The battle for the ARCA Menards Series championship has only three races to go, including Saturday night’s Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 at the legendary Salem Speedway. The ultra high-banked half-mile nestled in the hills of southern Indiana, about a half-hour north of Louisville, will be hosting its 106th ARCA race and for two drivers – championship leader Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) and runner-up Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) – the stakes have never been higher.
Every point will matter over the final three races.
It’s one thing to lose points to the driver you’re competing against head-to-head for the championship. But it’s another thing altogether to lose points to part-time drivers, drivers that only run the short tracks and could play a major spoiler in who celebrates after the season finale at Kansas Speedway on October 18 and who ends up wallowing in disappointment.
Part-time drivers Sam Mayer (No. 21 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet) and Carson Hocevar (No. 28 GMPartsNow.com/Scott’s Coins/KBR Development Chevrolet) both played a factor in the spring race at Salem and both could not only be factors for the win on Saturday but could also be championship spoilers for either Self or Eckes.
Mayer, 16, is from Franklin, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. He finished second at Salem in the spring, his best career ARCA Menards Series finish. He’s also a three-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series winner in 2019, including two wins at the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway, a track very similar to Salem.
Mayer thinks he can be a factor to better that runner-up finish in April. He’s also happy the weather forecast looks like it will allow the race to reach its scheduled conclusion after 200 laps, not be cut short by rain just past the midway point as the race was in the spring. He leads the K&N Pro Series East standings by 30 points with just two races remaining.
"Going to Salem for the second time I feel like Mardy (Lindley, crew chief) and I will be even better than we were in the spring,” he said. “Mardy and the team have worked really hard this year and have made my cars better and better as we go, and I feel no different this weekend. I also know I'm a better, more experienced driver than I was earlier this year. I feel confident that we can compete for a win. The weather forecast looks good so far, so hopefully we can run the whole race this time.”
Hocevar, also 16, hails from Portage, Michigan, near Grand Rapids and the equally legendary Berlin Raceway. Hocevar became the youngest late model winner ever at the near-circular Berlin layout at the age of 13. He earned his second career General Tire Pole Award when he started from the pole in the spring race at Salem and he scored his career-best finish when he trailed Mayer across the line in third.
“I’m excited to get back to Salem,” Hocevar said. “We had a lot of success earlier this year, getting the pole, leading a handful of laps and finishing up third. I think we should have a good baseline and improved package from earlier this year, to hopefully get those two extra spots on Saturday night.”
While both would like to win, they could also play spoilers merely finishing between Self and Eckes.
Headed into the last series race at DuQuoin on August 31, Eckes trailed Self by 105 points. Eckes won, while Self finished fourth. Part-time drivers Logan Seavey and Corey Heim finished second and third respectively, and rather than losing 25 points to Eckes, Self instead lost 35 points. That was fully one-third of his advantage headed into DuQuoin and now, headed into Salem, another 35-point loss would cut Self’s advantage in half with two races remaining.
One part-time driver, Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota), isn’t involved in the battle for the driver’s championship but is deeply involved in the owner’s championship. His No. 20 team, owned by Billy Venturini, leads the owner’s standings and Smith is determined to keep his team on top. His Venturini Motorsports teammates Self and Eckes know not to expect Smith to give them a break late in the race.
“Every point definitely matters for us too,” Smith said. “We really want to get that owner’s championship for Billy and the team. Everyone has worked so hard to make it happen for the 20 team all season long, and I can only speak for what it’s like when I am in the car, but I think we’ve had the best cars out there. I know my teammates are battling for the drivers championship but for us, it’s all about that owner’s championship.”
The ARCA Menards Series will be joined by the Lucas Oil Great American Stocks at Salem Speedway on Saturday night, September 14. Activities will kick off with ARCA Menards Series practice at 12 noon ET, followed by General Tire Pole Qualifying at 4 pm ET. The Great American Stocks 50-lap feature will roll at 5 pm ET, with the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 set for 7:15 pm ET. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can access live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates for free at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For ticket information, please visit SalemSpeedway.com.