NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The ARCA Menards Series championship battle has heated up going into Saturday’s General Tire Music City 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.
Leader Michael Self, driving for the powerhouse Venturini Motorsports organization, would seem to be the overwhelming favorite, but he has just a slim five-point lead over runner-up Travis Braden entering the season’s fifth race.
Self’s season got off to a rough start when he was involved in a lap three crash at Daytona. The resultant damage left him 31st at the finish and in a deep hole in the standings.
He won the next time out at Five Flags, but was penalized 25 points for a post-race technical violation. He won again at Salem in the season’s third race, moving within just five points of the lead heading into last Friday’s race at Talladega.
Self finished fifth, two positions ahead of Braden, and heads into the Nashville event leading the ARCA standings for the first time in his career.
“It’s pretty awesome that we’ve bounced back from where we were after Daytona, to now leading the points heading in to race five, but it’s also a little stressful, because I know that everyone else can just as easily do the same thing,” said Self. “I’m definitely trying to enjoy it for now, and not overthink it, because we have a lot of racing left to do.”
Self comes to the ARCA Menards Series with eight career wins in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, five of which came on short tracks.
When Self made the transition to ARCA through partial schedules in 2017 and 2018, he ran mainly on superspeedways – defined as tracks longer than one mile – and his success on the big tracks earned him a reputation as a superspeedway specialist.
While he certainly enjoys racing on the big tracks, Self is hoping his streak of success on the bullrings gets him consideration as a well-rounded competitor that can challenge for wins on all types of tracks and contend for the series title.
“Winning at Pensacola and Salem were huge confidence builders for me,” Self says. “Those weren’t tracks that I had looked at and thought that I could capitalize at, but we were able to, which surprised me, but also gave me so much confidence in the team around me and the cars that are coming out of Venturini Motorsports.
“Nashville is another one of those tracks that I don’t have highlighted as a place that I really look forward to or feel like I just love, but after the success we had at Five Flags and Salem I’m definitely excited to see what we can do.”
Conversely, Braden could be seen as an unlikely contender for the series championship.
It’s certainly not his credentials, he’s a two-time ARCA/CRA Super Series late model champion. And it’s not the credentials of his crew chief, Dan Glauz, who was an integral member of Tim Steele’s championship seasons in the 1990s.
Braden’s Don Fike-owned team, RFMS Racing, is based in the heart of the Midwest racing scene in Brownsburg, Ind., just west of Indianapolis.
Fike has built a solid core led by Glauz and Braden, but they are “the little team that could” in comparison to the Venturini organization.
Braden is one of three full-time employees. Not only does he drive the car, he works on them throughout the week putting his degrees in aerospace and mechanical engineering from West Virginia University to good use.
The fact that their smaller team is able to compete with what is arguably the series’ powerhouse organization is a source of pride for the Wheeling, W.Va. native.
“Everyone looks at us a smaller team, up against the powerhouses,” Braden said. “There’s always a factor in the size and budget of a race team, but I feel we’re really getting close to being able to do what those teams do. A lot has grown at RFMS Racing over the past 18 months, and I don’t think we’ve even begun to show our true capabilities yet this season.
“I think you’ll see a lot of eyes open up here over the next few weeks of racing,” Braden added. “It’s nice to be in such great position in the standings to capitalize on it, too.”
Braden is a short track specialist. Not only did he earn those two late model championships on the short tracks of the Midwest, he earned his first ARCA Menards Series win in his first series start at Lucas Oil Raceway just outside of Indy in 2015.
With that said, Braden would like to use that experience, as well as his previous experience at Nashville, to retake the points lead from Self with a strong run on the fairgrounds oval.
“I spent a lot of time at the short track level, specifically in this region, compared to most of our competition,” Braden said. “It pays big dividends when I can show up with that experience at these tracks.
“If we can get on a roll on the short tracks, I think it will be really hard to stop us.”