By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
The ARCA Racing Series heads to arguably the best track on the schedule and the one most-perfect for the series this weekend for the third race of the 2018 season. With a race day forecast of 63 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain, the stands should be packed at the high-banked half-mile in Indiana.
Salem Speedway is a 0.555-mile paved oval with 33 degrees of banking in the turns. The old, bumpy, worn-out surface typically produces fantastic racing and is a mixture of asphalt as Turns 3 and 4 were repaved several years ago. The historic track hosted its first ARCA race in 1955. The race distance is 200 laps or 111 miles.
Three Drivers to Watch
You’ve most likely heard of Berry, if not because of his on-track performance, because he drives for a guy you made have heard of before in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Berry is making his first ARCA start and will pilot the No. 22 for Chad Bryant Racing. Bryant was the crew chief for Chase Briscoe’s ARCA championship in 2016 and purchased the team from Cunningham Motorsports co-owners Briggs Cunningham and Kerry Scherer last fall.
Berry is currently racing in the southern-based CARS Response Energy Late Model Stock Car Tour, where he is the all-time leading winner. Over the past five seasons, the 27-year-old driver has won 48 Late Model races between the CARS Tour and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. His racing resume also includes seven starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with two top-10 finishes on short tracks.
“It’s an interesting place,” Berry said of Salem Speedway, where he tested with the team recently. “It’s wild, definitely a challenge and will be a tough place to race. Tire management is going to be key and that might benefit me in that I do that every week in my Late Model with the CARS Tour. It’s a great opportunity for me to try the ARCA Racing Series, which has always been very competitive.”
Decker ran seven races last season with Venturini Motorsports and put nary a scratch on her Toyota while learning a ton and bonding with veteran crew chief Dave Leiner. The 20-year-old driver grabbed the attention of the national motorsports media by earning the pole for the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway and finishing fifth in what was a chaotic race.
Slated to run the full season and compete for the championship, the key will be her performance throughout the season on the tracks that comprise the majority of the ARCA schedule. Decker ran as high as sixth at Nashville before fading late and finishing 11th.
“We came down last week and had a really good test with our N29 Capital Partners Toyota,” said Decker, who is making her first start at Salem and 10th of her ARCA career this weekend.
“It’s definitely a tough track but we learned a lot and made some big gains throughout the day. Dave and I continue to work really well together and have a lot of confidence going back. I grew up racing short tracks, but there’s still a lot to learn in these ARCA cars. I’m happy with our start so far.”
Another ARCA race sees another driver make their debut in the series behind the wheel of a Mason Mitchell Motorsports Chevrolet. The team has made a name for themselves with driver development, working with 11 different drivers in 2018 and 18 different drivers in 2017. The past two seasons have seen the team earn three wins and 14 top-five and 32 top-10 finishes.
At Salem, Colby Howard will get the opportunity to show what he can do in the bigger, heavier ARCA car. The 16-year-old driver is a third-generation racer who began his career racing dirt bikes before switching to mini stocks and limited late models.
In 2016, Howard earned seven wins and finished runner-up in the Southeast Limited Late Model Series. Howard moved to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Late Model Stock division in 2017, where he finished second in South Carolina state points. Earlier this month, Howard won a late model stock race at the historic Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.
“Salem is really difficult to get around,” Howard said after testing at Salem with team owner and 2014 ARCA champion Mason Mitchell and crew chief Mark Setzer. “It’s mainly a mental thing. You get so close to the wall in turns three and four and really have to back up your entry entering turn one. It’s so unique with turns one and two being completely worn out and three and four having newer pavement allowing for more grip.
New Points Leader
With the win in the season-opener at Daytona and a fourth-place result two weeks ago at Nashville, Michael Self is the current leader in the championship standings. However, Self isn’t running the full season and will not compete this weekend at Salem. As a result, the series will have a new championship leader when the haulers load up on Sunday evening. With two top-five finishes in 2018, Sheldon Creed stands to take the points lead over Natalie Decker, Zane Smith and Riley Herbst.
The last race at Nashville was brutal with temperatures in the lows 30s and a constant wind. Thankfully that should be the coldest anyone in the garage area and the grandstands will be for the balance of the season. This weekend’s temperatures for Salem are projected in the low 60s with a zero percent chance of rain on both Saturday and Sunday.
Talkin’ ‘Bout Tires
General Tire will have approximately 450 tires on-hand at Salem this weekend. The left sides will be Tire Code 27 with a recommended PSI of 21 and the right sides will be Tire Code 44 with a recommended PSI of 37 on the front and 35 on the rear. There will be no limit on sets for practice and set with which teams qualify will be used to start the race. One complete set and two additional tires are allowed on pit road for the race.
ARCA Fantasy Picks
I’ve made my selections for Salem success and have shared them below:
- Josh Berry
- Sheldon Creed
- Christian Eckes
- Colby Howard
- Chandler Smith
If you are interested in participating, select your drivers by clicking here.
Where to Watch
The action will begin on Saturday afternoon with the ARCA Racing Series set for a 90-mintue practice session beginning at noon ET. General Tire Pole Qualifying will follow at 4:00 p.m. The Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 is scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday. Live timing and scoring of all on-track activity will be available at ARCARacing.com. Live television coverage of Sunday’s 200-lap event will be available on MAVTV.
Official Entry List
0 Mark Meunier
06 Con Nicolopoulos
8 Chase Purdy
9 Thomas Praytor
10 Matt Dooley
11 Dick Doheny
15 Christian Eckes
18 Riley Herbst
20 Chandler Smith
22 Josh Berry
23 Bret Holmes
25 Natalie Decker
27 Travis Braden
28 Sheldon Creed
32 Gus Dean
34 Mike Basham
41 Zane Smith
46 Thad Moffitt
48 Brad Smith
52 Brandon Grosso
69 Will Kimmel
73 Dale Shearer
77 Joe Graf, Jr.
78 Colby Howard
99 Jack Dossey III