From Jimmie Johnson to William Byron, the path to the top of NASCAR has long gone through ARCA and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
In 2020, that path will take on a new look.
With an announcement Wednesday, NASCAR and ARCA unveiled the new ARCA Menards Series, which will encompass the three long-running regional stock car series, while also providing a new combined championship series.
What has been known as the K&N Pro Series East and West will become the ARCA Menards Series East and West. The current 20-race ARCA Menards Series will remain in place. And a 10-race slate within the latter will serve as a crossover for all three series, and crown a fourth champion of the ARCA Showdown.
The news is the next step that began with an announcement in April 2018 that NASCAR had acquired ARCA. Over the ensuing months, hours of research, on-track testing and meetings with stakeholders were poured into the process to come up with a series that would serve as one strong pathway for drivers aspiring to reach the next level of the sport while at the same time becoming a place where veteran short-track racers could find a home.
While they competed as separate series throughout 2019, both sides worked together to create the common platform.
Enter the ARCA Menards Series.
RELATED: Breaking down the 2020 format
“Both NASCAR and ARCA have worked extremely hard over the last year to provide a rules package and schedule that will serve as the foundation for the pre-eminent series for racing at this level,” said Brandon Thompson, managing director, NASCAR touring series. “It was important for us to move the series forward while creating an environment inclusive for both the current long-term owners and drivers in the series as well as aspiring competitors.”
“What first started as a friendship between Bill France Sr. and John Marcum nearly 70 years ago took a momentous step forward today,” ARCA President Ron Drager said. “The amount of history and tradition these series are bringing together to form four elite championships for drivers is an amazing testament to the strength of this sport.”
NASCAR also announced if an East, West or current ARCA Menards Series car owner has a car that meets the 2019 Rule Book, there will be a rules package that will allow them to compete in 2020.
DRIVING SUCCESS AT THE GRASSROOTS LEVEL
In recent years, both the NASCAR Pro Series and ARCA Menards Series have become instrumental in developing the next crop of NASCAR Cup Series superstars. Like Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick before them, the likes of 2018 Cup Series champion Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson raced – and won – at this level.
Of the 12 remaining drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, 10 of them have won races in either series – accumulating 43 victories and four championships. The top eight NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff drivers have won races in either the NASCAR K&N Pro Series or ARCA Menards Series, with Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe being former champions.
With series that feature historic names such as Frank Kimmel, Hershel McGriff and Andy Santerre, the ability to create an environment where drivers can compete at this level for an extended period of time was equally important in the process.
From NASCAR to the Indianapolis 500, John Menard has found success supporting motorsports in the United States, and the opportunity to serve as the entitlement sponsor for this new broader entity fit perfectly into his desire to support grassroots racing.
“We’ve been a long-time racing sponsor at various levels including NASCAR, IndyCar and ARCA and are pleased to take our partnership with ARCA to the next level,” Menard said. “We like doing business together and share many of the same values and standards that have helped us survive and thrive through the years.”
K&N Engineering, which took over as the East and West entitlement sponsor in 2010 and helped further elevate the two regional series as a cohesive national stage, will remain a key entity in the sport as the “Official Performance Filter of NASCAR.”
NEW ERA EXTENDS RICH HISTORY
The new series provides continuity to three of the longest running high-level regional stock car series in the United States.
• The ARCA Menards Series West began in 1954 as the Pacific Coast Late Model Series. In what became more widely recognized during the NASCAR Winston West era, it produced short-track legends such as McGriff, Ray Elder and Roy Smith. Harvick won the championship in 1998, and in recent years, powerhouse Bill McAnally Racing and southern California car owner Bob Bruncati’s Sunrise Ford Racing have clashed in championship battles under the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West banner.
• ARCA Menards Series East was founded in 1987 as the NASCAR Busch North Series, a companion to the Charlotte-based NASCAR Busch Series. Northeast stars like Andy Santerre, Mike Stefanik and Ricky Craven dominated the Expanding to the East Series in 2006, it became a proving ground for the sport’s next top stars, beginning with Logano’s championship run in 2007 as a highly touted 16-year-old. Drivers such as Larson, Byron and Tyler Ankrum won East titles to kick off their ascent up the NASCAR ladder.
• The ARCA Menards Series, founded in 1953, is a mix of national series combination events and Midwest short tracks. Frank Kimmel won a record 10 championships between 1998 and 2013, while current Cup Series drivers Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher and 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Regular Season Champion Grant Enfinger took home championships in recent years.
While the complete 2020 race schedules for all four championships are still to be announced, Thompson and Drager confirmed a number of key events for the upcoming series.
• The 2020 ARCA Menards Series will officially begin Saturday, Feb. 8, at Daytona with the Lucas Oil 200 Driven By General Tire. It will mark the 57th annual ARCA visit to Daytona. The 10-race superspeedway portion of the schedule will include Talladega Superspeedway, Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Pocono Raceway, and finish the season at Kansas Speedway in October.
• The ARCA Menards Series West will begin the season as part of the national series weekend at Las Vegas, with the return to the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The West slate will also include traditional events at Irwindale Speedway, All American Speedway in Roseville and Sonoma Raceway, with the championship culminating at ISM Raceway in November.
• The ARCA Menards Series East schedule includes events at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, as well as Toledo Speedway, Watkins Glen International and again be part of the annual Full Throttle Fall Weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It will have its championship decided with its traditional fall visit to Dover International Speedway.
• The Showdown will take the green flag with ARCA’s inaugural visit to ISM Raceway on March 6 as part of the national series’ event weekend in Phoenix. The Showdown’s 10 races, which will also count as part of the 20-race ARCA Menards Series schedule, features events at Indiana’s Salem Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Minnesota’s Elko Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Both Iowa and Gateway have hosted K&N Pro West combination races as well as ARCA events annually, and this in an opportunity for those tracks to bring all three series together. The first Showdown champion will be crowned at Memphis International Raceway in September.
In addition, NASCAR and MAVTV announced a three-year extension of its telecast rights agreement for select ARCA Menards Series races. The partnership, combined with the races covered on FOX Sports, means that all 20 ARCA Menards Series races — including the 10-race Showdown portion — will be available via live or same-day broadcast. NBCSN will continue to carry the ARCA Menards Series East and West as part of their extensive NASCAR coverage.