Championship points leader Corey Heim can look at the results of recent ARCA Menards Series races on 2.5-mile superspeedways and feel great about them in relation to his chances of reaching Victory Lane in Saturday’s General Tire 200 at Talladega Superspeedway.
But the driver just two points behind Heim in the standings, Ty Gibbs, can do the same.
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When Heim won the 2021 season-opener at Daytona International Speedway in February, he earned Venturini Motorsports its fourth consecutive win on the Daytona oval.
Pair that statistic with the fact that another VMS driver, Drew Dollar, is the defending winner at Talladega, and Heim with the strength of his team has every reason to believe he can become the series’ first two-time winner of the season.
Yet it is Heim’s victory at Daytona that, per the trend of the last few decades, works against the 18-year-old.
The ARCA Menards Series has raced at both Daytona and Talladega once per year since 1992, with the former track always preceding the latter on the schedule. In all of those years, only one driver (David Keith in 2000) has won at both Daytona and Talladega in a single season.
That means the last 20 Daytona winners failed to return to Victory Lane when the series reached Talladega.
So while Gibbs left Daytona frustrated with a fourth-place finish, he can enter Talladega feeling history is on his side as it relates to the ongoing title race against Heim.
For Heim’s part, he is going into Talladega with the same mindset that resulted in the victory at Daytona.
“Definitely trying not to overthink it too much,” said Heim. “Stay out of trouble, and buy our time throughout the race. Just kind of remember that the race is longer than 10 or 20 laps.”
Both Gibbs and Heim turned 18 last year, so the February race at Daytona was their first on a 2.5-mile superspeedway. Which means both will be making their first Talladega starts Saturday.
As both drivers proved at Daytona, among other early career achievements, that lack of experience will not matter the way the combination of speed, handling, teamwork and luck matters in a superspeedway race.
Heim will hope that teamwork — he’ll have fellow VMS drivers Dollar and Gracie Trotter with him on the track — can elevate him to another win.
Gibbs will hope a different kind of history repeats itself.
Sweet Home Alabama
The field for Saturday’s General Tire 200 at Talladega features three drivers racing in their home state.
Holmes, who finished third at Daytona in February for his second top-five finish on a 2.5-mile superspeedway, is looking to build on a third-place result last year at his home track. The 23-year-old has two top 10s in five starts at Talladega dating back to 2016.
Praytor, 30, has eight Talladega starts on his resume dating back to 2012. He will run his No. 9 Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind Chevrolet on Saturday.
The 65-year-old Mader started his first ARCA Menards Series race at Talladega in 1983. He also ran a pair of ‘Dega races in 1991, the second of which resulted in a second-place finish, and he finished 16th in his latest start in 2018.
In his fifth ARCA Menards Series race at his home state’s track, Mader will run the No. 63 Diamond C Ranch-PRW LLC-American Apparel Chevrolet.
From Monster Truck to Monster Track
Now 42, Michael Harper has spent his entire life around racing. Saturday’s event at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, of all tracks, will mark his first stock car race behind the wheel.
Harper, who owns and manages the Monster Truck Wars tour with his wife Nancy, has been driving Monster Trucks since he was 18. He also has been nurturing aspiring racers through Legends cars he has owned and operated over the last two decades.
For example, he mentored 2012 ARCA Menards Series champion, 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series champions and current NASCAR Cup Series driver Chris Buescher through the latter’s signing with Jack Roush Racing as a 15-year-old. Harper also served as a 15-year-old Kyle Weatherman’s car owner and crew chief when the driver won the ARCA Menards Series’ first Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge championship in 2013.
Now, thanks to longtime ARCA Menards Series driver and car owner Andy Hillenburg, it’s Harper’s turn to race.
Harper drove one of Hillenburg’s cars in January’s ARCA Menards Series preseason test at Daytona. After the fact, Hillenburg convinced Harper to race at Talladega. He’ll drive the No. 01 ThePedalinPup.com Ford for Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing team.
“Making laps at Daytona was about the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car,” Harper said. “I’m doing this for fun and to gain experience to run some more races. I’ve always wanted to race in the ARCA Menards Series at Talladega, and the race fits into my Monster Truck schedule. …
“All of the young guys I helped through the years that are now racing in NASCAR are eager to get on my radio at Talladega. I probably demanded more out of them as drivers than most owners or mentors, and they want their turn to get me back.”
– Talladega Superspeedway (@TALLADEGA) April 13, 2021
The General Tire 200 at Talladega is the first of two races Saturday at the massive venue. With the ARCA Menards Series race scheduled to take the green flag at 1 p.m. ET, the Ag-Pro 300 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series is scheduled to follow at 4 p.m. ET.
The General Tire 200 will broadcast live on FS1, and the Ag-Pro 300 will air live on FOX.
Saturday’s ‘Dega doubleheader is part of a weekend tripleheader, as the GEICO 500 for the NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday. That race will broadcast live on FOX.
Blaney in the Booth
Saturday’s General Tire 200 at Talladega marks the second of eight ARCA Menards Series races FS1 is scheduled to broadcast in 2021. And the show will feature a special guest.
Ryan Blaney, the current NASCAR Cup Series driver who has four top fives and five top 10s in five ARCA Menards Series races on his resume, will serve as a guest analyst on FS1’s broadcast of Saturday’s race.
Blaney also has a win (2011, Phoenix Raceway) in what is now the ARCA Menards Series West.
As she did at Daytona and as she will for the remainder of FS1’s ARCA Menards Series broadcasts in 2021, Jamie Little will serve as the network’s play-by-play announcer at Talladega.
Little this year became first woman to call TV play-by-play for a national racing series.
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- In addition to Gibbs, Heim and Harper, drivers making their first Talladega starts Saturday include Nick Sanchez, Richard Garvie, Jack Wood, Gracie Trotter, Kyle Sieg, Andy Jankowiak and Toni Breidinger.
- An ARCA Menards Series race at Talladega has been won from the pole 20 times, most recently by Ty Dillon in 2011. Paul Menard won from 38th, the deepest starting position from which a driver has won at Talladega, in 2003.
- The General Tire 200 will be the 1,496th race in series history. The 1,500th race will be the upcoming return to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on June 4. Saturday’s race will also mark the 59th time the ARCA Menards Series has raced at Talladega.
- Jim Vandiver won the first ARCA Menards Series race at Talladega in October of 1969. Both of Vandiver’s two series wins came at Talladega, with his second and final win in May of 1975.
- Vandiver was the first of 19 drivers who have scored their first series victories at Talladega. The others are Johnny Halford, Bruce Hill, Sandy Satullo, Billie Harvey, Mark Martin, Jim Vaughan, Rick Roland, Davey Allison, Tim Steele, Keith Segars, Paul Menard, Kraig Kinser, Michael Annett, Dakoda Armstrong, Brandon McReynolds, Blake Jones, Gus Dean and defending winner Drew Dollar.
- Grant Adcox’s 173.947 mph average at Talladega en route to victory in 1986 is the fastest average speed for a race in ARCA Menards Series history.
- NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees Davey Allison and Red Farmer, both members of the famed Alabama Gang, combined to win six ARCA Menards Series races at Talladega from 1983-1988. Allison won four of five starts from 1983-1985, with Farmer winning the race Allison did not win. In 1988, Farmer drove a car owned by Allison to the win and broke a four-race win streak by Grant Adcox.