By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
The ARCA Menards Series East season officially kicks off on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s race at New Smyrna will mark the start of the 36th ARCA Menards Series East season, the third under the ARCA banner. It also marks the ninth straight season where the season kicks off in New Smyrna, Florida. Max Gutiérrez earned his first career victory last season in a photo finish with Taylor Gray and Sammy Smith.
Gutiérrez will return to the No. 30 in 2022 going for his second career victory. His victory at New Smyrna last season was followed by four top-10 finishes to finish fourth in ARCA Menards Series East points, 52-points behind 2021 East Series champion Sammy Smith. Unknown at the time whether this will be another full-time East Series entry, Retter Jones Racing will enter a full-time entry in the National ARCA Series with Amber Balcaen. ARCA confirmed that Gutiérrez will also be on the entry list for the Daytona season opener next Saturday.
Under new management, defending East champion Sammy Smith will run the No. 18 with Kyle Busch Motorsports. The season opener will mark the debut of Kyle Busch Motorsports in the ARCA Menards Series East. Kyle Busch, 2009 ARCA Menards Series East winner at Iowa, has 707 starts as an owner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and 67 as an owner in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. KBM successfully acquired Joe Gibbs Racing’s ARCA program that developed and earned two championships in the three ARCA series’. Smith will look to earn his ninth career ARCA East Series victory after tallying eight in his rookie season last year.
Taylor Gray will return to the ARCA East Series in 2022 with David Gilliland Racing. He started off hot in 2021 before a car accident sidelined him. Gray missed Nashville, Dover, and Southern National as a result of the accident but in his five starts in 2021, he never finished outside the top five. After starting on the pole in 2021 at New Smyrna, Gray will look to make up for time lost and battle with what was brewing to be one of his biggest rivals, Smith.
Mason Diaz has moved from Visconti Motorsports and joined veteran ARCA driver John Ferrier in the No. 44. Diaz finished fourth in the 2021 New Smyrna race and gave Sammy Smith a run for his money as the season progressed. Diaz tallied a career-high three top-five and five top-10 finishes to earn a sixth-place finish in ARCA East points. He dominated at his home track Southern National Motorsports Park but came up short after losing the lead late to Smith. Diaz will also run in the season opener at Daytona.
Speaking of Visconti Motorsports, Donald Theetge is making the trip from Canada to make his ARCA East debut. The NASCAR Pinty’s Series veteran will run the first two races of the 2022 season with Visconti Motorsports and is working on a full-time season. In 48 starts in the Pinty’s Series, Theetge has one career victory followed by 17 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes. He also has six starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with the best finish of 25th at Phoenix in 2018.
Young’s Motorsports will field a full-time entry in the ARCA Menards Series East in 2022 with Leland Honeyman behind the wheel. Honeyman, a 16-year old from Phoenix, Arizona, has experience in go-karts, off-road racing, AND bandolero’s in his career. He was the Bandolero National Champion in 2017 and moved to stock cars in 2018. Last season, Honeyman earned one victory and seven top-five finishes in pro late models. He will be chasing the ARCA Menards Series East championship in 2022.
Much like in 2021, Willie Mullins will run the East Series season opener before heading up I-95 to run at Daytona. It will be his third straight East Series season opener and third start in the East Series. He earned his career-best finish last season of 10th and will look to harness the momentum earned during the Daytona preseason test last month. In two starts, Mullins has improved his finishing position by 10 (finished 20th in 2020).
ARCA Menards Series West driver Christian Rose makes the trip to the east coast for his ARCA Menards Series East debut. Rose has two starts in the ARCA Menards Series West last season finishing inside the top-10 both times with his career-best finish coming in his last start at All American Speedway. Rose takes the place of Parker Retzlaff in Bruce Cook’s No. 42 entry at New Smyrna. He will also run the No. 42 at Daytona in his ARCA Menards Series debut.
Ashton Higgins makes his ARCA Menards Series East debut at New Smyrna driving for himself. Higgins was a part of GMS Racing’s driver development program joining on August 20th, 2021. Higgins competes in the NASCAR Weekly Series at tracks all across the southeast including at Kingsport Speedway in Kingsport, Tennessee. He’s earned the late model championship at Anderson Motor Speedway in 2019 and placed third overall in 2018.
Daniel Escoto will make his ARCA Menards Series East debut with Josh Williams Motorsports. Escoto has competed in a long list of racing series in Mexico including the NASCAR FedEx Challenge. He had a 14th place finish average finish in his two starts with the best finish of 13th at Autodromo Miguel E. Abed in Amozoc, Mexico last season.
Dallas, North Carolina native Caleb Costner will make his ARCA Menards Series East debut after running two races in the West in 2021. He finished 14th at All American Speedway last season, his career-best finish in the Series. Costner will run a full season with Last Chance Racing in the East while Andrew Tuttle will run a full schedule in the West for Last Chance Racing. Tuttle will also make his return to the ARCA Menards Series East for the first time since 2018.
The Race to Stop Suicide 200 presented by Place of Hope will be shown live on FloRacing, the first on the new provider. A delayed broadcast of the race will be shown on the USA Network on February 25th at 1 p.m. ET. For those without FloRacing, an audio feed will be available on ARCARacing.com.
Tickets are available starting at $40 and can be purchased by clicking here. The ARCA Menards Series East race is part of Night No. 8 of the World Series of Asphalt. The East Series will join the David Rogers Super Late Models, Tour Modified, and 602 Tour Modifieds. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Series kicks off its season at New Smyrna on February 12th, the official start of NASCAR season.
Photo; ARCA Menards Series