DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After an impressive top-10 run in the season-opening ARCA Racing Series event last season at Daytona Int’l Speedway, Virginia’s Willie Mullins is hoping to turn even more heads.
Mullins, 36, is returning Daytona Int’l Speedway for Saturday’s Lucas Oil Complete Engine Care 200 in the hopes of bettering his eighth-place run in his Daytona debut last season.
“We put together a good, solid piece before we even went to the track,” Mullins said about his 2016 Daytona effort. “We had Andy Belmont as our crew chief and with him being there and being a veteran of Daytona and living there for the past 30 years every February, he just knows how to get around that place and make good decisions.”
Mullins said Belmont, a former driver and longtime ARCA participant, had a gut feeling prior to the start of the race that there was going to be a wreck early on last year, so he made the call to have Mullins drop from his 26th-place starting spot to the rear of the field. That call paid big dividends.
“He had a gut feeling at the beginning of that race that there was going to be a big wreck right off the bat,” Mullins said. “So he put us in the back. He just had a feeling something was going to happen. Sure enough there was a big wreck with a bunch of guys and it took out half the field. We ran right up to the front. We had a strong enough car that we were able to drive back to the front.”
The Fredricksburg, Va., native spends most of his days working at the family business, Bugsy’s Auto Body & Repair, alongside his father. He spent the majority of his free time during the offseason preparing the ARCA effort for Daytona and he has high expectations going into Saturday’s race.
“Our expectation coming down to Daytona is to have a top-10 finish,” Mullins said. “That would be just as much of a win again this year as it was last year. We are expecting ourselves to be in the top five. I don’t want to say we’re there to win, but we’re there to contend for a win. We’ve worked very hard in the offseason.
“We built a backup car, we have a backup motor. We’re going with all the tools necessary to win this race. It’s been a lot of hard work. We’ve been working on this car since the middle of the summer just to be prepared and ready for this race this year. We’re not going to throw together an effort. We’re going to compete to win.”
The race at Daytona is one of a handful of races Mullins plans to enter this year through a partnership with veteran ARCA team owner Darrell Basham. He plans to enter at least three more races this year, including his first short-track race at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway.