Fresh off the victory at Chicagoland Speedway with Michael Self last weekend, Venturini Motorsports carried that momentum farther west to the middle of the Iowa corn. The team entered four Toyotas in Saturday night’s ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards Fans with Benefits 150 at Iowa Speedway.
Self returned for his seventh start of the 2018 season, this time behind the wheel of the No. 55 Sinclair Oil Toyota while Natalie Decker was in her usual No. 25 N29 Capital Partners machine. Short-track aces Christian Eckes and Chandler Smith were in the No. 15 JBL Toyota and No. 20 Craftsman Toyota, respectively, with both seeking their second victories on the season.
16-year-old Chandler Smith made his Iowa Speedway debut and qualified seventh behind the wheel of his No. 20 Craftsman Toyota. Smith became ARCA’s first driver in the sanctioning bodies ‘history to win the pole award in each of his first four career starts (Nashville, Salem, Toledo and Madison). Smith won the last race in which he was entered, the Herr’s Potato Chips 200 at Madison International Speedway.
Rolling off the grid from the seventh position, Smith would run around the top-five throughout the first 100 laps of the race. Smith would move his No. 20 Toyota up to the second spot and was hunting down eventual race-winner Sheldon Creed over the final 10 laps. Smith closed the lead to five car lengths at the white flag and trailed Creed to the checkers by a mere three car lengths.
“I would have liked to have had a few more laps,” Smith said of the tremendous amount of ground made up over the final 10 laps. “I was trying different lines the last ten laps and found some things that really worked. I went to the very bottom side of the track in three and four on the last lap and really closed in on him. I would have liked another chance or two to make another run at that and see what we could have done with him.”
Smith, a member of Toyota Racing's TD2 program, has recorded four top-five results in his five starts. The Talking Rock, Georgia native finished 10th at Salem Speedway after crashing on the last lap while battling Eckes for the victory.
Self had a strong qualifying effort and rolled off the grid in the third position in the No. 55 Sinclair Oil Toyota. Self’s two victories this season came at Daytona Int’l Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway.
Self was aggressive on the start, making it three-wide to move into the second position on Lap 1 before looking under Sheldon Creed for the lead at Lap 15. With Riley Herbst in the mix as well, the trio put on a great battle for the top spot. Eventually, the Park City, Utah native would pull away and was out to a lead of over three seconds before the first caution of the night flew at Lap 61 and things headed south for the No. 55 machine.
Another quick caution would set up a restart that resulted in contact with Herbst and some damage to the nose of the No. 55 Toyota. Self’s night got worse from there, spinning at Lap 81 off Turn 4 into the infield grass. Shortly thereafter, he would hit pit road with radiator damage and end his night with a disappointing 18th-place result.
“Just a really disappointing ending to what started out as a great night,” the 27-year-old driver said. “We dominated that first run and had an awesome car that was getting better as the sun continued to go down. We lost a few spots on our pit stop, and then had to restart on the bottom which wasn’t ideal and lost a few more spots, then we got tangled up with the 18 (Herbst) which felt like a product of really hard racing, and unfortunately we put a hole in the radiator and that was it for our night.”
“I hate it for Frank Kimmel and the guys on the No. 55 Sinclair Oil car. They deserved a win for the great car they gave me. I’m really disappointed in myself because two of my 10 starts started out as win-contender nights, but were ruined because of situations where I could’ve been more patient.”
Self won’t make his next ARCA start until September at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“I’ve got a couple months until my next start unfortunately, but I’ll be ready to go again and be smarter and better when we get to Lucas Oil.”
Eckes, also a member of Toyota Racing’s TD2 program, rolled into Iowa with some experience at the 7/8-mile track, having made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut with Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) three weeks ago, finishing eighth.
The Middletown, New York native backed that Truck performance up by leading 34 laps and winning the second stage at Gateway Motorsports Park behind the wheel of his KBM Toyota before getting wrecked in the final stage.
Eckes qualified eighth in the No. 15 JBL Toyota at Iowa and was running in the seventh position on a restart just inside of 50 laps to go when he was hit from behind and sent for a spin off Turn 4 to bring out the fifth caution of the race. Fortunately, Eckes avoided making contact with the wall and was able to drive away. The 17-year-old driver would finish in the 11th position.
Eckes is hungrier than ever since first tasting ARCA victory lane back in April at Salem Speedway.
Decker was making her first career start at “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet” and rolled off from the 14th position. The 21-year-old Eagle River, Wisconsin native was running 12th with 47 laps to go when her Toyota shot sparks off the right side and she fell off the pace. Decker was making her first career start at “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet” and rolled off from the 14th position. The 21-year-old Eagle River, Wisconsin native was running 12th with 47 laps to go when her Toyota shot sparks off the right side and she fell off the pace. Decker would finish 16th in her Iowa Speedway debut.
The Fans with Benefits 150 is scheduled for delayed broadcast on MAVTV with the first showing scheduled for August 4 at 10 p.m. ET. Iowa marked race No. 8 of a difficult summer stretch of 11 races in 11 weeks. The ARCA Racing Series heads to Elko Speedway in Minnesota next Saturday, July 14 for the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 250. Decker, Eckes and Smith will be joined by Eddie Fatscher, making his third career ARCA start.