NASCAR has unveiled the foundation for what it plans to do with the newly-acquired ARCA Racing Series.
On paper, it seems pretty dang cool, even if there are a lot of logistics they will have to overcome in order to do this the right way.
First, here’s a refresher on what will happen starting in 2020:
– NASCAR plans to shorten both the K&N East and West divisions to six-to-eight races
– What is now the ARCA Racing Series will be called ARCA Elite and will feature roughly 20 races on short tracks, intermediates, superspeedways and road courses – not much different than its current construction
– The final 10 races of the ARCA Elite series will be held exclusively on tracks a mile or shorter
– The top K&N Pro Series East and West drivers will be invited to compete on those final 10 ARCA races to compete for a championship-within-a-championship called the Stock Car Invitational.
That last point is what should get you excited.
There are multiple elements to unpack here, but the first concerns the Stock Car Invitational and NASCAR’s intent to crown a true national short track champion using both ARCA and K&N divisions as the foundation.
The first half of the ARCA Elite schedule should include familiar Cup Series companion events like Daytona, Talladega, Michigan and Pocono — tracks that teenaged prospects can’t race on due to age restrictions.
Those drivers will be racing on traditional K&N Pro Series short tracks and can even win an abbreviated championship on those respective tours.
And then, once those short track seasons have concluded, NASCAR will invite those contenders over to the second-half of the ARCA Elite schedule to race exclusively on short tracks to crown a combined national champion.
This is where we’re still waiting for some clarity.
NASCAR has yet to release the schedule for the ARCA Elite Series, and by default, the Stock Car Invitational that will take place during its second half. But NASCAR could really give fans a special treat with this schedule, especially if it can pair Cup companion events like Richmond, Martinsville and Phoenix with other standalone events.
NASCAR is also hoping the Stock Car Invitational addresses another issue ARCA and K&N has developed over the past decade — the lack of veterans.
Busch North, Winston West and ARCA was once defined by the veterans that ran their respective tours. A decade ago, ARCA was such a unique series to watch because it pitted rising talents like Ricky Stenhouse, Justin Allgaier and Chris Buescher versus the mainstays like Frank Kimmel, Josh Williams, and Tommy Hessert.
It’s hard to get invested in teenagers driving race cars and the Stock Car Invitational hopes to spotlight older drivers and the next generation of NASCAR hopefuls.
Consider this line from managing director Brandon Thompson.
"We want to make sure that series veterans – a Bobby Gerhart on the ARCA side or a Ronnie and Dillon Bassett on the K&N side – have a home so we can kind of get back to creating those stables in those series."
Okay, so Gerhart hasn’t been full-time in ARCA since the 1990’s but he’ll get a free pass because he’s a good dude who also brought up the Bassett Brothers, who are legitimately great example of the type of driver that NASCAR needs to keep in their system.
The Bassetts will likely never be Cup Series stars, but are brash and engaging personalities, who deserve to be the foundation of the Stock Car Invitational.
The NASCAR Pinty’s Series in Canada and Whelen Modified Tour in New England, not to mention weekly Late Model racing all across America, works because there are veterans that fans have latched onto from Day One.
The Stock Car Invitational will have a better chance of succeeding if there are veterans that play the same role as Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter in the Truck Series.
And It sounds like NASCAR wants that to happen.
Josh Williams is currently a backmarker in the NASCAR Xfinity Series because it wasn’t financially feasible for his blue-collar ARCA team to race for championships at that level. Frank Kimmel won 10 ARCA crowns but couldn’t find the funding to race full-time even when he still wanted to.
The teenagers need a benchmark to race against and tracks need stars to sell for the standalone races. Here’s to hoping NASCAR is able to create those stables Thompson referenced in the above quote.
Lastly, NASCAR will face a logistical challenge in merging the ARCA and K&N rule books.
Their 2020 press release stated that K&N teams will have to use their engine package when they race on the ARCA Elite Tour for the Stock Car Invitational. As it stands now, both tours race on radial tires and use the same spec composite body.
ARCA uses the Ilmor 396 that is also the foundation for the Truck Series NT1 spec engine, while the K&N Series uses a Robert Yates spec engine. So, NASCAR faces a challenge to make sure both packages are equal in the Stock Car Invitational.
This will be a work in progress, and there will be the occasional hiccup, but NASCAR has a really good idea in this combined ARCA-K&N world that will arrive in 2020.
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