By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
With Sammy Smith being promoted to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2023, speculation was in the air for Joe Gibbs Racing’s ARCA Menards Series program. The organization teamed with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2022 resulting in an ARCA Menards Series East and Sioux Chief Showdown Series championship with Smith. Now that the Kyle Busch Motorsports truck series program has moved over to Chevrolet in 2023, the speculation that the Joe Gibbs ARCA program would be shuttered.
On December 9th, 2022, the speculation was put to rest as Joe Gibbs Racing signed 16-year-old William Sawalich to a multi-year contract. The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native will run a total of 20 races within ARCA starting with the ARCA Menards Series/ARCA Menards Series West combination race at Phoenix Raceway on March 10th, 2023.
“I think this is a great opportunity for my racing career and I know it is going to challenge me a little but I’m ready to take on the challenge,” said Sawalich. “The No. 18 Toyota Camry has seen good success in the past few years and I hope I’m able to continue that success this season. I’m thankful to have the support of Starkey, Toyota, and JGR this season and hopefully we are upfront a lot.
“I’m still working on finalizing some plans, but I have plans to run Slinger Nationals, potentially the Winchester 400 and the All-American 400. The 20 ARCA races are going to be really fun & I’m looking forward to getting to work with the team.”
As noted above, Sawalich will make his debut in ARCA at Phoenix in March. He’s run Super and Pro Late Models in his career including starts in the CARS Pro Late Model Tour and CARS Late Model Stock Tour making his debut in 2021 at Tri-County Motor Speedway finishing 17th after starting on the pole. Sawalich earned his first CARS Pro Late Model Tour victory at Hickory Motor Speedway. He also has victories under his belt at South Boston Speedway, Winchester Speedway, Toledo Speedway, and Five Flags Speedway. Many of the tracks that he’s won on just so happen to be on the ARCA Menards Series schedule as well, whether it be the East or National Series.
“The ARCA car will be heavier than my super late models and there is a little bit of a power difference, but other than that they are pretty similar,” said Sawalich. “I think having laps on the tracks is definitely helpful, but I’m really using this year as a learning year in the car while still going out and trying to win races.”
My ultimate goal is to be the first driver from Minnesota to win in the top-three NASCAR levels,” added Sawalich. “This year, I’m definitely going to try to get the East championship as well as as many wins as I can get. Like I said, I’m going to learn a lot this year with a new team, new car, and new tracks but I think we can have a really good year.”
Since returning to the ARCA Menards Series in 2017, Joe Gibbs Racing has grown to be quite the threat. It’s been a stepping stone to NASCAR’s top-three series for drivers like Riley Herbst, Ty Gibbs, Todd Gilliland, and Sammy Smith. Gibbs earned the championship trophy for JGR in 2021, the only championship trophy for the organization so far. Sawalich looks to add to the small legacy that Gibbs has had in ARCA so far.
“I don’t feel like there is any pressure,” said Sawalich. I’m just going to take everything as a learning experience. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Wow, this is a great opportunity.” I haven’t talked to Ty or the Cup drivers yet, but I know I will be reaching out for advice especially once the season starts to be able to pick their brains and learn from them.”
Joe Gibbs Racing has confirmed to Kickin’ the Tires that William Sawalich has gained approval to run the ARCA Menards Series preseason practice at Daytona International Speedway next weekend. They also confirmed that they will have two cars at the test but cannot confirm at this time the official lineup outside of Sawalich.