*Editor’s note: “On the Hauler” will be a special column from TobyChristie.com’s Ben Branscum and will center around the ARCA Menards Series throughout the 2023 season.*
With the first race of the 2023 ARCA Menards Series in the books, there are A LOT of changes that happened off-season and a lot to look at and learn from the ARCA Menards 200 at Daytona.
“For all the short-track racers…”
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? Sports is full of them, and Greg Van Alst might be the biggest one for ARCA, at least in a while. In a series dominated by names like Gibbs and Venturini in recent years, seeing a guy with a small independent team take home a win is a major deal. Before Daytona, Alst had 31 total ARCA stars with just two top fives. The Anderson, IN native, wasn’t even sure if he’d have funding to run this season. Now he’s a winner at the world center of racing. “This is the only speedway car we got. “There was no way I was gonna bring it home without the steering wheel and the trophy, and that was it,” Van Alst said in his front stretch interview. Take it in, Greg. You earned it.
"This is for all the short-track racers out there that don't think you can get to this level … WE DID IT."- @GregVanAlst35 @Reporterjamie | @DAYTONA pic.twitter.com/AQslG5IAMx
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 18, 2023
Debuts on Debuts
There were a lot of firsts for several drivers at the superspeedway. Mandy Chick earned her first career top-five finish in her Daytona debut. Lavar Scott, in his ARCA Menards Series debut, ran strong and brought the no. 2 home in fourth for Rev Racing. Probably the biggest debut was for Frankie Muniz in his first race with Rette Jones Racing. Muniz did what he needed to do. Keep it clean, get laps, and bring it home. An 11th-place finish is a day’s honest work for the rookie, and while sample size matters this is a good foundation to build on for him and the team.
Holy moly!!! That was the most insane thing I've ever done. Got up into the top 3 before getting turned and causing damage. Went to the back and went from 24th to 11th in the final 2 laps. I'm so grateful to my team and @hairclub and sponsors for making my dream a reality!
— Frankie Muniz (@frankiemuniz) February 18, 2023
The greats must fall
With the Van Alst upset, there has to be a loss. That falls to Venturini Motorsports, ending their five-year winning streak for the season opener at Daytona. It wasn’t a total loss for the team overall. Amber Balcaen had a strong sixth-place finish after an up-and-down debut race with the team. Following up behind her was the flagship no. 20 and Jesse Love. While it’s not the dominant start to a season that VMS has seen in years past, it’s a solid footing for the reason of the 2023 season.
‘Lights, Camera, Action’ Fox debuts about as expected
With the deal of all main ARCA Menards Series races being live on Fox Sports for the first time ever, the season opener went well and about as you could expect. A booth of Jamie Little, Phil Parsons, and guest of Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric was a good lineup and flowed/worked well together. It’s hard to tell what this means for the season as normally the ARCA season opener is live, but there are a lot of signs for hope and optimism as the season heads west to Phoenix in March.
Overall, this was a great season opener and sets the bar high for the races to come. When we spoke to ARCA Communications Manager Charlie Krall in the off-season, he mentioned how excited and confident he was heading into 2023. It’s clear to see why, but hopefully, the momentum can keep going.
The season continues as drivers and teams head west for the race at Phoenix on March 10th.