By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
NEWTON, Iowa— After getting behind the wheel of one of his team’s Chevrolets at a recent Iowa Speedway test, team-owner Mason Mitchell decided he had to drive when the ARCA Racing Series rolled into his hometown track. Mitchell announced to the team on Monday morning at the competition meeting that he would drive a second entry for the team in Saturday night’s Fans with Benefits 150.
Mitchell hails from West Des Moines, Iowa and parked it in victory lane at the 7/8-mile oval in a thriller in 2015, calling it his Daytona 500 and noting that it would always be his favorite track. Since winning the ARCA championship in 2014, Mitchell had made just 10 starts behind the wheel in ARCA competition coming into Saturday night’s 150-lapper.
It was anything but a smooth day on Saturday as the MMM organization had to overcome adversity between practice and the drop of the green flag. Issues during General Tire pole qualifying resulted in Mitchell bringing his No. 98 Chevrolet back to pit road and not making a qualification lap due to a vibration. As a result, the team changed engines prior to the race and the hometown favorite had to start at the tail end of the field.
Mitchell made quick work of the cars in front of him in the early stages, running 11th at Lap 30 and maintaining his position on the lead lap during the long green flag run until the first caution of the race at Lap 61. Mitchell would gain a few more positions and run as high as sixth, but wasn’t able to get up front and run with the lead cars.
“We were actually pretty good on the longer run but we lost so much on the short run. We just couldn’t attack the corner as good as some people,” Mitchell said. “We were really good off the corner, but this new tire just took forever for us to kind of even out with their pace and then get a little bit better than them. Decent night for the guys and we will move on.”
The 24-year-old driver has created one of the top driver development teams in the series, as several drivers have made a start or two with the team on their way up the ladder to the NASCAR national series. Justin Haley, who recently won his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Gateway, has two wins in an MMM machine.
“Not the finish we wanted, obviously,” a dejected Mitchell said. “We came here for one reason and that was to win. Overall, a decent night for all the adversity that we faced with some engine issues in practice, changing engines and starting dead last. We passed plenty of cars and I feel like we put on a decent show for the fans, but just not quite what we needed handling-wise to be where we needed to be up in the front. I gave it all I had. I really wanted to win here for the hometown crowd. We will gather it back up and hopefully come back again.”