For the first time in nearly a decade and a half, ARCA returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Thursday night’s General Tire 150. After hosting 20 ARCA events between 1964 and 2004, this week’s event marks the sixth round on the 2018 calendar, and the third to be held on a speedway or superspeedway over a mile long.
The four-day gap between the most recent ARCA round, the Menards 200 at Toledo Speedway, and this one is tied for the shortest on this year’s schedule; visits to DuQuoin State Fairgrounds and Lucas Oil Raceway in September will also be separated by four days. The Toledo and Charlotte stops couldn’t be more different: while the former is a half-mile short track specializing in smaller national and regional series, Charlotte is a 1.5-mile tri-oval best known for hosting three NASCAR Cup Series events, including last weekend’s All-Star Race.
Three different drivers have won rounds coming into this weekend’s action, with points leader Zane Smith atop the list with three victories. Smith, who was recently named to the NASCAR NEXT class for the second straight year, took his first victory in Nashville in April and enters this week’s race coming off of back-to-back victories in Talladega and Toledo.
Currently second in the championship is a name familiar to most off-road fans: Sheldon Creed, one of Smith’s teammates at MDM Motorsports. The two-time Stadium Super Trucks champion finished in the top five in each of the first four rounds of the season, and trails Smith by only 30 points coming into the weekend.
Third and fourth-place drivers Chase Purdy and Riley Herbst are also part of the NASCAR NEXT program, while Purdy actually makes it an MDM 1-2-3 atop the current standings. Rounding out the top five is Natalie Decker, running her first full season for Venturini Motorsports; after earning her first career ARCA top-five in the season-opening Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona, she enters this weekend coming off of a strong seventh-place run in Toledo.
But ARCA’s return to Charlotte has attracted a number of competitive drivers running partial schedules, each of whom will make the battle for the win interesting. Two NASCAR full-timers will also make their ARCA season debuts: Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series driver Brandon Jones will run with MDM, and Kyle Busch Motorsports Camping World Truck Series driver Todd Gilliland will compete in a car owned by his father David. Meanwhile, Michael Self, who won the Daytona opener, will be back in action for Venturini Motorsports.
Whichever driver takes the victory will join an impressive list of previous ARCA winners in Charlotte. Stock car racing legend Curtis Turner won the inaugural event in 1964. Both a Petty (Adam) and an Earnhardt (Kerry) have taken ARCA victories here. So have a Daytona 500-winning driver (Ryan Newman) and a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee (Kirk Shelmerdine). ARCA legends Tim Steele and Frank Kimmel have won here multiple times. And the names who have run ARCA events in Charlotte without winning have included such legends as former NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick and 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Ron Hornaday Jr.
No matter what happens on Thursday night, the return of Charlotte to the ARCA schedule has been a major source of excitement for the series this season. And if the first few rounds of the year are anything to go by, it just might be one of the most thrilling races of the weekend.