In its long history dating back to 1953, the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards has never before featured two road course races in a single season - until now.
Historically a championship contested on famous superspeedways like Daytona, Talladega, and Michigan, short tracks throughout the Midwest, and the classic fairgrounds dirt at two locations in Illinois, this year's ARCA trophy will land for someone who will have survived two courses featuring left and right turns: Palm Beach International Raceway back in February, and New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, N.J. this weekend for the Garden State ARCA 150 presented by American Red Cross.
The 67-lap, 150-mile Garden State ARCA 150 presented by American Red Cross begins at 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, August 15, with live timing and scoring and live audio coverage presented by ARCA Nation at ARCARacing.com. This year's race will be the third for the ARCA Racing Series at the 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway course, the park's signature track. Justin Allgaier won the debut event before securing a series championship in 2008, and Patrick Long won from the pole last year in his only ARCA Racing Series start.
The race is the 13th of 20 this season and the second of four in pursuit of the Bill France Four Crown, the season-within-a-season contest which rewards ARCA Racing Series drivers for success on a diverse slate of tracks. The Four Crown schedule is comprised completely of the ARCA Racing Series races scheduled for August, with remaining races to be held at the (Springfield) Illinois State Fairgrounds (dirt track; August 22) and Chicagoland Speedway (1.5-mile speedway; August 27). Joey Coulter (No. 16 Rip It Energy Fuel/Darrell Gwynn Foundation Chevrolet) leads the Four Crown standings on the strength of his August 7 win at Berlin (Mich.) Raceway.
Though no driver entered this weekend can claim a New Jersey victory in the ARCA Racing Series, Tim George Jr. (No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet) won at the facility in 2008 in the Grand American Road Racing Association Rolex Sports Car Series. George teamed with Andy Lally, who would win the ARCA pole at New Jersey just one month later, to win the GT portion of the August event. With six additional podium finishes in 2008, George was later named the Rookie of the Year in the Rolex Sports Car Series.
"I was in one of the first races there in the Rolex Series, where we won in 2008," George said. "Last year the ARCA race was good as well, and I came home fifth. After the rain at West Palm Beach this year, I'm hoping to have a good shot at a road course win."
The ARCA Racing Series has seen 11 different winners in 12 races, and 10 first-time winners this season. George will have as good an opportunity as any driver to add to those totals, say the statistics. His fifth-place finish at New Jersey one year ago ranks only behind Robb Brent's (No. 36 Orchard Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Dodge) fourth-place finish for returning entrants. George finished eighth at Palm Beach in February.
Of the 10 highest finishers at Palm Beach earlier this season, nine are entered: Justin Marks (first), Brent (second), Tom Hessert (fourth), Steve Arpin (fifth), Joey Coulter (sixth), Mikey Kile (seventh), George, Tim Cowen (ninth), and Patrick Sheltra (10th).
But to too closely compare the street course of Palm Beach with New Jersey Motorsports Park is hasty, at best. Marks (No. 32 Construct Corps Dodge), who is third in ARCA Racing Series points and carries an extensive road course résumé, spoke about New Jersey's distinguishing traits.
"New Jersey is a technical track that demands precision and focus," Marks said. "It's really not a track where you can just kind of fling the car around and get a good time. The back section is very technical and there are a few tricks that you can implement to find a lot of time on a lap. There are a few good passing zones, primarily into Turn 1, the biggest braking zone on the track, and into Turn 4 on the back straight."
Formerly the series leader, Marks is now 30 points behind Craig Goess (No. 81 Greenville Toyota of N.C. Toyota) for the top spot and 20 behind Frank Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford) for second place. The championship race is shaping up as one of the tightest in history, with seven drivers separated by just 105 points with eight races remaining.
Two one-hour Saturday practices are scheduled for the Garden State 150 presented by American Red Cross, at 11:15 a.m. and 1:35 p.m. Eastern. Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell - which has produced 10 different pole winners in 11 qualifying sessions this season - will take place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Live audio coverage and live timing and scoring of all Saturday events will be available on ARCARacing.com.