It’s been over a decade since the ARCA Menards Series championship title chase between two contenders delivered as much excitement and anticipation this late in the season as the one that’s now brewing between Venturini Motorsports’ teammates Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) and Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota).
In 2008 Scott Speed took a 20-point advantage over Justin Allgaier headed into the final races of the year but would lose the championship in dramatic fashion after getting wreck midway through the race by an overly aggressive Ricky Stenhouse Jr. handing Allgaier the driver championship. 10-Time Series Champion Frank Kimmel would finish runner-up that season.
So after 18 races, the chase for the 2019 ARCA Menards Series championship comes down to the final two races at Lucas Oil Raceway (October 5) and Kansas Speedway (October 18) between Self and Eckes to determine who will be crowned champion. Self enters the second to last race of the season Saturday night at Lucas Oil Raceway with a slim five-point advantage over Eckes in the standings.
The tale of the tape seems to be a toss-up as both drivers face their strengths going into the final two races. Eckes who’s trailing by the smallest of margins returns to Indianapolis’ half-mile track as the defending 2018 race winner at Lucas Oil Raceway. Of his six career wins, five have come on short tracks. Competing in his first full season, the 18-year old picked up his first intermediate win earlier this season at Pocono Raceway.
Eckes on a hot streak has finished in the top-two positions in five consecutive races. In 18-season starts the Middletown, NY native has three wins, 11 top-five and 15 top-ten finishes. He’s scored two General Tire Pole Awards and has led 347 of 2,246 laps on the season.
Meanwhile, Michael Self won at Kansas Speedway in 2017 and has seven career victories of which five have come on intermediate tracks. Self, a four-time winner in ’19 went back-to-back early in the season winning at Pensacola and Salem Speedway which are both short tracks. In 18-season starts the 28-year old Utah native has four wins, 13 top-five and 13 top-ten finishes. He’s scored four General Tire Pole Awards and has led 480 of 2,115 laps on the season.
Asked about what an ARCA Championship would mean both drivers provided candid thoughts.
“It’s really hard to put in words when I think about my journey to get to the point of racing for a championship,” said Michael Self. “I had the opportunity back in ‘12 and ‘13 when I was running the NASCAR K&N Series but I wasn’t quite able to completely put it together. From that day on with my last race I just tried and worked so hard to get sponsorship together and get the funding to come back and race. Fortunately, Sinclair Oil gave me the opportunity in ‘16 to do a race and I felt we were able to capitalize on it and build a good program for them throughout ‘17 and ‘18 with the limited races we did. They had the confidence in me and this program to come on this year fulltime with Venturini Motorsports to allow me to run for a championship.
“The journey of it I think is what will make a championship such a big deal for me. I feel like myself and my family, we’ve worked so hard to get to this point. I’ve put a lot of hard work in over the years getting a sponsor. It’s just make it so much more meaningful – I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I love having Sinclair onboard. I think the biggest accomplishment is bringing them in and being able to win for them because of how they believed and gave me the opportunity to do what I do.”
Asked about his strengths and weaknesses headed into the final two races Self commented,
“Lucas Oil has been a bit difficult for me. I’ve raced there twice and it’s been a little hit or miss. In ‘17 I about had the race won but got beat late in the race by someone who came in and took tires. Last year we had a ton of issues that unfortunately ended our night early so I guess there’s a little bit of limited base knowledge when It comes to this track. On the otherahand Kansas has always been one of my favorite tracks. I’ve won at Kansas. I love going to any intermediate track in general. My confidence is high because I’ve had success there in the past,” added Self.
Christian Eckes who made up ground two weeks ago at Salem Speedway after Self experience a setback offered his own views.
“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Michael and all the guys on that team,” said Eckes. It’s going to be a lot of fun racing against each other the final two races. I feel like I’ve been in ARCA so long and this is the first time I’ve been able to compete for a championship. It would be very cool to win a championship in my first full-time season for everyone at Toyota Racing, JBL Audio and Venturini Motorsports. Venturini Motorsports has had such a storied history; I would love to add my name alongside past series champions racing for this team.”
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far but we still have a lot of work to do. Lucas Oil falls into one of our strengths for sure. We dominated the race last year and led a bunch a laps to get the win. Looking forward to going back. Kansas might be a little bit of a weakness but at the same time our mile and half program really step up at Pocono and we were able to win – we’ll have to see – I’m feeling good about our chances.”
There won’t be much more waiting as the calendar flipped to October today. The final two races are within the next three weeks starting with Saturday nights Herr’s Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway. The 200-lap main event will be aired live on MAVTV at 8pm ET.
Venturini Motorsports PR