Michael Self Transitioning from Superspeedway Specialist to ARCA Menards Series Championship Contender

Michael Self Transitioning from Superspeedway Specialist to ARCA Menards Series Championship Contender

After disappointment in the season opener at Daytona, Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) bounced back and scored his first ARCA Menards Series short track win in Saturday’s ARCA Pensacola 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions.

Self started the season with high hopes as he had just announced a full-season sponsorship to chase the series championship for the first time, and he was the defending winner at Daytona. His hopes, at least at Daytona, were dashed three laps into the race when contact with another driver sent him spinning wildly out of control and out of contention.

Despite the disappointment, Self and the Venturini Motorsports team repaired the car and he returned to the race, albeit many laps down. He finished the race 52 laps down but was on the track when the checkered flag flew, a minor victory on an otherwise down day.

An eight-time winner on short tracks in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Self has been known for his big track prowess in the ARCA Menards Series. Wins at Kansas Speedway in 2017 and Daytona and Chicagoland Speedway in 2018 only reinforced the image that Self was a superspeedway specialist.

When practice started on Saturday morning, Self quickly started to dispel that myth. He was quick throughout the session and ended the 90-minute warmup on top of the leaderboard. In General Tire Pole Qualifying, Self missed his first short track pole award by just two one-thousandths of a second to his Venturini Motorsports teammate Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota).

Self was one of two dominant drivers on the day, leading for 68 laps. He worked his way past Smith early in the race, then settled into the top five as hard-charging Raphael Lessard (No. 19 FRL Express Chevrolet) went to the front and led for 89 laps. But a caution with 42 laps remaining set up the final round of stops, and Self came out right behind new race leader Kaden Honeycutt (No. 38 Kaden Honeycutt Racing Ford).

Honeycutt, on two fresh tires, was able to hold off Self for five laps once the field went back to green but Self’s fresh tires were too much for the 15-year-old rookie. Self worked his way inside with 29 laps to go and sped off to a 1.5-second win over Ty Gibbs (No. 18 Monster Energy/ORCA Coolers/Advance Auto Parts Toyota), who nipped Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) at the finish line.

Self was in a jovial mood following victory lane celebrations.

“Man, these short tracks are tough, I am tired!” he exclaimed. “It’s stressful, I'm tired and my arms are sore! This is cool. This is a really big deal for me. This short track win in ARCA has eluded me. I don’t think of myself as a great short track racer, but I have had success in the K&N Series on short tracks. It just hasn’t translated all that well over here for whatever reason. Maybe this will kick start it.”

The biggest cause of excitement for Self was the performance of his team throughout the course of the day. The No. 25 team was at or near the top of the leaderboard all day long, a fact that Self doesn’t believe should be overlooked by the competition.

“The biggest boost of confidence for me is the way the No. 25 team ran tonight,” he said. “My first race outside of a superspeedway with Shannon Rursch crew chiefing it. Obviously we ran good the whole day and I have a lot of confidence in our car. The Venturini cars as a whole are just phenomenal so props to all of those guys. When we go to these short tracks for the rest of the year we should be in pretty good shape.

 “I can guarantee you there is not a harder working bunch of guys. Billy gives us everything we ask for. Even if I wasn’t driving for them, it would be really hard to come out and beat them because of the work ethic they are putting in to winning these races right now.”

Self returns to ARCA Menards Series action in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 at Salem Speedway on Sunday, April 14. After on-track contact turned into post-race tensions in the infield last September, Self is ready to head back to the high banks.

“Honestly, Salem was one of my better short tracks last year,” he said. “I thought we were going to run second or third at worst there that night. I am excited to go back, it’s a cool place and I had fun racing there. It’ll be good to take what we learned tonight, what we’ve learned in the shop and see if we can’t keep going.”

Practice for the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 is set for 11 am ET on Saturday, April 13 with General Tire Pole Qualifying scheduled for 3 pm ET that afternoon. The green flag on round three of the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season will drop shortly after 2 pm ET on Sunday, April 14. The race will be televised live on MAVTV and ARCA for Me members can access live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com. New members can register for free at ARCARacing.com/login.