Category: 2019 News

The Come Back Kid! Christian Eckes Crowned ARCA Menards Series Champion after Dramatic Win in Kansas Finale

Friday night’s ARCA Menards Series championship race between Venturini Motorsports’ teammates Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Toyota) and Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) at Kansas Speedway will go down as an instant classic.

Living up to the event’s pre-race hype Christian Eckes delivered a masterful performance after all seemed lost.  Eckes, who once again had to overcome adversity, drove to victory lane and was crowned the series’ 2019 champion after an epic heavy weight battle filled with all the excitement and drama one could hope and expect.

After engine issues during qualifying forced Eckes’ JBL Audio Toyota team to change motors, the 18-year old driver was forced to start from the rear of the field, while Self qualified second and started from the outside front row.

Self, jumping out to the lead on the first lap would dominate the first 57 circuits of the scheduled 100-lap event. But on the restart after the races second caution of the night Eckes took away the lead and drove away.

“The day didn’t go smoothly at all,” said the Middletown, NY native. “We had an engine problem in qualifying and the guys had to change it an hour before the race. We started at the back and we were in the top ten in five laps. The car was on a rail all night.”

Eckes night wasn’t smooth, and neither was his entire season.

After taking the championship lead after the second race of the season, at Five Flags Speedway, Eckes fell ill and was hospitalized the night before the third race of the year at Salem Speedway. He missed the race, giving up the points lead to teammate Self.

Eckes and his Kevin Reed-led team were tenacious throughout the summer and fall, closing the gap by finishing the final seven races second or better before retaking the lead two weeks ago at Lucas Oil Raceway. This was Eckes’s fourth win of the season.

Eckes became the first series champion since Tim Steele in 1996 to miss a race en route to the championship.

“We even missed a race,” Eckes said in disbelief in victory lane. “The entire season has been filled with drama and we are still here. It’s absolutely incredible.”

Self, who finished second, did all he could do to turn the tables on his Venturini Motorsports teammate. He jumped out to the lead at the start and led the first 57 laps, locking up five bonus points for leading a lap and by the halfway point clinching an additional five bonus points for leading the most laps.

“Second sucks,” Self said after visiting Eckes in victory lane. “I am thankful to have the opportunity to come and race for a championship. We won four times but we had a lot of ups and downs. I wish it would have turned out differently but I am really happy for Christian and the Venturini team. I just wish it played out in our favor tonight.”

Eckes’ championship victory was VMS’ 14th win of the 20-race season and put an exclamation point on a dream season for the long time ARCA team. Eckes finished 25 points ahead of Self in the final ARCA Menards Series championship standings.

Adding to the team’s history making night in Kansas, the No.20 Toyota team led by Billy Venturini, captured the Series’ Owner Championship, giving the organization their first title since Bill Venturini won the 1991 driver championship

The ARCA Menards Series racing season is now complete, with the next event on the calendar the annual Championship Awards Banquet held at the Indiana State Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, in conjunction with the annual Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, set for Saturday December 14.

Chandler Smith Victorious in Herr’s Potato Chip 200 Scores Fifth Win of 2019; Christian Eckes Takes Back ARCA Points Lead

Toyota Racing Development’s (TRD) Chandler Smith, 17, celebrated his fifth ARCA Menards Series victory of the season in Saturday night’s rain-shortened Herr’s Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Smith, from Talking Rock, GA, driving his now familiar No.20 Craftsman/828 Logistics/Quick Tie Toyota took the lead from his Venturini Motorsports teammate Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota) on lap 161. The next lap, a heavy sprinkle turned into a rain shower necessitating a caution flag. The field led by Smith circulated behind the pace car for five more circuits before ARCA officials put out the red flag. The rains persisted and the race was deemed official, ending 33 laps before its scheduled conclusion.

Smith’s victory delivered VMS the team’s 13th win out of 19 races so far in 2019. The win also propelled the No.20 team one step closer to winning the ARCA Owner Points Championship which now comes down to simply starting the final race at Kansas Speedway in two weeks to secure the title.

“It’s just been an unbelievable season.” Smith said in a makeshift victory lane celebration. “I’m so proud of this team and everything we’ve been able to accomplish. And tonight was special – it was just meant to be. We couldn’t have timed that pass out any better than we did.”

Smith’s crew chief and team owner Billy Venturini shared his feelings in a late night tweet saying, “Great night for Venturini Motorsports and especially the twenty-car. By winning tonight we should be able to clinch the owners’ championship by starting race in Kansas. Thanks to everybody at VMS that have all helped in this great accomplishment. Now my two drivers (Christian Eckes and Michael Self) can go duke out the drivers’ championship.”

Meanwhile despite being disappointed with his second place finish at Lucas Oil Raceway, Eckes held his head high giving praise to his team and showing excitement after learning he’d retaken the ARCA Menards Series championship (Driver) lead by 20-points over teammate Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) who finished sixth. Eckes who was an early season favorite topped the point standings early in the season after Pensacola but relinquished the position after missing out at Salem Speedway due to illness.

“We’re obviously disappointed with second,” Eckes said. “We’d have liked to have had that caution for rain a few laps earlier but it didn’t happen. I’m just really proud of this team. Nobody ever quit. It’s our sixth top-two finish in a row and more importantly we’re taking the points lead into the Kansas finale. We really have things turned around after a tough early summer stretch.”

Also, by virtue of his Indianapolis finish, Eckes took home the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge Championship. The award designed to create a championship within a championship for drivers not competing the entire 20-race schedule was given to the driver with the best average finish on the designated short tracks.

Self, who ran a solid race but came up a few spots short of Eckes in the end at Indianapolis was direct when asked about the shift in points going into Kansas.

“Just a disappointing night,” said Self. “It’s just feel like this is kinda how our year has gone most of the season. It’s always something making it a hard night. Unfortunately, we had a really rough pit stop there at the end and took our four tires and restarted fifth instead of fourth. On that last restart the top lane got going really well and the bottom lane got completely crowded up and we got put in the middle three wide and bounced around. I don’t know. We just struggled a bit – didn’t have good balance on the car all night, really tight for the most part.”

Asked about entering the final race at Kansas as one of the race favorites Self was quick to respond. “I don’t have anything to loose. Doesn’t matter what happens at this point, we’re going to Kansas to win.”

Hailie Deegan (No.55 TRD’s 40th Anniversary Toyota) making her fifth ARCA start of the season turned in her career best performance by challenging for the lead late before settling for fifth place after series’ officials called the race due to rain.

“My goal was to finish top five and keep a clean car for Kansas so I’m pretty excited,” said Deegan. “I think our car was fighting some tightness and it took a while to get out of it. And we’d have a good restart and the car felt pretty neutral and then the car would get tighter and tighter as the race went on. We had some great restarts and made it up to second and then we’d fall back as the car tightened up. Overall just a great night.”

Referencing Kansas, Deegan will end the season driving in the season finale on an intermediate track.

“I’m excited. I’ve never raced on a mile and a half track before so I think it’s going to take a little use to. I’ll go back and do some simulator work and hopefully we’ll have a good finish there to.”

During Saturday night’s race there were three lead changes among four drivers. Ty Gibbs led a race-high 143 laps, Joe Graf Jr. led seven laps from laps 144 to 150, Eckes led from lap 151 through lap 160 and Smith led from lap 161 to 167 when the race concluded. With those seven laps led, Smith, who only made 11 starts throughout the season, also locked up the 2019 Valvoline Lap Leader Award.

The ARCA Kansas 150 and the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway will close the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season on Friday, October 18. Practice opens the day at 1 pm ET/12 n CT followed by General Tire Pole Qualifying at 6 pm ET/5 pm CT. The 100-lap/150-mile feature event will go green at 8:30 pm ET/7:30 pm CT and will be shown live on FS2 with an immediate replay on FS1.

Eyeing Kansas Finale Michael Self and Christian Eckes Zero in on Championship Dreams

Combining for seven of Venturini Motorsports’ (VMS) 12 ARCA Menards Series victories so far in 2019, teammates Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) and Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) enter the final three series events battling each other in hot pursuit of achieving championship dreams.

With Self holding a 70-point advantage over Eckes in the ARCA point standings the attention now shifts to familiar ground with Salem Speedway (September 14), Lucas Oil Raceway (October 5) and the finale at Kansas Speedway (October 18) to determine this year’s ARCA Menards Series Champion.

Entering the final stage of the season both drivers carry momentum and success at these tracks. Self, the defending spring race winner at Salem Speedway also took the checkered flag home at Kansas Speedway in 2017. While in 2018 Eckes earned his first career series victory at Salem Speedway and dominated the Lucas Oil Raceway event by leading 171 of 200 laps.

The two most dominant drivers on the circuit today, Self and Eckes have lit up the series since July with a flurry of top finishes while swapping wins over the last three races.

Self, a four-time winner in 2019 picked up his latest victory in August at Springfield and has not finished outside the top-four positions during his last five starts. In 17 overall season starts, the 28-year old Utah native has led 480 laps while posting a series high five General Tire Pole Awards.

“I’m excited to get back to asphalt racing on some familiar tracks,” says Self. “Salem is probably my favorite short track on the schedule, and Kansas is one of my favorite races of the season for a number of reasons. I’ve had success at all three of the remaining tracks, but with that being said I don’t want to be overly confident.

Christian and the guys on the 15 car have been on fire lately. It’s no secret they’ve got momentum, but I feel like our No. 25 Sinclair Oil team has been solid too. My guys continue to give me good racecars just as they’ve done all year, so more than anything I’m excited to get to go drive good racecars at fun tracks, and enjoy whatever that brings. I don’t know what the future holds for me past the end of this season, so I don’t want to waste a great opportunity being stressed over the competition and points.”

Eckes, a three-time series winner on the season including two of the last three races (Pocono Race and Springfield), has posted an impressive 1.5 average finish dating back to Iowa Speedway in July. Eckes has led 353 laps on the season and owns two of VMS’s 14 team pole awards.

“I’m really looking forward to battling with Michael to end this year out,” said the 18-year-old from Middletown, NY. “Self and that entire 25 team have been on their game the entire year and definitely made it interesting. I’m just really looking forward to continuing the momentum we’ve built over the last few races and closing out the season strong.”

Eckes also holds the top spot and is virtually a lock for this year’s Bounty Rookie of the Year honors.

The final push for the series’ championship starts Saturday, September 14 at Salem Speedway. The 106th running of ARCA’s Fall Classic will air live on MAVTV starting at 8pm ET.

VMS Unveils Pair of Nostalgic Paint Schemes for Upcoming ARCA Event at Salem Speedway

Following NASCAR’s fan favorite throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway, which was highlighted by former Venturini Motorsports (VMS) Toyota driver Erik Jones winning his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, the nostalgia will continue on the high banks of historic Salem Speedway when the ARCA Menards Series returns to action for the 106th all-time series event at Salem on Saturday, September 14.

After earning back-to-back team victories on the dirt, VMS looks to continue their winning way with a special throwback tribute of their own.

Celebrating the team’s patriarch and two-time ARCA Series Champion (‘87 & ‘91), the team unveiled a pair of Bill Venturini’s retro paint schemes for the upcoming race at Salem Speedway.

Honoring Venturini’s first of two ARCA Series championship, Christian Eckes’ No.15 JBL Audio Toyota will carry the iconic 1987 white with blue striped paint scheme.

“It’s a great honor to run Bill’s championship colors – especially at Salem,” says current championship contender Christian Eckes. “I’ve known Bill and his family since I broke into the series back in 2016. He’s done so much for me personally and so many others over the years. It’s just a really cool deal. Hopefully we’re able to put this JBL Audio Camry in victory lane for him!”

Going further back in time, six time ARCA series winner Chandler Smith, driver of the No.20 Craftsman Toyota, will pay homage by featuring Venturini’s 1978 United States Auto Club (USAC) colors and wheel a black car featuring eye popping orange and blue stripes with gold numbers.

“It was a so cool to see all the old school paint schemes at Darlington,” said Smith. “But nothing will compare to driving this throwback car under the lights at Salem. Salem has a rich history. The ARCA Series has been racing there almost forever and Bill and the Venturini family has been running there since the 80’s. I can’t think of another track or paint scheme I’d rather run.”

Both Eckes and Smith have each won at Salem. Eckes, won his first of six current ARCA victories in 2018 at Salem and Smith duplicated his winning effort the same year during Salem’s fall race.

The longtime ARCA team has recorded nine wins at Salem Speedway of its 64 all-time series wins and team co-owner, Billy Venturini, scored his sole ARCA win at the southern Indiana track in 2006.

The Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 and ARCA throwback race will kick off on Saturday, September 14 with practice at 1 pm ET, followed by General Tire Pole Qualifying at 4 pm ET, and the green flag on the 200-lap main event to follow at 7:15 pm ET. The race will be televised live on MAVTV.

Christian Eckes Gains Ground in Championship Hunt with Dominant Victory at DuQuoin; Teammates Logan Seavey Finishes Runner-Up and Michael Self Grabs Fourth

Championship contender Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio/Illinois Truck & Equipment Toyota) scored his third ARCA Menards Series victory of the season and pulled within 70-points of teammate Michael Self for the series title with a dominant performance in the Southern Illinois 100 on the Magic Mile at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

Eckes’ victory, his sixth of his career sets a new season high for his Venturini Motorsports team which has now won 12 races in 2019 and 64 all-time in ARCA competition.

Eckes started outside General Tire Pole Award winner Ken Schrader and slipped past third-place starter Kelly Kovski on lap 10 to take the lead and led the rest of the way to take his second career ARCA Menard Series win on dirt. He also won at Springfield in 2018.

“I don’t know if you can call me a dirt track expert just yet,” Eckes laughed in victory lane. “I tried to drive Springfield and DuQuoin like dirt tracks last year and burned everything off the car I could. We tried some new things here tonight and I drove the track more like a pavement track and it really paid off.”

Eckes finished in 0.443 seconds in front of his Venturini Motorsports teammate, and defending race winner, Logan Seavey (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota). Seavey started tenth and methodically worked his way towards the front of the field. He utilized lap traffic to work past his other Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) to take over second with 28 laps to go. From there Seavey was able to stay within sight of Eckes but he couldn’t close in enough to seriously challenge.

“It stinks coming back here and finishing second,” Seavey said. “We worked our way to the front and caught a good break in traffic to get past Michael but we didn’t quite have enough to close in on Christian.”

Current ARCA series points leader Michael Self qualified fifth and finished fourth in Saturday night’s feature under the lights at DuQuoin. Despite recording another solid top-5 finish Self gave up 35 points to Eckes in the hunt for the ARCA Menards Series Championship.

“The lapped cars were tough tonight,” Self said. “I get you want to race hard and stay on the lead lap but you also need to respect the leaders of the race. They didn’t give a lot of room out there for sure. We lost a position late in the race to lapped car. Maybe I could have been a little more aggressive, I don’t know.”

Self and Eckes beginning to go back and forth with victories have now combined to win the last three series races and seven combined on the season. Eckes, winning at Pocono Raceway (July) and now at DuQuoin while Self won two weeks ago at Springfield.

The race was only slowed twice by cautions, each time for debris. That allowed Eckes to set a record speed on his way to the victory, 105.798 miles per hour.

The ARCA Menards Series returns to action on Saturday September 14 in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 at Salem Speedway. Practice is set for 2:30 pm ET with General Tire Pole Qualifying to follow at 4 pm ET. The 200-lap main event will close the night at 7:15 pm ET. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV.

Michael Self Slays Springfield Dirt; Christian Eckes Stays in Title Hunt with Runner-Up Finish

Concord, North Carolina (August 19, 2019) – Making his first career dirt start Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) answered the bell capturing his fourth ARCA Menards Series victory of the season in front of a near capacity crowd at the Illinois State Fairgrounds during the Allen Crowe 100.

Self’s victory marks Venturini Motorsports fourth win in a row and the team’s eleventh in 2019 – in what can only be described as a dream season for the longtime ARCA team.

Self, the current series championship points leader edged out teammate Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota) during a two-lap shootout and extended his points lead after dominating the second half of Sunday’s race in Springfield.

Self, 28, qualified ninth and ran mostly inside the top-five for the first 50-laps before taking the lead after the midway point from another Venturini Motorsports teammate, Logan Seavey, who started first after earning his first career General Tire Pole Award and finished fourth overall.

Once overcoming Seavey, Self would build nearly a four-second advantage over the field until a late race caution flew with less than ten laps to go. The caution would force overtime and green-white-checkered dash to the checkered. Self got the break on the restart and kept his Sinclair Oil Toyota up front as last year’s race winner, Eckes, went from fourth to second to finish one spot behind his teammate.

“What a day for this Sinclair Oil backed team,” said Self. “I honestly didn’t know what to expect coming into this race with no dirt experience. But I’ve got a bunch of great people helping me along the way. I can’t thank my teammates and crew chief Shannon Rursch enough for all the pointers – and Billy (Venturini) and Frank (Kimmel) for helping me make the transition – it was a total team effort.”

“I did not want to see that last yellow. I was really nervous. I knew we had to get a great restart. It was pretty wild going off into turns one and two. It was a great day for this twenty-five team.”

Eckes was happy to come across the line in second knowing he could have given up a lot more ground to Self in the ARCA Menards Series championship battle.

“We’re satisfied with second but we needed more than that today,” Eckes said. “We were sitting fourth before that last restart so it could have been worse than that. It’s just a shame we gave up everything we picked up after winning at Pocono.”

Self continues to lead the ARCA Menards Series championship standings with an un-official 105-point lead over Eckes headed into the Southern Illinois 100 at DuQuoin on August 31.

Christian Eckes Grabs Pocono Glory in Statement Victory; Delivers VMS 10th Win of Season

Concord, North Carolina (July 27, 2019) – Eighteen-year-old Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) from nearby Middleton, NY returned to the site of his first childhood NASCAR memory and captured glory in Friday afternoon’s ARCA Menards Series FORTS USA 150 at Pocono Raceway.

Eckes, who’s played the underdog for much of the season since falling ill and missing out on the third race of the year made a statement and giant leap forward in his pursuit of teammate Michael Self and his pursuit of a series championship.

Handing Venturini Motorsports its 10th victory of the season, Eckes’ epic win came on the same day Toyota officially clinched its fourth Manufacturer’s championship in the ARCA Menards Series.

A virtual lock for ARCA rookie of the year, Eckes, took control on lap 35 when the dominant driver in the early stages of the race, General Tire Pole Award winner Todd Gilliland was penalized for a blend line violation after his only pit stop of the afternoon.

Eckes led the final 26 laps of the caution free race to score his second win of the season and fifth overall. Once Eckes was alerted by his crew that he would be the leader after Gilliland’s penalty, he kept his head in the game to minimize mistakes.

“Once they told me what happened to Todd (Gilliland) it was all about keeping our heads down and not making any mistakes,” said the Toyota driver. “We knew there was a long way to go and we needed to be perfect to close it out.”

Earning his first speedway victory of this career, Eckes closes the gap on his Venturini Motorsports teammate and championship leader Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Oil Toyota), who finished third. Eckes knows with just five races remaining every point matters.

“We need to be perfect from here on out,” Eckes said. “Without missing the race at Salem, we’d be 150 points ahead. Without the last lap at Elko we’d be within 50 points or so. We were perfect here today and we need to be perfect every week from here on out. I’ve won at three of the five tracks and my crew chief Kevin Reed has won at all five of them so I am confident we can make a run at it.”

Self finished third in what was an uneventful race for the points leader.

“We had a right rear tire go down and we had to pit early,” Self said. “Once the field cycled through and we didn’t get a caution it evened out for us. We weren’t close to second place and we were way ahead of fourth so we were just trying to make sure we didn’t do anything to give it away at the end.”

Self continues to lead the series championship standings with an unofficial 90-point advantage over Eckes who has now moved into second. Holmes is now third, 110 points back and ninth-place finisher Travis Braden is fourth 150 points behind.

Chandler Smith (No.20 Craftsman Toyota), 17, the hottest driver going into yesterday’s event with four series wins on the season, finished eighth in his speedway debut at Pocono. Smith, who qualified third, lost track position early and was forced to serve a drive thru penalty after speeding on pit road during a green flag pit stop. Turing in another solid performance, Smith’s top-10, kept the No.20 Toyota team well in front in the owner point standings.

The next race for the ARCA Menards Series is the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Saturday, August 18. Practice on the one-mile dirt oval will begin at 10 am ET/9 am CT, General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 12 n ET/11 am CT, and the 100-mile feature event will go green at 2:30 pm ET/1:30 pm CT. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV.

Chandler Smith Unstoppable at Iowa Claims Fourth Consecutive Short Track Win; Christian Eckes, Michael Self Complete VMS Podium Sweep

Newton, IA (July 20, 2019) – Venturini Motorsport’s dream season continued in the sweltering Iowa heat as the Toyota team turned in their most dominant overall performance of the year with their ninth team victory and a podium sweep in Friday night’s ARCA Racing Series event at a Iowa Speedway. Smith’s win was VMS first-ever at Iowa and the team’s 61st overall.

Seventeen-year-old Chandler Smith (No.20 Craftsman / 828 Logistics Toyota) turned in another dominant performance en route to his fourth consecutive short track win of the season while teammates Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota) and Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) filled the top three finishing spots.

Continuing to add to his impressive career stats, Smith set fast time in practice and started first after earning his eight career General Tire Pole Award and sixth ARCA victory in just 17 series starts. Smith’s Iowa Pole Award was VMS’s 13th in 14 races in 2019. Leading all but 10 laps in Friday’s 250 lapper, Smith has now led 46% (1,421) of all laps completed since making his series debut with VMS last season at Nashville.

“Tonight was unbelievable,” said the teenager out of Talking Rock, Georgia. “We ran a near flawless race. Other than that pit stop where lost the lead because of a jack malfunction or something the only other time I ever felt the car get outta shape was when I passed a lap car on the outside. Other than that it was perfect. I can’t thank Billy (Venturini) and the rest of the Venturini Motorsports Craftsman Toyota team for giving me such a great car here. To have four wins on the season is a dream come true.”

Smith, who temporarily gave up the lead on lap-105 to Ty Gibbs because of a mishap on the final pit stop of the night, kept his cool and wasted no time taking back the spot temporarily inherited by Gibbs.

“We had some sort of jack malfunction,” he said. “It’s all just part of it. I really wanted to lead them all tonight but we’re still leaving here with the trophy and that’s what matters.”

Smith led a Venturini Motorsports sweep of the top three finishers. Christian Eckes was second in front of teammate Michael Self in third.

Eckes on the strength of his runner-up finish and seventh top-five moved up into the third position in the ARCA championship point standings just 20-points out of second behind Bret Holmes and now only 110 points back of series leader Michael Self.

“I thought I got a better restart than Chandler did on the final restart,” Eckes said. “We went down into one and just got way too loose. When the track is as hot and slick as it was tonight I don’t know if that’s what it was or if we were just too loose. But this is as hot as I’ve ever been in the racecar.”

Self, who along with the rest of the field battled extreme heat conditions, also had to overcome a gearbox issue on the way to securing his series leading 10th top-five finish of the season. Stuck in fourth gear from the onset, Self had to start each restart by dropping back through the field and be forced to pass the same cars repeatedly as he charged back to the front.

“The only time we had all the gears was on the initial start of the race,” Self said. “Every other restart we would drop back through the field and have to pass our way back towards the front. It really felt like it was one of the most physical races I’ve ever driven because I was always racing someone for position all night long. The final restart we didn’t lose as many positions as the others because it was just a couple of laps to go and I held it wide open through turns one and two and whatever happened, happened.”

Rookie Gavin Harlien in just his second career ARCA Start qualified 10th in his No.55 Autism Awareness Toyota and finished 12th. Harlien, 19, will make his next start late in the season at Salem Speedway.

Next up for the ARCA Menards Series is the FORTS USA 150 at Pocono Raceway on Friday, July 26. Practice starts at 9 am ET with General Tire Pole Qualifying set for 1:35 pm ET and the green flag on the FORTS USA 150 set to fly at 4 pm ET. The race will be televised live flag to flag on FS1.

Chandler Smith Shines at Elko Speedway; Delivers VMS 60th All-Time ARCA Victory

In front of nearly a capacity crowd Chandler Smith (No.20 Craftsman / 828 Logistics Toyota) dominated Saturday night’s ARCA Menards Series Menards 250 at Elko Speedway.

Smith, 17, now a five time ARCA winner in just 16 career series starts, also handed Venturini Motorsports’ (VMS) its eighth win of 2019 and the team’s 60th all-time ARCA series victory.

Although he had the dominant car, Smith did have to work for it. He slid in oil laid down in turn one by another competitor and spun on lap 146 and dropped to the tail of the lead lap. By virtue of a fast car and numerous mid-race cautions that continued to jumble the running order, Smith was able to knife his way back to the lead by lap 209. From there, he was able to drive away to nearly a full straightaway lead crossing the stripe 4.147 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Ty Gibbs.

“I was so mad when I spun down there in one,” Smith said post-race. “I was the only one riding the top groove at that point and there was oil all over the place. It just went around so slow, like it was in slow motion. I thought we might have had a tire go down or maybe even got hit. I was just mad. You definitely didn’t want to hear our radio traffic after that happened.”

Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota), 18, started first after securing his second General Tire Pole Award of 2019, led 76 laps on the night and was racing in the second position coming to the final set of turns before contact from teammate Michael Self sent him spinning resulting in a heartbreaking 11th place finish.

Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota), 28, who crossed the line fourth after running a strong night himself, picked up his ninth top-5 of the season and increased his series point lead over Bret Holmes who finished ninth.

“Right now I can’t think of anything else from this race but the last lap,” Self said afterwards. “I absolutely hate that we got into Christian on the last lap. He’s not only my teammate but he’s one of my best friends. It puts a real damper on the night.”

Fan favorite, Hailie Deegan (No.55 TRD 40th Anniversary Toyota), 17, finished eighth in her fourth career ARCA start. Deegan, who scored her second top-10, will make two more starts this season with VMS – Lucas Oil Raceway (October 5) and Kansas Speedway (October 18).

Next up for the ARCA Menards Series is the Fans with Benefits 150 at Iowa Speedway on Friday, July 19. Practice is set for 12:45 pm ET/11:45 am CT, General Tire Pole Qualifying follows at 4:45 pm ET/3:45 pm CT, and the Fans with Benefits 150 will go green at 9 pm ET/8 pm CT. The race will be televised live on MAVTV.

Chandler Smith Holds Off Michael Self to Win Thriller at Madison

The dream continues for Venturini Motorsports (VMS) as Toyota Racing Development’s driver prospect, Chandler Smith (No.20 Craftsman Toyota), picked up his second ARCA Menards Series win of the season Friday night at Madison Int’l Speedway, and in the process handed a dominating VMS team its seventh victory in ten attempts on the season.

Smith, 16, who started from the pole after setting a new track qualifying record, dominated most of the way leading 166 of 200 laps, but in the end had to use pit strategy and determination to hold off a late race charge by Ty Gibbs and teammates Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) and Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota) to finish off his fourth career ARCA win.

Immediately following his late night victory, Smith flew onto Iowa where he’ll make his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut later tonight driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports at Iowa Speedway.

Temporarily relinquishing the lead to Ty Gibbs moments before a caution flag flew for rain with less than 40 laps to go, Smith by himself, came down pit road during the yellow for fuel and tires under the direction of his crew chief Billy Venturini. Moments later ARCA officials displayed the red flag stopping action due to rain.

After a brief stoppage action resumed and the twenty-team’s pit strategy shined as leader Gibbs and the rest of the lead lap cars came down pit road for service giving Smith back his lead.

With less than fifteen miles to go when the race resumed, VMS teammates lined up first, fourth, fifth and sixth – Smith out front, Self and Eckes in the middle and Hailie Deegan (No.55 Toyota Racing Development 40th Anniversary Toyota) knocking on the door for her first ARCA top-five.

Launching on the restart, Self bolted to the front taking the lead away from Smith. With a fierce battle brewing, Eckes joined the party as the top-three VMS cars raced side-by-side for the lead with less than 20 laps remaining. Racing hard in the second position Eckes attempted to drive under Self on the front stretch but made contact and spun going for the lead.

Moments later with Smith making the pivotal pass for the lead, Deegan, driving in the sixth position went up in smoke with a punctured oil line bringing out the final caution of the night. Despite being credited with a twelfth place finish, Deegan turned in an impressive outing keeping her Toyota up front in just her third career ARCA start.

After a second race stoppage to clean up the oil laid down by Deegan’s car, Self and Smith lined up one-two for the final restart.

Smith, who wouldn’t be denied, took the green flag restart with five laps to go and held off a hard charging Self to claim his second Madison track victory. Self finished in the runner up position while Eckes finished seventh.

On the strength of his seventh top-five on the season Self extended his series driver points lead over second place contender Brett Holmes, while VMS’ twenty team continues to lead the owner points battle.

Next up for the ARCA Menards Series is the Day to Day Coffee 150 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway coming up on Saturday, June 22.