William Sawalich after winning at Phoenix Raceway. (ARCA Photo)

Kennedy: Strong ARCA Field At Phoenix

LOS ANGELES — The ARCA Menards Series national points race launched its post-Daytona season March 8 at the one-mile Phoenix Raceway. 

A strong field of 43 cars was present to qualify for 40 starting spots in the 150-lap race. Desert weather is unpredictable and it was during the ARCA event. Clouds rolled in during the race accompanied by lightning after 115 laps had been completed. That ended the competitive event unfortunately. Fast-qualifier William Sawalich, 17, won in a Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. 

The ARCA 200 season opener at Daytona on Friday, February 16 had 50 entrants for the 40 available starting spots. The ARCA Menards West Series has 12 races scheduled in four western states and the Phoenix 150 was the first point race. 

Ten tracks from third mile, three-eighths, half miles and miles make up 10 of the events and two road races comprise the demanding venues. The ARCA Menards East Series has eight oval track race dates from March 23 to Sept. 19 in eight states. 

Current NASCAR Xfinity sensational rookie Jesse Love showed his talent in ARCA in recent seasons. NASCAR team owners would be wise to follow ARCA racing for future driving talent in NASCAR’s three national series. 

The ARCA Phoenix race was a coming out introduction for numerous impressive young drivers who bear watching in coming months and years. Five of the top six finishers are ARCA rookies and six of the top 10 are ARCA national series rookies. 

They included winner Sawalich, 17, from Minnesota, teenage runner-up Gio Ruggiero; fourth-place Connor Mosack, 24; and fifth-place Sean Hingorani, 17; and P. 6 Isabella Robusto, 19, (from S. Car.). 

One of Max Siegel’s two minority development program drivers — placed 10th with 21 drivers on the lead lap. 

Sawalich is the 2023 ARCA Menards East champion and Hingorani is the 2023 ARCA Menards West champion. Both teens won four ARCA races in their home series and Sawalich won the West Series 100-lap closer at the Phoenix mile on Nov. 3. 

The 43 drivers present came from four countries including the United States. Two came from Canada, one from Japan, and one from Mexico. The 39 Americans came from 20 states. 

Three car brands were represented in the 43-car field. Chevy and Toyota both had 13 entries and Ford had 14. The top 10 had five Toyotas and five Chevrolets. Hoosier driver Greg Van Alst was the highest finisher in a Ford in 13th.  

Indianapolis 500 veteran Marco Andretti drove the No. 17 Chevy for Bruce Cook and finished every lap and was scored 21st.

The 40-car field included four female drivers — Isabella, Toni Breidinger, Amber Balcaen and Danica Dart. 

Eighteen of the 43 entrants race in the ARCA Menards West Series and all qualified for the race. The half-mile Irwindale Speedway had numerous regular NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Series drivers in the field. Three-time track champion Trevor Huddleston, 27, placed 17th in the No. 50 High Point Racing Ford. The Reif brothers from Nevada finished all laps. Tyler, 16, was 11th in the No. 13 Toyota and Tanner, 18, placed 18th in the No. 42 Chevy. Nick Joanides was 26th in Jan Qualkenbush’s No. 71 Ford.