After hitting the track twice in the winter for two test sessions, the ARCA Racing Series machines finally ran laps on a race weekend for the first time in 2015. The series had a two-hour practice session at Daytona International Speedway (FL) on Thursday evening ahead of the Lucas Oil 200 on Saturday afternoon, and it was eight-time ARCA Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart sitting atop the leaderboard when all was said and done.
Gerhart only ran ten laps on Thursday evening, but he was able to shoot to the top of the pylon midway through the session with a lap of 47.633 seconds. Gerhart was a popular pick to win even before Thursday’s session, as he is ARCA’s all-time leading driver at Daytona in terms of wins (8) and laps led (518). Despite all that good history, Gerhart is still going against popular thinking in the engine department this weekend. While many teams opted to run the brand new ARCA Ilmor 396 engine this weekend, Gerhart decided to stick with a built motor this weekend.
“I decided to go with what got me here and that included the engine department,” said Gerhart. “We’re down on power, but I’m running with what got me here. That shocked a lot of people, including (the Ilmoor people). I have two of them, but I decided not to run them. The dynos show that they’re faster, but I’ll get better gas mileage.”
While most drivers and teams would be thrilled to be fastest in practice just to have some bragging rights, Gerhart didn’t seem to feel that way when he parked his black no. 5 machine halfway through the session.
“I don’t want to be the fastest at the end of this session,” he said. When asked why he felt that way, Gerhart smiled and decided to be a little mysterious. “I’ll tell you why tomorrow afternoon.”
One surprise in Thursday’s session was the absence of defending ARCA Racing Series champion Mason Mitchell on the race track until late in the session. Mitchell had issues getting through technical inspection, and wasn’t cleared until there were under 20 minutes remaining in the session.
“We were so far back in tech inspection and everything took so long with the new rules and stuff,” said Mitchell. “We got through there late in the game.”
As a result, Mitchell and his team didn’t get to make many adjustments to improve their speed. He ended the session 18th on the board with a fast time of 47.954 seconds.
“I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be, but it was a lot better than it was going to be (if we didn’t get out),” Mitchell said. “We only made one run. We’ll put a game plan together for tomorrow and hopefully we’ll be faster.”
Friday afternoon will see the debut of group qualifying at Daytona for ARCA. It’s a procedure that has determined the starting lineups for the series in the past on the road courses and at Talladega Superspeedway (AL), but tomorrow is the first time it will be used at The World Center of Racing. Each group will be determined by speeds in Friday morning’s practice session.
While there are some unknowns as to how it will play out, Gerhart didn’t seem too worried about it.
“This (practice) is actually scarier than group qualifying,” said Gerhart. “Tomorrow we’ll have about 10 cars out there. Today we’ve got 30. I came off turn two and saw about 25 cars in front of me at one point.”
Speed51 powered by JEGS will be live with Trackside Now coverage to bring race fans all of Friday’s ARCA Racing Series action from Daytona International Speedway.
A replay of Thursday’s Trackside Now coverage can be found here: http://speed51.com/trackside-now-arca-practice-day-at-daytona-international-speedway/
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor -Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com photo
ARCA Racing Series Lucas Oil 200 Practice Results
Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida
|29||98||Austin Wayne Self||48.244|
|30||7||Tommy Barrett Jr.||48.441|
|40||97||Bobby Hamilton Jr.||50.315|