For the thirteenth time in the track’s 14-year history the ARCA Menards Series will compete at the seven-eighths mile Iowa Speedway, located just east of Des Moines, in Newton, Iowa. The Fans with Benefits 150 is slated for an 8 pm CT green flag on Friday night, July 19.
The race is one of eleven on tracks one mile in length or shorter on the ARCA Menards Series schedule, making it round seven of the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge. The championship-within-a-championship offers drivers that cannot compete on the superspeedways due to age restrictions a chance at racing for a championship. Kyle Weatherman won the inaugural Short Track Challenge title in 2015. He was just seventeen years of age when the season started and not eligible to compete on tracks longer than one mile until he turned 18 mid-way through the season. Despite missing five early-season races, Weatherman was still able to compete for and win a championship.
This year’s Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge is shaping up to be a battle between another pair of talented teenagers, both of whom have already scored wins this season. Seventeen-year-old Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota) leads the standings with 1105 points, 55 more than second place sixteen-year-old Ty Gibbs (No. 18 Monster Energy/ORCA Coolers/Terrible Herbst/Advance Auto Parts Toyota).
Smith comes into the Iowa race fresh off a dominant win at Elko Speedway last Saturday night, the third of three consecutive short track wins for the Talking Rock, Georgia native. Smith has already led 518 laps on the season, leading the series’ overall Valvoline Lap Leader standings despite only competing in seven of the 13 races the series has held coming into Iowa. In addition to his propensity for leading laps, and lots of them, Smith is also known for his prowess in qualifying. He earned the General Tire Pole Award in each of his first four ARCA Menards Series starts, which set a modern era record, and he’s won three pole awards already this season. He also started from the pole earlier this season in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway, leading 55 laps before a pit road penalty sent him to the back of the field. He recovered to finish eighth. Driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Smith finished fourth in his second career Gander Trucks start at WWT Raceway outside of St. Louis in just his second career start.
Smith finished second in the ARCA race at Iowa last summer, crossing the finish line just about a quarter of second behind winner and eventual series champion Sheldon Creed. It was the first time Smith did not lead at least one lap in his ARCA career, something he’d like to change in this year’s running of the Fans with Benefits 150. He’ll take some lessons learned in that Gander Trucks start earlier this season back to the seven-eighths mile D-shaped oval.
“This is a short track but it’s a big short track,” Smith said. “The biggest thing I will take back is how much I moved around the racetrack and all of the grooves. It’s a fast track and aerodynamics are important. I learned some things in the Truck race and I will be able to play around with some aero as well.”
Despite the track’s larger-than-most-other-short tracks size, it still has a lot of the same characteristics as the third-miles and half-miles that are where most stock car drivers get their start in racing.
“Iowa drives just like a short track does,” he said. “A place like Gateway, that’s nothing at all like a short track. You need a really wide arc getting into turn one at Iowa. Then you’re back on the throttle really fast. That’s why I was so successful in the Truck earlier this season. It fits my short track background really well. It has a lot of short track mentality to it. It’s a mixture between an intermediate and a short track with sweeping corners and you move around a lot. Especially in turns three and four. You can really carry a lot of speed through there.”
Gibbs is in his first season of competition in the ARCA Menards Series. Driving for his grandfather, legendary NFL Hall of Fame coach and NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner Joe Gibbs, he will be making his eighth career start in the Fans with Benefits 150. A winner earlier in the season at WWT Raceway, Gibbs has been stout in each of his previous races. He finished second in three of his first four series appearances, at Five Flags Speedway, Salem Speedway, and at Toledo, and then again last Saturday night at Elko Speedway. Despite his relative lack of experience, Gibbs has been solid in everything he’s raced this season. He won a major late model stock car race to open the season at Myrtle Beach Speedway, has collected top-five finishes in both of his appearances in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, and has never been outside of the top ten in his six ARCA starts.
There are a few goals Gibbs would like to achieve leaving Iowa Speedway, but two of them are predicated in on the first: winning the race. His secondary goals are closing that points gap in the Short Track Challenge standings and positioning his father Coy, the listed team owner, better in the series’ owners points standings. The 18 car, which Gibbs shares with Riley Herbst, is currently third in the standings 155 points behind the Venturini Motorsports No. 20 car that Smith will be driving.
“That’s the seventh time I’ve finished second,” Gibbs said of his runner-up finish to Smith at Elko. “We’re going to change that at Iowa. We had a pretty solid day at Elko. We just got caught up in some lapped cars and couldn’t make up the ground we lost. It’s kind of funny that we’ve been second as much as we have but we’re here to win.”
Practice at Iowa Speedway is scheduled for 12:45 pm ET/11:45 am CT with General Tire Pole Qualifying to follow at 4:45 pm ET/3:45 pm CT and the Fans with Benefits 150 to close the night at 9 pm ET/8 pm CT. The race will be televised live flag to flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can access free live timing & scoring, track updates, and live user chat at ARCARacing.com. New members can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. Discounted tickets are available by using coupon code MENARDS15 on any ticket purchase at IowaSpeedway.com, including Saturday’s Iowa 300 for the NNT Indycar Series.