Diverse 7-Race Stretch to Determine 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series National Champion 2 Dirt Tracks, 2 Superspeedways, 2 Short Tracks, 1 Road Course Mix it up..... TOLEDO OH (8-26-08) -- Headed down the homestretch, nothing says the ARCA RE/MAX Series...
Diverse 7-Race Stretch to Determine 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series National Champion
2 Dirt Tracks, 2 Superspeedways, 2 Short Tracks, 1 Road Course Mix it up.....
TOLEDO OH (8-26-08) -- Headed down the homestretch, nothing says the ARCA RE/MAX Series quite like the last seven races of the 2008 season.
Call it interesting; call it amazing; call it cool; call it what you will, but make sure you also describe it as the most diverse stretch in all of motorsports, because it most certainly is.
Two dirt tracks, two superspeedways, two short tracks and one road course will complete the '08 schedule and determine who will be this year's ARCA RE/MAX Series national champion. With the championship still very much up for grabs, this seems like a perfectly fitting ending for a series that has long been recognized as the most diverse tour anywhere.
In fact, the last seven races represent the most versatile motorsports mix on earth where no other series has this much diversity in any given season, let alone in a season-ending, seven-race stretch.
It started in mid-August at the Illinois State Fairgrounds mile-dirt in Springfield where Frank Kimmel, after a year-long winless streak, finally got the monkey off his back with a dominating victory in the 46th Allen Crowe 100.
Kimmel, currently fifth in points, seems to come into his own each season about this time of the year -- the time when you have to perform on a wide variety of track types, shapes and sizes. Good news for Kimmel is that the series heads next to the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds mile-dirt where the nine-time series champion has already won four times.
"I've heard a lot of different views on the dirt tracks over the years," said Kimmel. "Some absolutely dread going; I know I used to, but that's certainly not the case anymore. We absolutely love going to the fairgrounds. Truth be known, we, in many ways, consider it the highlight of our season. We tend to really get our stride this time of year. Never used to like going, but once we figured out the dirt, we love it; and I know my brother Bill (crew chief) feels the same way. There's something to the history and tradition of racing at Springfield and DuQuoin that also makes it neat to go. It reminds me of the day when you had to be good in these types of places to win championships."
Kimmel's right about the "when you had to be good in these types of places to win championships". There was a time, of course, when, to be the Indy Car champion, you had to run mile dirt tracks in Springfield, DuQuoin, Sacramento and Syracuse as well as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Those days are long gone in Indy Car racing; but certainly not in the ARCA RE/MAX Series world, which, arguably, sets this series apart from all the rest. Because if one desires to be an ARCA RE/MAX Series national champion, one better get fairly comfortable on the clay.
The old DuQuoin fairgrounds track, where the garage is grass and the crowds are still healthy, is affectionately known as the "Magic Mile" where it arguably takes a certain brand of magic to make things happen there. If not magic, then certainly a good bit of skill -- especially when you consider DuQuoin's most recent winners. In the last seven races at DuQuoin, there have been only three different winners; but it's who those winners are that tend to raise brows. They are, in order since 2001, Kimmel, Kimmel, Tony Stewart, Kimmel, Kimmel, Ken Schrader and Schrader. And, Kimmel and Schrader are of course entered for this year's 58th Southern Illinois 100.
Also entered is the current ARCA RE/MAX Series point leader and SunTrust rookie Scott Speed, who, according to his own words, is more excited about heading out the back gates at the dirt tracks rather than headed through the front gates. Speed described his experience at Springfield as, "well, dirty" and said, "I'm just glad it's over." Unfortunately for the point leader, it's not over with DuQuoin's Southern Illinois 100 on the way Monday, Labor Day, September 1st. Speed started eighth and finished eighth at Springfield, a respectable showing but a bit unnerving when you consider who's up front on the dirt making more points. SunTrust rookie Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who trained on dirt tracks across America, finished second at Springfield. SunTrust rookie and third in points Matt Carter, who had no prior dirt track experience, finished fourth.
But alas, there is relief on the way for Speed, who, once he clears the dreaded DuQuoin dirt track, will steer north to the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway for the eighth annual Chicagoland ARCA 200. Speed has been exceptionally fast in the ARCA RE/MAX Series superspeedway world this year with wins at Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and most recently at Nashville Superspeedway. The Manteca, California driver, along with car owner Eddie Sharp, also leads the Hoosier Superspeedway Challenge championship standings. Given his past speedway track record, Speed will, unquestionably, be one of the driver's to beat at Chicagoland where, after seven events, there have been no repeat winners.
But from there, it's back to the business of short track racing at Salem Speedway where the 84th appearance of the ARCA RE/MAX Series at Salem takes center stage in the Eddie Gilstrap Motors ARCA Fall Classic by Advance Auto Parts under the lights Saturday night, September 13th. Speed started fifth and finished fifth at Salem in the spring race, another respectable showing from a guy who had no prior stock car short track experience. But with players like eight-time Salem winner Kimmel and two-time Salem winner Justin Allgaier in the line-up, the pressure's on to perform.
Take a breath Speed, there's more relief on the way when the series heads to Millville, New Jersey for the inaugural Loud Energy Drink 150 at New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP) road course September 28th.
As most people know, Speed cut his teeth in the world of road course racing -- first in go-karts and then in the world renowned Formula 1 circuit. Based on his road course experience alone, coupled with the first-class equipment he has to work with, Speed is, undeniably, the guy to beat when the series turns more to the right than to the left at NJMP.
On the subject of road courses, it's worth noting that the event in Millville will not be ARCA's first hurrah on a road course. In fact, the series has an extensive road course history that dates back to the 1950s.
Then it's onto the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway for the series' longest race of the year -- a 250-miler on one of the most thrilling superspeedway circuits in America. The superspeedway element should fit right into Speed's comfort level; but Talladega's ...... well, Talladega, where anyone with a pulse who's been paying the slightest bit of attention knows that anything can happen there regardless of your experience, your talent, your equipment and/or your desire to be a Talladega winner.
Fittingly, the ARCA RE/MAX Series will wrap up its 56th consecutive season at home for the season championship finale at Toledo Speedway on October 12th. How did Speed do at Toledo in the spring race? Answer: he finished sixth, which is not bad. But when you factor in a Kimmel, a Stenhouse, a Carter (Toledo winner in the spring), an Allgaier, and all the rest, Speed may have to do much better than that to be called the 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series national champion.
Time will tell. Two dirt tracks, two superspeedways, two short tracks and a road course will determine the 2008 champion in the world's most versatile touring series. And how cool is that?
ARCA RE/MAX Series practice for the 58th Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds is scheduled from 9:00-10:00 am local Central time Monday, September 1st, followed by SIM Factory Pole Award Qualifying at 11:00. The start of the Southern Illinois 100 is set for 1:00 pm.