Friday was already a good day for ARCA Menards Series Owner Bill Venturini, who was guaranteed to celebrate his first ARCA Series title since 1991 at Friday’s Kansas 150 at Kansas Speedway.
The drama: Which of his two drivers, Christian Eckes or Michael Self, would come away with the title. The duo had taken turns with the points lead throughout the season, and it was Eckes who entered the ARCA Series finale with a 15-point edge on his teammate and rival.
Eckes started the Kansas 150 in the back of the field because of a last-minute engine change due to a broken rocker arm. He ended it in first place, and with the 2019 ARCA Series title in hand, cruising to his fourth victory of the season and first at Kansas Speedway.
“It’s huge, especially because of the year we went through and missing the race at Salem (due to illness),” Eckes said. “This would’ve been a less stressful week if we didn’t miss that race, but it is what it is, and we were able to fight back because of it. I’m looking forward to tonight. It should be a great celebration.”
Eckes and his team were able to take the unexpected setback before the race in stride.
“Honestly, as weird as it sounds, it was almost a relief,” Eckes said. “I was so stressed out this morning, and we had that happen, and I was like, ‘I’m going to go out and have some fun now.’”
Eckes had no trouble making his way through traffic, but he spent the first half the race about 10 seconds behind Self. The first caution on lap 40 gave him a chance to catch up, and he left the pits second behind Self.
The second caution on lap 53 proved to be the turning point. Eckes took the lead shortly after the race resumed and spent the final 40 laps or so pulling away from Self and the rest of the field.
“Clean air was huge, and I feel like our car was really good in the second run on our tires in practice. Once we got the clean air there, we knew we had to do one thing only, and that was to stretch it out. And we did.”
Eckes has plans for 2020 that he hinted at in a pre-race press conference but didn’t officially announce. As for Self, he came to grips with the realization that Friday might’ve been his final hurrah.
“This might be it, man. For whatever my future holds. I woke up this morning and told (my wife), if this is it, that’s OK. I’ve been out before, fought to come back, and done what I wanted to. That may be the case here, and if it is, that’s OK,” Self said.
Venturini was as apprehensive as a parent watching two siblings compete against each other.
“I’m more nervous today than I have been all year, and I’m nervous for both of these guys, because they’re both deserving,” Venturini said before the race. “I want each one to win for different reasons, and I’m really torn. Unfortunately one of them’s not going to win. One’s going to go home tonight really happy, and the other one is going to be all (ticked) off.”
It was fitting that Friday’s race took place in the shadow of a casino. Venturini bet big on the 2019 campaign, and it paid off even before the season ended.
“We stacked the deck as best we could. That’s why you roll dice,” Venturini said. “It’s a gamble, and it paid off for us. I’m overjoyed. I may get drunk tonight, I don’t know.”