SPARTA - Sixteen drivers representing the ARCA Racing Series’ (ARS) youthful present and longstanding racing heritage returned to Kentucky Speedway exactly four years removed from the series last event at the venue to test for the September 20 Zloop 150 on Thursday, July 18.
The series will return for its 20th appearance at the facility and will open a doubleheader Kentucky weekend that also includes the NASCAR Nationwide Series Kentucky 300 September 21.
Rising ARS talents Chad Boat, Justin Boston, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Mason Mingus and Will Kimmel turned laps with veterans Bobby Gerhart and Tom Hessert in humid conditions and air temperatures in the mid-90s.
Elliott will make his first intermediate track start when he returns to the Bluegrass State after competing in ARS events at New Jersey Motorsports Park July 28, Pocono Raceway August 2, Bristol Motor Speedway August 21, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park September 1 and Iowa Speedway September 8 in his Hendrick Motorsports powered No. 9.
He’s made a strong transition from late model to ARCA and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) competition this season. He’s knocked out three top-five finishes, including a season-best fourth-place showing at Dover International Speedway, and a combined four top-10 NCWTS finishes in as many starts. He’s also registered a Pocono Raceway victory along with a fourth-place finish at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., in his two ARCA appearances to date.
“The season’s been decent. We had some good races, some bad races and some races in between. We’re headed in the right direction, but by no means are where we need to be. If we can keep chippin’ away at it, we can hopefully get to Victory Lane a little more often. Hopefully, it’ll be at Kentucky in a few weeks,” he said.
He’s making headway as a competitor under the watchful eye of his father, Bill, the 1988 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion who racked up 44 victories, 175 top-five and 320 top-10 finishes in his 37-year series career.
“Anytime you move up in series, it’s definitely not going to get any easier. Dad helps me a lot. He comes to pretty about every race he can. All these places we’re going have been repaved and the cars are a little bit different than what they were a few years ago. Some things he can help me with and some things I just have to figure out on my own,” Chase Elliott said.
The specific Kentucky Speedway feature the 17-year-old was tasked with solving during today’s test was tough tri-oval terrain.
“It’s more challenging to get your car driving right across it. There are few things I can work on to try to position myself to find a smoother line, but you just have to get your car driving right,” he analyzed.
Although he’s already captured a victory on the unique 2.5-mile Pocono track, he also continued to adjust to handling advanced speed during his test laps.
“It’s just the speed. The feel doesn’t really change. It’s taking that feel and those signs that, ‘This thing’s a little tight, so I’m going to snap loose on exit,’ and multiplying that by 10. Obviously, I’m going a lot faster than I have been this past handful of years and it just takes getting used to. That’s why we’re here today. We gotta get through today and get our car dialed in. We’ll get the attitude where it needs to be on the car, get balance right, and we’ll be fine,” Elliott said.
Boston also has been impressive this season. He ranks fourth in the series standings after delivering three top -five and a combined seven top-10 results through 10 starts this season. That record includes a five-event stint in which he delivered three top-five and a combined five top-10 finishes.
He explored multiple grooves during his test runs in the No. 25 Zloop machine.
“It’s my first time on the track and it has a ton of character. It’s a precise track. If you negotiate that well enough, you’ll be a step above everyone else. We’re trying to do some race runs in the car we’re going to take to Chicago, so, we didn’t want to push it too much. We brought another car to pick up a little more speed.
“I’ve run the middle and top in one and two and everywhere in three and four. We ended up on the bottom at the end of practice. That seems like it will be the quickest way around this place. We’re just trying to figure where our car works best,” Boston commented.
He is part of five-driver Venturini Motorsports team that’s helped him make a smooth transition from late models to high-horsepower stock cars.
“I feel like it’s been a good transition and pretty painless for me. I got to run Pro Cup Series, which has the heavier cars. These cars are a lot heavier than a late model. When you transfer over, there’s definitely a learning curve because you have more car to get ‘whoaed down’. This year’s been going, for the most part, really good. I’m really excited to come back here. It’s the race I’m most excited for because we’re carrying the sponsorship,” Boston said.
The 23-year-old also added his previous race seasons have helped him approach this year’s events with patience.
“ARCA is a really young series and I kinda feel like an old guy, except for Frank Kimmel, who’s been around forever. Patience has been a big deal in terms of negotiating the race properly and dealing with certain things you go through in a race. Being a little bit older has helped get through that learning curve,” Boston added.
While he’s focusing on continued improvement, he’s also hoping his consistency will help him make up some, if not all, of his 475-point championship deficit to leader and nine-time series champion Kimmel through the closing 11 events of the campaign.
“We’re having a really good year and I just look forward to getting better going from track to track. I want to go for wins and Frank’s going to have to tire out a little so we can get to him,” Boston concluded.
Tickets, Coca-Cola Four Packs, campsites and Fan Zone passes for Kentucky Speedway’s September races can be reserved by calling (859) 578-2300, visiting www.kentuckyspeedway.com and through the Kentucky Speedway ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive in Sparta, Ky., just off Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 North.