By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
The ARCA Menards Series returns to action this weekend with the General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway.
It will be the fourth ARCA Menards Series event at Phoenix Raceway and the second race of the 2023 campaign. This weekend’s race will also be the first, of three, combination races with the ARCA Menards Series West. Our ARCA Menards Series West correspondent, Vincent, will have the ARCA Menards Series West preview. You can read that by clicking here.
As for the ARCA Menards Series, Taylor Gray won the last race at Phoenix Raceway holding off Sammy Smith late. Gray ended the streak that Toyota Racing had going into last year’s race as the manufacturer has won two of the three ARCA Menards Series races at Phoenix with Chandler Smith and Ty Gibbs. None of those three names are entered in this weekend’s race at Phoenix meaning we will have our fourth different Phoenix winner in four seasons.
As for the 2023 season opener at Daytona, underdog Greg Van Alst picked up the victory and the points lead heading into Phoenix Raceway. Debuting in 2002, Van Alst took a slight hiatus from the series returning in 2021. The driver from Anderson, Indiana made a statement pass on NASCAR Pinty’s Series veteran Jason White on the last lap to earn his first career victory.
“Guys like me aren’t supposed to do this!” – Van Alst said as he got out of his car at the finish line.
With his victory at Daytona, as noted above, Van Alst is the points leader heading into this weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway. He has one career start at Phoenix Raceway coming last season. He was relegated to a 36th-place finish with handling being listed as the reason for the early ending for the organization last year. He qualified 21st.
The next generation of Joe Gibbs Racing will make his ARCA Menards Series debut at Phoenix. William Sawalich will make his first start of the JGR deal this weekend. After not being old enough to compete at Daytona, the Eden Prairie, Minnesota native is the newest signee with Joe Gibbs Racing. He will look to pick up where Connor Mosack left off after winning the pole and finishing second at Daytona last month. Sawalich will also make his ARCA Menards Series East debut at Five Flags Speedway later this month as he chases the East Series championship with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Much like Sawalich, Andrés Pérez de Lara wasn’t old enough to compete at Daytona last month so Lavar Scott jumped behind the wheel of his car and brought it home in fourth. de Lara was allowed to practice a car with Fast Track Racing to gain some points toward his 2023 championship campaign. The NASCAR FedEx Challenge driver will make his second start in the ARCA Menards Series and first of 2023. Making his NASCAR FedEx Challenge debut in 2020, de Lara has earned nine top-fives, 11 top-10s, and one career pole. de Lara made his ARCA Menards Series debut in 2022 at Bristol Motor Speedway with David Gilliland Racing where he finished seventh. This weekend’s race will be his second at Phoenix, he finished third in the ARCA Menards Series West finale last season.
de Lara will have a teammate to lean on this weekend as Rev Racing will have Jack Wood back behind the wheel of the No. 6 Chevrolet again this weekend. Wood has a good knowledge of Phoenix Raceway through two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and three ARCA Menards Series West starts at the 1-mile speedway. His best Phoenix finish came in 2019 during the West Series race where he finished 11th. The experience Wood has will undoubtedly help him be a mentor to de Lara as well as help him for the return of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in November.
Frankie Muniz had a solid outing at Daytona International Speedway in his ARCA Menards Series debut. The Ridgewood, New Jersey native finished just outside the top 10 in 11th. Muniz sits 11th in ARCA Menards Series points, he’ll move up to fourth in points, or higher, with a start in Friday’s race at Phoenix with the drivers who will not compete in the second race of the 2023 campaign. With the superspeedway out of the way, Friday’s race will be yet another test that Muniz will face. He sure did gain some attention, more so than being a movie star, after his strong run at Daytona.
After Christian Rose’s wife Brooke gave birth to their son River Lawrence Rose shortly after the pre-race practice session at Daytona on January 16th, the year was already starting well. Add a full-time ride with AM Racing for the 2023 season and you have what could become another ARCA Menards Series championship contender. Finishing 12th at Daytona, Rose will progress in ARCA points with Muniz to fifth. After an accident last year relegated him to a 27th-place finish at Phoenix, Rose comes to the “Valley of the Sun” with redemption in mind. Redemption and rolling off the momentum AM Racing’s Xfinity Series program has built up with driver Brett Moffitt could surely result in a strong run Friday for Rose.
Sean Hingorani is about to get busy. Starting on Friday, he’ll make a run for the ARCA Menards Series West championship with Venturini Motorsports. He’ll also be chasing an East Series championship as well but that begins here in a few weeks at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, he starts his pursuit for the West title this weekend. Being a driver based in the West, Hingorani has a bit of knowledge when it comes to the West Series. Having five starts with a few different teams in 2022, Hingorani has the best finish of 12th at Portland International Speedway.
Jesse Love and Phoenix Raceway. Haven’t we seen this mixture before? One of the more experienced Phoenix drivers, on the National side of things, has five starts at Phoenix Raceway to his credit. In five tries though Love has left Phoenix Raceway empty-handed five times, with the race trophy that is. Love hoisted the West Series championship twice at Phoenix Raceway in the West finale in 2020 and 2021. His best Phoenix finish though came in his last one, he finished second to Sammy Smith in the West Series finale last season. Love is certainly a favorite, if not the favorite heading into this weekend’s race at Phoenix.
With Toni Breidinger being the only returning Venturini driver from Daytona, another young gun gets the call to drive the No. 25 car this weekend. Conner Jones will make his 2023 ARCA Menards Series debut this weekend after a solid showing in the 2022 campaign. Iowa was by far Jones’ best race as he tallied his first top-five finish in the ARCA Menards Series finishing fifth. In his second season with Venturini Motorsports, Phoenix will be the first of 12 races.
Young’s Motorsports will enter Leland Honeyman for his first race of the 2023 ARCA Menards Series season. Honeyman ran the full ARCA Menards Series East schedule in 2022 finishing third in points. Friday’s race has more of a purpose than just seat time as he’ll make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut with Alpha Prime on Saturday. Friday will be the first time that Honeyman has raced on Phoenix Raceway in his career making the General Tire 150 very important to the Mooresville, North Carolina native.
The General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway goes live on FOX Sports 2 at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, March 10th. The race will also be available to stream on the FOX Sports App and will be broadcasted on the Motor Racing Network (MRN) as well as on SiriusXM Channel 391 and the ARCA Menards Series website (www.ARCARacing.com).
Tickets for the General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway are available for purchase with a flat $25 rate for general admission (kids’ tickets are just $10). Tickets also cover the first, and only, practice for the NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway slated to start at 4:35 p.m. MST while the ARCA Menards Series race starts at 6 p.m. MST. You can purchase tickets by clicking here or give the ticket office a call at 866-408-7223.