ARCA drivers will get to race on Michigan International Speedway's 2-mile course in a change from the shorter tracks in the series.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Through the eight months it takes to complete their 19-race schedule, the drivers in the ARCA Racing Series will tangle on a variety of short tracks, a road course, a couple of dirt tracks ... and then there are those monster layouts -- the superspeedways.
When 18-year-old Max Gresham looks out across the wide, spacious, two-mile Michigan International Speedway, he sees a new frontier -- space. After earning his stripes in the tight, contact-wrought quarters of the half-miles, MIS is the Grand Canyon to Gresham.
"It's huge. It's the biggest track I've ever been on, and that makes for a little extra nerves, and some extra excitement," Gresham said Wednesday. He will be practicing at MIS Thursday, qualifying Friday morning, and then competing in the RainEater Wiper Blades 200 ARCA race Friday evening.
"You can do things here that you can't even consider most places. There's so much room to move around. It's a big, big place."
While it allows drivers as young as 16 to compete on the short tracks such as Toledo Speedway, ARCA requires its drivers to be at least 18 before they compete on the faster superspeedways.
Chris Buescher is another 18-year-old with a lengthy racing resume, but also about to take his first competitive spin around the D-shaped oval at MIS, where ARCA made its first visit in 1980.
Like Gresham, Buescher tested at MIS about three weeks ago and is still grappling with its width and considerable expanse.
"Michigan is not really my expertise yet, but we're going to try it here," Buescher said. "Hopefully, it'll go good. We've got a fast car. We weren't as fast as we wanted to be [in the test], but we should be okay come race time."
Current series leader Ty Dillon has won three races this season, including at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. He is confident, but aware of the speeds Michigan's space can produce.
"It's my first time going to Michigan," Dillon said. "It's really exciting. It's a really fast track. You go something like 200 miles per hour off into the corner. It's a little flatter than other places I've been."
Series rookie Maryeve Dufault said she has heard the stories about MIS and the unique challenges and opportunities it presents.
"I've been told that Michigan International Speedway is plenty wide to race and very fast," the native of Quebec said. "I've taken a liking to the bigger tracks on the ARCA circuit this year, so I'm looking forward to a good finish."
On the flip side of the MIS experience chart is nine-time ARCA series champion Frank Kimmel, who won at MIS in 1998 and 2005. Kimmel is second in this season's points race, and ready for a third win on the Irish Hills track.
"We've been knocking on the door all season," said Kimmel, who was second in the ARCA event at Toledo Speedway last month. "I'm happy with how consistent we've raced, but at the same time it'd be nice to end up in victory lane."
ARCA, the national stock car racing series that is based in the Toledo area, has a long-standing and productive relationship with MIS.
"Our drivers really look forward to racing at MIS since it's such a competitive track and it's close to home for many of our Midwest-based teams," ARCA president Ron Drager said. "It's a special place for us."
Gresham, who posted the fastest lap time in the recent ARCA test at MIS, hopes to have that sentiment towards the place come Friday night.
"I feel like Michigan can be real forgiving, since you've got so much room to move around," Gresham said. "But it will really test your ability to maneuver at high speeds. If you've grown up on racing, then you've dreamed about flying around a place like this."
ARCA will get Michigan's June race weekend started with its 100-lap event Friday, to be followed by the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday, and the featured Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday.
10 a.m.: ARCA qualifying
11:30 a.m.-4:50 p.m.: NASCAR Nationwide Series, Sprint Cup Series practice
5:15 p.m.: ARCA Series RainEater Wiper Blades 200
11:10 a.m.: Nationwide Series qualifiying
1:10 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying
3:30 p.m.: Nationwide Alliance Truck Parts 250
12:30 p.m.: Driver inroductions
1 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.
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