Story By: ARCA – OREGON, WI – Short track racing is the heart of the ARCA Menards Series, and has been since the series was founded in 1953. Though the series makes annual stops at places like Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, it’s the midwestern short tracks that serve as its backbone.
After three consecutive superspeedway races, at Charlotte, Pocono, and Michigan, the series now turns its focus back to the midwestern short tracks with Friday’s Shore Lunch 200 at Madison International Speedway in Oregon, Wisconsin, just outside the beltway of the state capital. The 200-lap main event will be the fifth round of the 2019 Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge and the series’ tenth race of the 2019 season.
The battle for the series championship has been topsy-turvy, with the lead changing hands after each of the first six races. Despite holding on to the lead for the last three weeks, and winning last weekend in Michigan, Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) has a narrow advantage heading into Friday night’s short track clash on the tight Madison half-mile. He leads second place Bret Holmes (No. 23 Holmes II Excavation/Champion Power Equipment Chevrolet) by just 15 points.
Despite the lead in the points standings, Self remains focused on gathering wins – he’s already won three times this season, in addition to his win at Michigan he’s also won at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, and at Salem Speedway in Indiana – and finding consistency in his Venturini Motorsports team’s performance.
“Right now we’re looking for wins and trying to get that consistency we need,” Self said. “Look at how much has happened already this season and how many times the point lead has changed hands. It’s way too early and way too stressful to be counting points right now. The 25 team performs best when we’re running hard and chasing wins so our goal is to get as many wins as we can. I am not saying I am going to suddenly go checkers or wreckers, we don’t want to start throwing away races, but if we win then the points situation will take care of itself.
“We need to minimize our mistakes, too. The situation at Nashville and even at Daytona, that was wrong place wrong time. But at Pocono we made some mistakes as a team and at Charlotte I made a mistake that cost us a win. What you saw at Michigan is what happens when we don’t make mistakes.”
While Self is working on winning more races, his championship challenger Holmes is looking for his first career ARCA Menards Series win. Holmes, from Munford, Alabama, is in his third season. In addition to being a full-time racecar driver, Holmes is a student at Auburn University majoring in building sciences. Holmes and his family-owned team have made a major investment this season by bringing noted crew chief Shane Huffman on board and the improvement in the team’s results and performance has been dramatic.
In an abbreviated 14-race schedule last season, Holmes scored one top-five and eight top-ten finishes. In comparison, he has already scored three top-five and seven top-ten finishes in the first nine races of 2019 and sits just 15 points out of the lead heading into Friday night. Despite Self’s three wins to this point, Holmes and Huffman believe they can be a factor in the championship.
“We’re consistently getting better each week,” said Holmes. “Our goal for the season was to capture as many top-five finishes as we could, we’re on our way to that now. There’s a lot of competition for the point lead, and we’re right there in the mix. After our third-place finish last week, our confidence is up and we’re going to ride that momentum into this weekend at Madison. We’re going to tackle the rest of the season one race at a time. Our main goal is the championship, but each race is a steppingstone to get there. Our focus this week is on Madison and bringing home another solid finish.”
The sleeper in the championship fight is Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Health Care/Liberty Village Ford). Braden, a two-time champion of the ARCA/CRA Super Series super late model tour is a graduate of West Virginia University with degrees in aerospace and mechanical engineering. Braden’s Don Fike-owned team has just three full-time employees, including the driver. So not only does he drive the racecar, he works on them during the week as well.
Braden led the standings, twice, earlier in the season. His consistency has kept him near the front of the standings. While Self has been winning races, he’s also had some finishes outside of the top twenty. Braden has had bad days too, but his worst finish of the season is a 13th at Toledo. He knows the summer stretch of races will be taxing on himself and his small team, but he’s ready to take on the challenge.
“We’re always viewed as the underdog, and we’ve had some struggles so far through the first nine races of the year,” Braden said. “Thankfully, though, we’ve stayed consistent and haven’t had any horrid finishes, and we’re still very close in the championship standings because of that. I strongly believe that our performances will continue to improve, and so if everyone else keeps having these up and down swings, we can capitalize. We’ve got some great opportunities coming up with the dirt races and a ton of short tracks, which are always our strong suit. It’s time to hunker down and get it done. It’s going to be a battle all summer.”
Practice for the Shore Lunch 200 at Madison International Speedway is scheduled for 2:15 pm CT/1:15 pm CT on Friday, June 14, with General Tire Pole Qualifying set for 6 pm ET/5 pm CT, and the 200-lap main event slated for 9 pm ET/8 pm CT. The race will be broadcast live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can access free live timing & scoring, track updates, and live chat at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. Fans can buy discounted tickets to the Shore Lunch 200 at Madison-area Menards locations for just $20, a savings of $10 per adult general admission ticket.