ARCA driver Frank Kimmel
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- For a guy about to take part in his 23rd ARCA Series race at Michigan International Speedway, Frank Kimmel has hardly lost his zest for the place. The nine-time champion of the series looks out across the expanse that is MIS and gets a little giddy.
"MIS is a fun race track. It has fast straightaways, long sweeping turns, and is in great shape," Kimmel said about the layout where he will test his skills against a diverse and crowded field in this evening's RainEater Wiper Blades 200.
"It's also one of those races that can come down to fuel mileage."
That means strategy could trump talent and experience, and Kimmel hopes to have plenty of all three working for him. Kimmel has two wins, seven top-five finishes, and nine top-10 showings in his previous runs at MIS.
Seven races into ARCA's 19-race 2011 schedule, Kimmel is second in points behind rookie Ty Dillon. Kimmel gave his team a good review as the season nears its halfway point.
"I would give us a solid B. We're much better than we were at this point last year," Kimmel said. "We show up with speed and have run consistently almost every weekend."
In Thursday's ARCA practice session at MIS, Dillon was the third fastest around the two-mile oval, while Kimmel had the 10th fastest lap. Dillon, who took the ARCA event at Toledo Speedway last month, is chasing a sixth win in the series in just his 11th ARCA race.
The day's fastest time was posted by Max Gresham, who has just six ARCA races on his resume, but that includes a win last year at Mansfield Motorsports Park. Gresham was also the fastest when ARCA drivers tested at MIS about three weeks ago and he said his No. 25 Venturini Motorsports Toyota was quick as soon as his team unloaded it.
"The fastest lap of the day for anyone was our first lap on the track," Gresham said. "It feels great to come to Michigan for my first time to race here and be fastest in practice, you know."
Gresham's top lap covered the two-mile MIS layout in 38.609 seconds, as he averaged 186.485 miles per hour. His Venturini team seemed to have the MIS formula figured out, as teammate Hal Martin posted the second-fastest time. Martin covered the track in 38.766 seconds and averaged 185.73 mph.
After a string of great qualifying runs but poor finishes on large layouts such as MIS, Martin is remaining upbeat about changing his luck in this evening's race.
"You know, I just keep my head up," Martin said. "The last few weeks' races are behind me. I'm just here for this weekend, racing Michigan. I want to put all the bad luck behind us."
The ARCA Series, which returns to Toledo Speedway in October, gets this weekend of racing at MIS started this evening, with the NASCAR Nationwide Series set to run Saturday, and the Sprint Cup Series taking to the track on Sunday.
"We have always considered MIS our hometown superspeedway," ARCA president Ron Drager said. "It's a special place for us."