NEWTON, Iowa – For the 13th time in the track’s 14-year history, the ARCA Menards Series will compete at the seven-eighths mile Iowa Speedway on Friday night.
The Fans with Benefits 150 marks one of 11 events on tracks one mile in length or shorter this season, 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 points title. Kyle Weatherman won the inaugural Short Track Challenge title in 2015.
Weatherman was just 17 when the season started and not eligible to compete on tracks longer than one mile until he turned 18 midway through the season, but despite missing five early-season races, Weatherman was still able to compete for and win an ARCA crown.
This year’s Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge is shaping up to be a battle between another pair of talented teenagers, both of whom have already scored wins this season.
Seventeen-year-old Chandler Smith leads the Short Track Challenge standings with 1105 points, 55 more than 16-year-old Ty Gibbs, who sits in second place.
Smith comes into the Iowa race fresh off a dominant win at Elko Speedway last Saturday night, the third of three consecutive short track wins for the Talking Rock, Ga., native. He has already led 518 laps on the season, leading the series’ overall Valvoline Lap Leader standings despite only competing in seven of the 13 races the series has held.
In addition to his propensity for leading laps, and lots of them, Smith is also known for his prowess in qualifying. He earned the General Tire Pole Award in each of his first four ARCA starts, which set a modern era record, and he’s won three poles already this season.
Smith also started from the pole earlier this season in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway, leading 55 laps before a pit road penalty sent him to the back of the field. He recovered to finish eighth.
Driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Smith finished fourth at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in just his second career Gander Trucks start.
Smith finished second in the ARCA race at Iowa last summer, crossing the finish line just about a quarter of second behind winner and eventual series champion Sheldon Creed. It was the first time Smith did not lead at least one lap in his ARCA career, something he’d like to change in this year’s running of the Fans with Benefits 150.
He’ll take some lessons learned in that Gander Trucks start earlier this season back to the seven-eighths mile, D-shaped oval.
“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 race track and all of the grooves. It’s a fast track and aerodynamics are important. I learned some things in the Truck race and I will be able to play around with some aero as well.”
Despite the track’s larger-than-most-other-short tracks size, it still has a lot of the same characteristics as the third-miles and half-miles, where most stock car drivers get their start in racing.
“Iowa drives just like a short track does,” he said. “A place like Gateway, that’s nothing at all like a short track. You need a really wide arc getting into turn one at Iowa. Then you’re back on the throttle really fast. That’s why I was so successful in the Truck earlier this season. It fits my short track background really well.
“It has a lot of short track mentality to it. It’s a mixture between an intermediate and a short track with sweeping corners and you move around a lot, especially in turns three and four,” he added. “You can really carry a lot of speed through there.”
Meanwhile, Gibbs is in his first season of competition in the ARCA Menards Series.
Driving for his grandfather, legendary NFL Hall of Fame coach and NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner Joe Gibbs, Ty Gibbs will make his eighth ARCA start in the Fans with Benefits 150.
A winner earlier in the season at Gateway, Gibbs has been stout in each of his previous races. He finished second in three of his first four series appearances, at Five Flags Speedway, Salem Speedway, and at Toledo, and then again last Saturday night at Elko.
Despite his relative lack of experience, Gibbs has been solid in everything he’s raced this season. He won a major late model stock car race to open the season at Myrtle Beach Speedway, has collected top-five finishes in both of his appearances in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, and has never been outside of the top 10 in his seven prior ARCA starts.
There are a few goals Gibbs would like to achieve leaving Iowa Speedway, but two of them are predicated on achieving the first: winning the race. H
is secondary goals are closing that points gap in the Short Track Challenge standings and positioning his father Coy, the listed team owner, better in the series’ owners points standings. The No. 18 car, which Gibbs shares with Riley Herbst, is currently third in the standings and 155 points behind the Venturini Motorsports No. 20 car that Smith will drive.
”That’s the seventh time I’ve finished second,” Gibbs said of his runner-up finish to Smith at Elko. “We’re going to change that at Iowa. We had a pretty solid day at Elko. We just got caught up in some lapped cars and couldn’t make up the ground we lost.
”It’s kind of funny that we’ve been second as much as we have, but we’re here to win.”