The 18th season of competition for one of the ARCA/CRA Super Series Powered by JEGS begins on Saturday, April 12 with Border Wars I - 7-Up 150 at the historic Toledo Speedway in Toledo, Ohio. The event will begin the chase for the 2014 ARCA/CRA Super Series Championship and adding to the high stakes will be the arrival of the ARCA Midwest Tour Presented by SCAG Power Equipment the first of two combination races between the two Super Late Model tours sanctioned by ARCA.
Wheeling, West Virginia standout Travis Braden comes into the 2014 campaign as the reigning series champion. Ali Kern, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, loses her yellow stripes on the back bumper and looks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump starting at Toledo. Ironically, Braden, who was the top freshman in 2012, didn't come close to suffering any type of second year blues on his way to the 2013 Championship. Kern is hoping that bodes well for her beginning in Toledo, Ohio. Both will have to deal with perennial powerhouse Brian Campbell, already one of the most successful drivers in series history, who has committed to the full 2014 ARCA/CRA schedule.
When the season’s final green flag falls at Winchester Speedway in Winchester, Indiana to start the 43rd running of the Winchester 400 on October 12th, only the best of the best that the ARCA/CRA Super Series has to offer will have positioned themselves for a shot at either the 2014 Championship, the 2014 Rookie of the Year title, or perhaps both, like what Derrick Griffin (2011) and Scott Hantz (2000) did. There hasn't been a season in recent memory where the incoming freshman crop has been so anticipated and loaded with talent.
Here’s a sneak peak at who to look for in terms of title contenders, those in the hunt, the dark horses, wild cards and rookies to watch leading into the season opener this Saturday, April 12th in Toledo, Ohio. An excellent crowd is expected in the Glass City for the Saturday's event. For those fans that are unable to make it to the track, Speed51.com will have live Trackside Now Coverage presented by JRi Shocks during Practice Day on Friday, April 11th starting at 1:00p.m., and presented by Five Star Racecar Bodies on Saturday, April 12th starting at 9:00a.m.
47 Brian Campbell - When it was announced that the Wyoming, Michigan veteran was going to compete full-time, everyone stopped and took notice. The 35-year-old has only competed full-time in the series once, in 2010 where he finished second. Already one of the most successful drivers in the country, if he gets off to a fast start, the race for the title could be over by July. The series visits his home track of Berlin Raceway twice in 2014. Of his 12 career wins, five of those wins have come at Berlin.
01 Travis Braden - The defending series champion would normally come into the following year as the top contender and the one everyone is gunning for. That may not be the case for the Wheeling, West Virginia driver who has another opportunity brewing, which would thwart his plans on racing the full schedule. If those plans don't come through, Braden will be a driver capable of contending basis with the veteran Campbell and possibly becoming the first reigning champ to repeat since Johnny VanDoorn (2010 & 2009) and only the second driver in series history to do so.
28 Ali Kern - The 2013 Rookie of the Year proved during her freshman season that she can compete with the heavy hitters within the series with back to back runner-up showings and a second-place overall finish in the final points. Her sophomore season will be a successful one if the Fremont, Ohio driver can show no signs of weakness. The biggest thing the 20-year-old has is the confidence in her abilities. Knowing full well there are plenty of naysayers, it may be wise for Kern to come into the season with perhaps a small chip on her shoulder. If she does that, she will contend for the title.
In the Hunt
26 Rick Turner - If there was a year when the 'Y-Town Hustler' made a statement that he wasn't done quite yet, it was in 2013. The 55-year-old finished fourth in the final points, just eight out of the runner-up spot. The Yorktown, Indiana driver continues to persevere as in the past seven seasons, Turner has finished at least fourth in the points standings on four different occasions. Of the 14 points races, four are at tracks where he's won - Anderson and Winchester. If he can grab solid finishes at those four events, it will make a title hunt much easier for the crafty veteran.
9 Brandon Watson - The Canadian standout from Stayner, Ontario has a stellar resume - two straight OSCAAR (Ontario Stock Car Association of Asphalt Racers) Outlaw Super Late Model titles, seventh in the 2012 JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour points with two runner-up showings at Anderson and Winchester. He also finished third on the final night of Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) in February. The 21-year-old knows most of the tracks on the 2014 schedule and will be one of the top rookies who could challenge for an overall championship.
7 Paul Shafer Jr. - As a 16-year-old, he won the 2013 Illiana Motor Speedway Super Late Model Track Title and he ended the year by qualifying into the Snowball Derby. Now 17, he moves up into the touring series wars and will race the full schedule in the ARCA/CRA Super Series as well as in as many events as possible in the ARCA Midwest Tour. The Portage, Indiana driver has the confidence to get the job done in a talent-laden freshman class and will be a factor all season long, not only in the rookie battle, but the overall title also.
51 Brandon Oakley - Armed with 2013 ARCA/CRA Super Series Championship winning Crew Chief Gary Estes, the 19-year-old has high expectations coming into his sophomore season of Super Late Model competition. Two races that really stand out on the schedule for the Beavercreek, Ohio teenager are the dates at Columbus Motor Speedway (OH) and his home track of Kil-Kare Speedway (OH). The thing for Oakley is that he must get better at every other track on the schedule if he has any aspirations of contending for a title. Estes should help in that regard.
131 Nick Gullatta - A quiet contender the past four seasons, the 43-year-old has got to step up his game if he has any hopes of contending for a championship. The three-time runner-up in the ARCA Trucks Series has not seen the success he had in that series carry over to the Super Late Models. If the North Canton, Ohio driver can get off to a fast start at Toledo and carry that momentum into Anderson Speedway for the next race two weeks later on April 26th, the Buckeye State veteran could surprise a lot of people and even pay a visit to victory lane.
5 Brett Robinson - After competing in parts of the last two seasons, the 21-year-old (on April 13th) will run the entire 2014 schedule. The New Albany, Indiana driver has shown flashes of potential in his 15 career starts, including a podium finish of third at Lucas Oil Raceway in the 2013 Fall Brawl. He has a win in the CRA Late Model Sportsman Series at his home track of Anderson Speedway in 2010 and has been fast at Winchester Speedway in recent years. Those three tracks account for six of the 14 points races. The trick is to be competitive and give himself a chance everywhere else.
77 Ross Kenseth - There's no question in anyone's mind that if the 20-year-old were to run the full schedule in the series, he would be a heavy favorite for the title. As it stands, Kenseth is not scheduled to run the second race of the season at Anderson Speedway on April 26th, where he won the 2012 Redbud 300. However, if the Little Chute, Wisconsin driver who now calls Jenison, Michigan home, does well at Toledo and decides to make the trip to Anderson, chances are he will follow the rest of the schedule and thus challenge Campbell, Braden and Kern for the championship.
8 Eddie Hoffman - It doesn't matter when or where the Wheaton, Illinois driver shows up, he is a contender for wins, plain and simple. If the 54-year-old were to ever decide to run for a championship again on a touring series level, Hoffman, one of the most accomplished drivers in the country, would be a lock for a championship. These days, Hoffman enjoys the friendly confines of Grundy County Speedway (IL) and Illiana Motor Speedway (IN) but is expected to make select appearances in CRA in 2014. When he does, count on him to be near the front.
42 Chad Finley - Another driver with a world of potential and a ton of talent, the 22-year-old has been stellar in select appearances in CRA's premier touring series. A JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour regular in years past, where he has three career wins, the DeWitt, Michigan driver followed a special-events only schedule in 2013 and plans to do the same this year as well with dreams of something bigger down the road. The old cliché of slow down to go fast applies to Finley and, very simply, if he were to commit to a full schedule, he would win a championship, something his resume lacks.
33 Wes Griffith Jr. - Perhaps there is no other rookie title contender in the 2014 class within the ARCA/CRA Super Series with more overall experience than that of the 46-year-old from Crown Point, Indiana. One of the original cast members of the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour and one of the few holdovers from the old Varney Late Model Series, Griffith Jr. has the upper hand on most of the freshman competitors due to his previous experience. He has seen most of the tracks on the schedule and if he starts off fast beginning at Toledo, he could surprise everyone.
72 Tom Woodin - The Battle Creek, Michigan driver is planning a full slate of events with hopes of competing for the 2014 Rookie of the Year title. The JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour graduate will make some noise in the new season in a new series. He did everything right in his time with the premier Pro Late Model series in the country and is amongst the leaders in nearly every statistical category in the crate-motored series. Now the 25-year-old will step up his game and could very surprise everyone with some solid finishes at tracks he's seen time at.
4 Dalton Armstrong - The newest driver in the Scott Neal Racing stable has indicated plans on running for both Rookie of the Year titles in the ARCA/CRA Super Series and the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour. As the season progresses, the wear and tear of competing in two different touring series' may begin to wear on the 19-year-old open-wheeled graduate from New Castle, Indiana and a decision may have to be made as to which freshman title he has the best chance at capturing.