After a precipitous fall throughout the 2016 season, the ARCA Racing Series looks to return with new muscle among its teams in 2017.
The ARCA Racing Series has a strong place on the ladder to success in stock car racing, even if its teams remain somewhat fluid and underfunded. The 2016 season saw ups and downs for many on the grid in the most diverse stock division in racing, but 2017 is already shaping up to have even more competitors for the title.
At the start of the season, things looked bright to seeing a competitive race for the championship in ARCA starting at Daytona. However, then the shoes began to drop. GMS Racing refocused their efforts on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, letting their ARCA team go by the wayside. Then, the big news came that Lira Motorsports would be shutting down, eliminating one of the few multi-car teams in the series.
The races that followed on short tracks like Berlin and Madison saw car counts fall below thirty, even below twenty entries. More cars and teams did arrive for bigger televised races at Kentucky, Lucas Oil, and Kansas, but it did make some wonder – how bright is the future of the ARCA Racing Series?
Heading into 2017, brighter skies are on the horizon for the developmental division. Already many teams have confirmed they will be racing at Daytona in a few short weeks. Cunningham Motorsports is likely to return with two cars, having already confirmed Dalton Sargeant to replace outgoing champion Chase Briscoe. Win-Tron Racing will have Gus Dean racing full-time in 2017, while Ray Ciccarelli will form his own team for the new year.
Of course, the biggest addition to the field for ARCA will be Joe Gibbs Racing. The NASCAR Cup Series championship team will field a single car for young rookie Riley Herbst, with a sponsor to be determined. This will end a partnership that the team held with Venturini Motorsports for many years, where drivers like Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, William Byron, and Daniel Suarez raced for the multi-car organization.
The addition of JGR will hopefully be a long-term one, and one that will be seen with more NASCAR teams crossing over. There are certainly enough worthy drivers who are looking for a path forward in racing, and having big organizations that are willing to help build that path like Gibbs are important. What could also be important would be the reinvestment of big name drivers like Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon in the development in the next generation of great racers.
The ARCA Racing Series certainly has developed a number of leading NASCAR drivers in recent years, including Justin Allgaier, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and the Dillon brothers. Perhaps even more untapped talent can be found in the 2017 season.