NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — Toni Breidinger isn’t afraid to put in the work to get better.
Her schedule last season was a prime example of that. In addition to racing part-time in the ARCA Menards Series, she competed in pro late models, ran sports cars in the GR Cup Series and entered three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events.
Such a broad plan figures to help Breidinger improve her race craft as she continues to pursue her goal of racing full-time in NASCAR.
The path remains the same for 2024. Breidinger is preparing to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series races at Daytona International Speedway this week by competing in the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at nearby New Smyrna Speedway.
“I ran New Smyrna last year and the ARCA race, and I’m doing the same thing again this year but adding the Truck race on top of that,” Breidinger said. “It’s definitely going to be busy. It was a little overwhelming at times last year trying to make it between Daytona and New Smyrna on the same day.
“I think the biggest thing this year is to continue improving on my race craft. I made some good gains last year, and I think running these late models and running at short tracks and doing the [NASCAR Advance Auto Parts] Weekly Series was a really big part of it.”
Late-model racing has been a huge part of Breidinger’s development program over the last 12 months. Working with father-son duo Lee and Michael Faulk of Lee Faulk Racing, she evolved her craft at tracks like New Smyrna, Florence Motor Speedway in South Carolina, and Hickory Motor Speedway and Tri-County Speedway in North Carolina.
The result was a clear improvement in the ARCA Menards Series; she earned four top-five finishes in 2023, including a career-best third at Kansas Speedway.
Breidinger credits the work she’s put in at places like New Smyrna, where people aren’t always watching, for helping her become a better racer.
“These are races that I didn’t really post a lot about, and they weren’t really televised, so people were like, ‘Oh, she’s improving out of nowhere,'” Breidinger said. “But I think it was all the work I put in behind the scenes at all these short tracks that really kind of helped me and kept me in the seat.”
That’s why she’s back at New Smyrna, a track where she admits she’s struggled in the past, as she prepares for another full ARCA season with Venturini Motorsports.
She wants to see that trend continue.
“I think coming back here, even though I struggled with it a good bit last year, I came here knowing I wanted that challenge and wanting to improve and prove to myself that I’ve made gains,” she said. “I almost like going to tracks that I feel like I’ve struggled with in the past.
“I love that we’re racing here every single night. I feel like, for the most part, when you go race it’s every weekend, so you have a whole week to think about, ‘Oh, I want to do this next time.’ Whereas, with these races, you can make that change the following day. It’s immediate changes and immediate improvements that you can do. I think from a driver development perspective, it was a pretty good move for me.”
But what can a short track like New Smyrna teach Breidinger to prepare her for the high banks of the World Center of Racing?
A lot, actually.
“Obviously they’re two entirely different tracks,” Breidinger said. “The actual driving aspect of it is a little bit different. A big thing [at New Smyrna] is I want to work on my restarts and being really aggressive. Working on my qualifying. I feel like being behind the wheel gives you that little extra boost of confidence, especially going into the Truck race for me.
“I know the ARCA race and the Truck race are going to be full fields. It’s going to be busy; it’s going to be aggressive. These races, I really want to gain some confidence on restarts and work on some stuff out here that I can apply to those big races.”
Breidinger thus far has already seen a performance boost compared to her New Smyrna effort a year ago. She finished inside the top 10 twice in her first three Pro Late Model races against fields of at least 25 cars. In five World Series starts last year, she never finished inside the top 10.
“The biggest thing for me is improving from last year,” Breidinger said. “I think right now we’re within top 10 in speed and just kind of progressing as the week goes. I don’t really want to hit a plateau. I want to keep improving every night.”
When Thursday arrives, Breidinger’s focus will shift to the 2.5-mile superspeedway where she’ll race in Friday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event followed by Saturday’s ARCA Menards Series 80-lapper.
She acknowledges the challenges of racing at Daytona, but she’s also confident that good execution, combined with a little luck, could lead to a couple strong days at the legendary track.
“I think for the ARCA race and the Truck race, Daytona is kind of crazy. You don’t really know what to expect,” Breidinger said. “I want some solid results. I really just want to put together a really complete race. I think I’ve been in a good position before at Daytona in the ARCA race, but I’ve had some mistakes that hurt us.
“I think if we put together a complete race, we’ll get some good results.”