Brent, Marks Among Favorites at New Jersey Motorsports Park (TOLEDO, Ohio) - One oft-believed notion is that stock car drivers become too accustomed to oval tracks and frown upon even a mention of road racing. For numerous drivers in the ARCA ...
Brent, Marks Among Favorites at New Jersey Motorsports Park
(TOLEDO, Ohio) - One oft-believed notion is that stock car drivers become too accustomed to oval tracks and frown upon even a mention of road racing. For numerous drivers in the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards, that's simply not true.
The numbers say that two men - Robb Brent and Justin Marks - might be considered favorites in Sunday afternoon's Garden State 150 presented by American Red Cross at New Jersey Motorsports Park's 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway. If not for road racing, their current careers in the ARCA Racing Series might not be an option.
Marks' professional racing career began over a decade ago, when at the age of 18 he entered SCCA competition before a stint in the Speed World Challenge Series (now the SCCA Pro World Challenge). With teammate Joey Hand, Marks won three Rolex Sports Car Series races in 2005, proving his might against the best in North American sports car racing.
Marks departed the road world for three years to focus on ARCA and NASCAR competition, but found his way back to the Rolex Sports Car Series in 2009, when he and Andy Lally scored a GT class victory in the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona. Last September, Marks contended after starting third at New Jersey in his first ARCA start for Win-Tron Racing, but finished 21st when electrical problems cut his day short after just 57 of 67 laps.
Nonetheless, Marks' strong showing paved the way for a full ARCA Racing Series ride with Win-Tron and the No. 32 Construct Corps team in 2010, and he rewarded the team with a road racing victory in February, leading 28 of the final 29 laps to win under heavy rain at Palm Beach International Raceway. Though the event was scheduled for 75 laps, rain allowed only 70 to be completed. Either way, Marks was the class of the field with a final advantage of over 30 car lengths.
With more runoff space in its corners than the slower turns of the Palm Beach course, not to mention greater elevation changes and more turns per lap, it's evident that no two road courses are created equal. Despite this, Marks feels prepared to ride to his second road victory of 2010.
"(Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park) is a nice track and a nice facility," Marks said. "We were pretty fast there last year before we had the electrical problem so I'm pretty confident going back. Obviously, road racing comes pretty easily to me with my experience, so it's a good opportunity for us to capitalize and score a lot of points."
Though Marks recently fell from the ARCA Racing Series points lead to third place, he expects that Thunderbolt Raceway will provide him the best opportunity to gain on series leader Craig Goess.
"With my background and experience, the road courses are definitely where we expect to succeed," Marks said. "It would be a nice thing to win both races because it's honestly what we expect. It's a good opportunity to take advantage of my experience."
Second to Marks on that rainy Florida Saturday was Robb Brent, driver of the No. 36 Orchard Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Dodge for Allgaier Motorsports. Brent finished fourth at New Jersey last fall and led four laps in his runner-up effort this year at Palm Beach. Brent's driving career began in his native Michigan at Kart 2 Kart, an indoor racing facility in Sterling Heights, near Detroit. He later moved on to winning the Ohio/Indiana regional championship in the National Auto Sport Association's Camaro Mustang Challenge, and then competed in the Panoz Racing Winter Series and the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Following his two strong ARCA Racing Series road course finishes, Brent made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut this summer at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Though he finished 30th, Brent is confident that his experience on a road course at a higher level will pay off this weekend.
"(My experience in) the Nationwide race will help me be aggressive and focused for New Jersey," Brent said. "The competition in NASCAR is really intense and made me step up my game to be in the mix. That should improve my driving throughout the weekend with faster, more consistent laps. Road America was very technical, like New Jersey, so that has already given me some quality practice in similar conditions."
Brent won his first ARCA Racing Series race at Pocono Raceway in July, and has little doubt that he can add to his win total this weekend.
"I plan on running up front and winning in New Jersey," Brent said. "We're bringing the same car that ran well at both races and we plan to make it even better. I think we'll be very fast from the start of practice."
Indeed, Brent will enter the car that he drove to his two top-five road course finishes, which is the same car Justin Allgaier drove to victory in the series' debut at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2008 on the way to his series championship.
Despite their strong ARCA road finishes, neither Brent nor Marks can lay claim to being the most experienced current driver in ARCA road racing competition. That honor is owned by Frank Kimmel, winner of 74 ARCA races, nine series championships, and an iconic spot in the series' history books.
Kimmel, now the driver of the No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford for Kimmel Racing, has made seven road course starts in his ARCA career, with only a single finish outside the top 10. His highlights are a second-place finish at Des Moines, Iowa in 1994, and a third-place run in ARCA's only race at Watkins Glen International, in 2001.
With finishes of 10th and ninth at New Jersey, Kimmel is looking forward to a better finish, especially in a season where he stands second in the ARCA standings and has his focus set on a 10th series championship.
"The biggest thing we are missing at New Jersey is the driver," Kimmel said with a laugh. "Actually, (in 2008) we had a better car than what we finished but we got caught by rain. I'm not a great road racer but I think both years we have been (to New Jersey) we could have done better than what we have done. (In 2009) we broke a shifter handle off and probably had a car that could have finished four or five spots higher than what we did.
"Although we haven't had bad, bad luck there, things have kind of not gone our way yet. We are looking forward to having a better run and a better finish than we have had in the past."
Whether it's a road favorite like Brent or Marks, a classic star like Kimmel, or another ARCA driver celebrating victory Sunday, one thing is certain. The stock cars of the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards are ready to muscle their way to a spectacular show.
The 67-lap, 150-mile Garden State ARCA 150 presented by American Red Cross begins at 1 p.m. Eastern Sunday, with live timing and scoring and live audio coverage presented by ARCA Nation at ARCARacing.com.