Photo: ARCA Racing Series

Natalie Decker Earns ARCA Pole at Daytona

By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer

Natalie Decker turned a 49.489 second lap (181.859 mph) around Daytona International Speedway on Friday afternoon to win the pole for Saturday’s ARCA Racing Series Lucas Oil 200.

The Wisconsinite edged out Zane Smith by .001 seconds, earning her first General Tire Pole Award in eight series starts. Decker is the first female to claim the top spot at the 2.5-mile superspeedway since Erin Crocker in 2007.

Decker is set to run the full 20-race ARCA schedule this season, piloting the No. 25 Toyota with Venturini Motorsports. She’ll become just the fifth female in the tour’s 66-year history to compete for the driver championship, joining Shawna Robinson (2000), Christi Passmore (2003 and 2004), Milka Duno (2013) and Sarah Cornett-Ching (2015).

“This means so much to me to be here,” Decker said.  “And to get the pole at Daytona is definitely the biggest moment of my career. I beat Johnny Sauter once at State Park Speedway, but this even beats that.”

Decker had the chance to test at Daytona last month, and while she is making her superspeedway debut, she has the advantage of veteran leadership with crew chief Dave Leiner atop the pit box and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series spotter Eddie D’Hondt guiding her through the draft.

The 20-year-old will look to become the first female winner in the storied history of the series on Saturday afternoon, but she will have some stiff competition with one of the better Daytona fields in recent memory.

“Dave (Leiner) sent me a big long text last night and it helped so much,” Decker said. “Thanks to Dave, Billy (Venturini), Toyota and everyone at Venturini  Motorsports for walking me through this whole thing. Everyone has been so helpful.”

The field was set utilizing a group qualifying format, with the groups determined via random draw. There were six or seven cars divided among six groups with each group getting four minutes each to turn their fastest lap.

Decker had the benefit of being in arguably the best of the six groups of cars, with the MDM Motorsports Toyotas of Smith and Chase Purdy along with the Mason Mitchell Motorsports No. 78 Chevrolet piloted by Max Tullman. Those four cars earned the top-four starting spots for Saturday’s 200-mile event, with fellow female and Venturini Motorsports teammate Leilani Munter rounding out the top-five.

A veteran of sports cars, Tullman is making his series debut after testing with the team at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.

“One of the things we did at Talladega was practice a simulated race start, restarts and even pit stops,” Tullman said. “I’ve never had to make a live action pit stop, but the team did a good job coaching me through it. After a few attempts, I feel like I got it down,” said Tullman.

The Pennsylvanian chose to run with Mason Mitchell Motorsports at Daytona because he felt they gave him the best opportunity to shine in his debut.

“As I’ve watched some prior ARCA races, these superspeedway races tend to be a little unpredictable – so the team has done a great job preparing me for almost any circumstance,” Tullman said. “At the end of the day though, we plan to go out there and do our best to bring back the checkered flag.”

Gus Dean, Travis Braden, Riley Herbst, Willie Mullins and Tom Hessert completed the top-10. Brad Smith, making his 300th series start, will roll off 31st.

Live television coverage of Saturday’s 200-mile race from Daytona will begin on Fox Sports 1 at 4:30 p.m. ET, with the green flag set for approximately 4:50 p.m. ET. will have live timing, scoring and chat.

The complete lineup for the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway:

  1. Natalie Decker
  2. Zane Smith
  3. Chase Purdy
  4. Max Tullman
  5. Leilani Munter
  6. Gus Dean
  7. Travis Braden
  8. Riley Herbst
  9. Willie Mullins
  10. Tom Hessert
  11. Quin Houff
  12. Bo LeMastus
  13. Michael Self
  14. Sheldon Creed
  15. Bret Holmes
  16. Codie Rohrbaugh
  17. Sean Corr
  18. Chuck Hiers
  19. Mark Thompson
  20. Bryan Dauzat
  21. Noah Gragson
  22. Daniel Sasnett
  23. Will Rodgers
  24. Grant Quinlan
  25. Andy Seuss
  26. John Ferrier
  27. Thomas Praytor
  28. Dave Mader III
  29. Bobby Gerhart
  30. Jerry De Weerdt
  31. Brad Smith
  32. Kirk Horton
  33. Ed Pompa
  34. Jesse Iwuji
  35. Tony Mrakovich
  36. Scott Reeves
  37. Andrew Belmont
  38. Con Nicolopoulos
  39. Ronnie Osmer

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