Michael Self finished fourth this past weekend in Minnesota. But all he wanted to talk about after the performance was the unfortunate contact he made with teammate Christian Eckes on the final lap.
Eckes was running in second at the time of the contact, spun into the wall and finished 11th. Self still feels bad about the incident even after a few face-to-face meetings with his Venturini Motorsports teammate.
“He’s rightfully frustrated,” Self said. “But he’s a great teammate. I screwed up. It was my fault. I am just glad he’s understanding.”
Both Self and Eckes bring a ton of 2019 success to Iowa Speedway this weekend for the ARCA Menards Series Fans With Benefits 150.
Self leads the point standings, raced his way to three wins and has finished in the top five in nine of his 13 starts.
“The biggest key for me right now is that I have such a great relationship with my crew chief Shannon Rursch,” said Self, who is racing full-time in ARCA for the first time. “We have been successful in the past and we just have great chemistry. Venturini Motorsports also gives us great cars.”
The ARCA Menards Series points race is tight. Self leads the field but the distance between Self and fifth-place Joseph Graf Jr. is only 225 points. That’s fewer than the gap between Graf Jr. and sixth place Tommy Vigh Jr., which is 345 points.
With seven races left, Self isn’t worried about the championship yet.
“It’s still hard to just think about the championship,” Self said. “I am just trying to win races. If we win, the points will take care of itself.”
Self has 3,045 points. He leads Bret Holmes by 65 points. Holmes has five top-five finishes and 11 top-10 tallies.
Travis Braden sits third in the standings followed by Eckes and Graf Jr.
Only seven drivers on the circuit have made at least 11 starts.
Eckes and Self are the only full-time drivers on the Venturini Motorsports team, but future star and teenager Chandler Smith and Hailie Deegan also race part time.
Smith has three wins in his seven starts, including this past weekend in Minnesota. Deegan has made four ARCA starts.
Self has raced Iowa Speedway before. He was 18th last year and finished fourth in 2017.
“It’s a smaller track that races like an intermediate,” Self said. “It has lots of character, and it changes as you go so you need to be on your game.”
Smith finished second in the ARCA race at Iowa last summer. It was the first time Smith did not lead at least one lap in his ARCA career.
Smith competed in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Iowa earlier this summer.
“This is a short track, but it’s a big short track,” Smith said. “The biggest thing I will take back is how much I moved around the racetrack and all of the grooves. It’s a fast track.”
The race is one of eleven on tracks one mile in length or shorter on the ARCA Menards Series schedule, making it round seven of the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge. The championship-within-a-championship offers drivers that cannot compete on the superspeedways due to age restrictions a chance at racing for a championship.
This year’s Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge is shaping up to be a battle between a pair of talented teenagers.
The 17-year-old Smith leads the standings with 1,105 points, 55 more than second place 16-year-old Ty Gibbs, who is the grandson of Joe Gibbs. He has never finished outside the top 10 in his six ARCA starts. He was second to Smith last weekend in Minnesota.
“That’s the seventh time I’ve finished second,” Ty Gibbs said of his runner-up finish to Smith at Elko. “We’re going to change that at Iowa. It’s kind of funny that we’ve been second as much as we have but we’re here to win.”
The Fans With Benefits 150 begins at 8 p.m. on Friday. Practice is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. and qualifying is slated for 3:45 p.m.