors for the win, as Ty Dillon led the final 41 laps en route to his second career win. But by finishing fourth, Sheltra held onto win the championship by just 20 points over Goess, who finished fifth on the day.

Sheltra made one more ARCA start in 2011 before stepping away from racing to run his family’s business in Florida after his father’s passing. Goess made 11 career Truck Series starts but was let go from his ride at ESR after the first nine races into the 2011 season and never returned.

4. 2019

While the three aforementioned points battles did not feature any Venturini Motorsports drivers, they had all the spotlight in the 2019 championship chase.

Michael Self was embarking on his first full-time ARCA season. His main challenger was 18-year-old teammate Christian Eckes, who also ran the full schedule.

Self crashed at Daytona International Speedway but won at Five Flags Speedway and Salem Speedway. Eckes suffered medical issues before the Salem race and could not compete. But he got back on his feet again by winning at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, a race where Self crashed out via lapped-car interference.

The Venturini teammates kept a close championship battle all the way to Kansas for the finale. There, Self led a race-high 57 laps, but Eckes eventually crept up to him, made the pass on lap 58 and never surrendered the lead.

At 18 years, 11 months and eight days, Eckes became the youngest-ever ARCA champion and became the first champion to not run every race since Tim Steele in 1997.

Self still doesn’t have an ARCA championship, as he has not returned to the track since his 2020 title defeat to Bret Holmes. He chose to focus on Trans-Am competition in 2021, becoming a general manager and driver for Silver Hare Racing.

See also
Christian Eckes Scores 1st Career Win in Chaotic Las Vegas Truck Series Race

Eckes, meanwhile, won his first Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September and is working out his racing plans for 2022. Since Gibbs and Heim are both 19 years old, his age record will remain unbroken … at least for this year.

5. 1974

Before Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards tied for the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series championship, did you know that ARCA had the same thing happen in 1974?

Ron Hutcherson had won the 1972 and 1973 ARCA championships and was looking for a three-peat. On the other hand, Dave Dayton was the 1966 Rookie of the Year but was looking for something even better.

Dayton won the season-opening race at Salem Speedway, which proved to be his only win of the season. Hutcherson took a little more time to find a rhythm but eventually did by midseason. He scored two wins, at the old Sedalia Speedway and at Michigan’s Flat Rock Speedway, while Dayton played the consistency game.

After the 12th and final race, Dayton and Hutcherson unbelievably tied for the championship with 1,045 points each. If it were to be decided by today’s standards, the title would be Hutcherson’s due to his two wins over the one win scored by Dayton. But ARCA let the tie stand, and it has never happened since.

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