ARCA cars, drivers make it through inspection prior to hitting track at Daytona

More than 40 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards teams hit the Daytona International Speedway track Thursday for a practice session. But, no car made it on the track until a thorough inspection of car – and driver – was complete.

The technical inspection process for the cars began Wednesday and continued early Thursday as ARCA inspectors and officials went through everything from shocks and springs to making certain the seats in the cockpit have been approved. But, the driver approval process began long ago for the 20 drivers that will be turning their first competitive laps at Daytona International Speedway during Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 presented by MAVTV American Real.

“There is an extensive approval process,” said Joe Wells, ARCA director of competition. “A lot of the drivers will come to test here in December and we are here, evaluating them. We watch the drivers to see how they handle themselves on, and off, the track.”

More than 60 teams practiced during the three-day December test.  Several drivers entered that test as a prerequisite to racing in the Lucas Oil 200 on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

Drivers like Caleb Armstrong, Justin Boston, Chad Boat, Matt Kurzejewski and Mason Mitchell tested in December and will be lining up for qualifying at 2 p.m. today. Armstrong had the fastest practice time in December at 184.192 mph.

While half of the field will be turning laps for the first time on a superspeedway, there is a solid group of veterans on the track, too. Eight-time Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart, nine-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel, reigning ARCA series champion Chris Buescher and Venturini Motorsports driver John Wes Townley are among the entries, not to mention 78-year-old James Hylton, steering the wheel in his final race at Daytona as he steps away from driver and into the world of car owner. Townley was fastest in Thursday's rain-shortened practice session.

Kimmel addressed the rookie class in a meeting Thursday, stressing to each of them to be patient and courteous on the race track.

“This is a long race,” he said. “A lot longer than you think.”

Kimmel urged the drivers to use caution in the practices, especially, to make sure the cars they brought make it to Saturday’s race.

“It’s great to have everyone here,” he said. “Let’s have a good weekend.”

Saturday will be ARCA's 50the anniversary race at the famed World Center of Racing. ARCA first came to Daytona in 1964 at the suggestion of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

“We do not take for granted that we get to come back here,” said ARCA President Ron Drager. “We work hard on Daytona and we take this race very seriously. It’s an important part of who we are as a series.”

Wells said safety keeps improving on the ARCA Racing Series cars.

“Every year there is something, even if it is something little, that we do to make the cars safer,” he said. “We’re always looking to improve safety.”

Gerhart has won six of the past eight ARCA races at Daytona, including the 2012 race in which he won on the strength of some final lap heroics. He led one lap in the race – the 83rd lap – in the quickest ARCA Daytona race in recent memory. The race was finished in 1:33.47 as there were only five cautions in the race, the second ARCA Daytona race in a row with five or fewer cautions.

Twenty-three cars finished on the lead lap in the 2012 ARCA race and another six cars only one lap down.