Looming large on the ARCA Menards Series schedule is Friday afternoon’s FORTS USA 150 at Pocono Raceway, the penultimate race in the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge. Barring a dramatic turn of events, the battle for the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge crown will be continue to be contested between Chad Bryant’s No. 22 Ford and Billy Venturini’s No. 20 Toyota. Bryant leads the standings with 2375 points, 95 points ahead of Venturini at 2280 points. A pair of short track specialists will duke it out at 2.5-mile triangle this week for those two teams. Corey Heim (No. 22 Speedway Children’s Charities Ford) will run for Chad Bryant Racing while four-time 2019 winner Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota) will drive for Venturini Motorsports. Heim and Smith both made their superspeedway debuts at Gateway in June, though that track is exactly half the length of Pocono at 1.25 miles in length. Pocono will represent the largest track that either teenage driver has ever raced at in a stock car.
So how did the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge make its way to this point?
The General Tire Superspeedway Challenge began alongside the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season in Daytona in February, with Harrison Burton (No. 20 DEX Imaging Toyota) taking the win for Billy Venturini and the No. 20 team. The first four superspeedway races would be critical for car owners vying to take home the superspeedway title, as those four races were sponsored by General Tire and thus awarded double points. A poor finish in any of those races would be a significant setback, especially at Daytona where the car count is usually the highest it will be all year. Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) found himself on the wrong end of an errant bump-draft going down the backstretch on just the third lap and went flying through the air in a dramatic accident. Self’s No. 25 team spent nearly half of the race repairing the significant damage to his Toyota and he finished the race in 31st, mired in a 320-point hole that Self and team owner Cathy Venturini have been unable to dig out of in the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge. Following a pair of penalties assessed after post-race inspection, the Billy Venturini-owned No. 20 car left Florida with a 50-point lead in the standings.
Two long months passed before the next event on the GTSC schedule, the General Tire 200 at Talladega. With GT’s race sponsorship, this would be another double-points event. With nine fewer cars starting than at Daytona, the risk of losing significant ground in the standings due to a bad finish was minimized – but not impossible. Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota), whose car owner Bill Venturini entered Talladega in second place in the standings, found that out the hard way. Just past halfway, Eckes was caught up in an accident and finished last, only one week after missing the race at Salem Speedway with an illness. Venturini’s No. 15 team dropped from second to 11th in the GTSC standings. Todd Gilliland (No. 4 Frontline Enterprises Toyota) won at Talladega and propelled car owner Bo LeMastus to second in the standings. Billy Venturini and the No. 20 team left with a 90-point lead over LeMastus after Brandon Lynn (No. 20 Carolina Excavation Toyota) finished third at Talladega.
The General Tire 150 at Charlotte would kick off the Memorial Day weekend festivities at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23. The No. 4 car owned by LeMastus was not on the entry list, giving Billy Venturini a chance to pull away in the standings with Harrison Burton back behind the wheel of the No. 20 machine. Instead, a new team entered the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge battle at the top. Ty Majeski (No. 22 Crestliner Boats Ford), who had only announced his intention to run a partial ARCA schedule at the end of March, made a late pass for the lead and won his first career ARCA Menards Series race for Chad Bryant’s No. 22 team. The No. 22 car had run solidly in the first two superspeedway races, with Conner Hall (No. 22 Marlow Yachts Ford) finishing 11th at Daytona and Majeski finishing fourth at Talladega. The win came as a surprise, though, but it would be an omen of things to come. Burton finished fourth for Billy Venturini and the No. 20 car left Charlotte with an 80-point lead over Bryant’s surging No. 22 team.
Burton and Majeski were back in the saddle for Venturini and Bryant, respectively, the next week for the series’ first visit to Pocono Raceway. Riley Herbst (No. 18 Monster Energy Toyota) dominated most of the race, but Majeski and crew chief Paul Andrews played their pit strategy correctly and came away with their second consecutive win after a late-race pass for the lead. A pair of flat tires left Burton two laps down in sixth place. Thanks to the double points coming into play for the final time this season, Chad Bryant’s No. 22 car came away from Pocono just 10 points behind Billy Venturini’s No. 20 car in the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge standings. Despite Herbst finishing in second and propelling No. 18 car owner Coy Gibbs to third in the standings, Gibbs was over 200 points behind the two leaders and unlikely to mount a charge with no more double-points races on the schedule. The stage was set for the No. 20 and No. 22 teams to battle it out over the final five months of the 2019 season.
Ty Majeski reprised his role as the driver of Chad Bryant’s No. 22 car at Michigan International Speedway while Billy Venturini tabbed former ARCA winner Myatt Snider (No. 20 Cometic Toyota) to maintain the lead in the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge standings. Snider was never really a factor in his first ARCA start in nearly two years and finished eighth. Majeski attempted to play the pit strategy card again by stretching his last tank of fuel over 50 laps, but he ran out of gas coming out of turn 4 on the final lap of the race. Michael Self, the dominant driver of the day with 86 laps led, passed Majeski’s slowing car and picked up the last-minute victory. Majeski coasted to finish second. While he came up just short in his effort to win three straight races, Majeski did manage to take the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge lead for Bryant by 20 points. Venturini’s No. 20 car fell to second in the standings. Self and car owner Cathy Venturini were assessed a points penalty for post-race inspection violations, which cost the No. 25 team 50 points in the standings.
The General Tire Superspeedway Challenge continued at the newly-christened World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on June 22. At 1.25 miles in length, Gateway allows younger drivers that normally do not have clearance to race at superspeedways to compete at the track. Young guns such as 15-year old Sam Mayer (No. 21 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet), Ty Gibbs (No. 18 Monster Energy Toyota), Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota) and Corey Heim (No. 22 Speedway Children’s Charities Ford) invaded St. Louis in preparation to take on Gateway. Billy Venturini saw his No. 20 team take another hit when Smith broke an axle and spent half of the race in the garage getting repairs. A late caution set up a shootout with less than ten laps to go. Gibbs slid underneath Mayer in turns 3 and 4 on the final lap to pick up the win for his car owner (and father) Coy Gibbs. Heim came home in fourth place while Chandler Smith was relegated to 16th. In his first superspeedway race, Heim was able to extend Chad Bryant’s lead in the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge standings to 80 points over the Venturini No. 20 team.
The Bounty 150 at Chicagoland Speedway brought a pair of familiar faces back to the No. 20 and No. 22 teams. Harrison Burton and Ty Majeski were set to square off again and were considered two of the favorites to win the race, along with overall series championship leader Michael Self. Majeski had previously picked up his two wins by making his moves late in the race. Instead, Majeski went for a role reversal of sorts and led 72 of the 100 laps, beating second-place Burton to the checkers by over nine seconds. Chad Bryant left the mile-and-a-half Joliet, IL facility with a 95-point lead. It has remained static, as the last month has passed with just two short track races on the ARCA Menards Series schedule heading into this weekend’s FORTS USA 150 at Pocono.
Chandler Smith has proven to be an ace at the short tracks so far in his ARCA career – and that might even be selling him short. If he takes home the win at Pocono while Corey Heim struggles, the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge will truly go down to the wire in the season finale at Kansas Speedway in October.
2019 GENERAL TIRE SUPERSPEEDWAY CHALLENGE LEADERS: 1. No. 22, Chad Bryant, owner, 2375 points; 2. No. 20, Billy Venturini, owner, 2280 points; 3. No. 18, Coy Gibbs, owner, 2115 points; 4. No. 27, Don Fike, owner, 2100 points; 5. No. 15, Bill Venturini, owner, 2050 points
ARCA Menards Series practice at Pocono Raceway starts at 9 am ET with General Tire Pole Qualifying set for 1:35 pm ET and the green flag on the FORTS USA 150 set to fly at 4 pm ET. The race will be televised live flag to flag on FS1. ARCARacing.com will have live timing & scoring, live user chat, and live track updates for registered users at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For ticket information please visit PoconoRaceway.com.