DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. and CONCORD, N.C. – Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Venturini Motorsports photo —
It seems almost unfathomable.
Frank Kimmel, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards’ statistical leader in almost every category who has rewritten the record books with 80 series wins and 10 driver championships, still has something left unfinished in the ARCA Racing Series.
But the plight is true. Despite years of success in the series, Kimmel continues to seek the most precious accolade of all: a win at the ‘World Center of Racing’, Daytona International Speedway.
Kimmel’s 24-year-long career has been spent trying again and again to drive through the hallowed gates into Gatorade Victory Lane at the legendary 2.5-mile superspeedway, and tomorrow afternoon, ARCA’s all-time king will have his 24th chance to claim glory in the series’ most prestigious race as the ARCA Racing Series takes the green flag for the Lucas Oil 200 presented by AutoZone.
“Winning Daytona is the only thing missing at this point in my career,” said Kimmel. “I’ve always been a points racer and concentrated on getting a solid finish at Daytona, but it’s now time to win.”
Kimmel has been close, finishing second three times — including in last February’s event — with a total record of nine top-fives and 15 top-ten finishes. But despite coming within a whisker as many times as he has, Kimmel is still searching for the right combination to taste the champagne at the end of 80 laps.
To that end, Kimmel has made some changes entering this year’s running of the historic event.
Bear in mind — a lot of things have changed since Kimmel made his first ARCA start at Daytona in 1992 — sponsors, crew members and numbers among them. But perhaps the biggest change for the wily veteran is the team he will be driving for tomorrow.
Kimmel will be behind the wheel of the No. 25 Ansell-Menards Toyota for long-time rivals, and now team owners, Venturini Motorsports.
In a highly publicized off-season move, Kimmel stole the ARCA headlines when he announced a partnership to co-drive the team’s flagship No. 25 alongside 18-year-old Brandon Jones, with Ansell and Menards shifting their sponsorship support to the new team.
In addition to Daytona, Kimmel will compete at Toledo Speedway; both Pocono events; Michigan International Speedway; Chicagoland Speedway; Berlin Raceway; the mile dirt tracks at both Springfield and DuQuoin, and the fall Salem event.
But the road to ten events starts with Daytona. Kimmel tested at Daytona last month and was among the fastest cars most of the day.
“After last month’s test in the 25 car I’ve never felt more comfortable or confident as I do now. Venturini has given me a great equipment and compiled a solid team to help get the Ansell-Menards car to victory lane,” added Kimmel. “It would mean a lot if we could get it done, but going into it I’m as confident as I’ve ever been.”
Kimmel’s current plans are to split the 2015 season with Venturini newcomer and two-time series winner Jones, but he says he cannot rule out a full-season run after multiple supporters have stepped up in an effort to keep the perennial champion from missing a race. Kimmel hasn’t missed an ARCA event since he began driving in the series full-time in 1993.
“As the sponsorship world changes, we all know how difficult it is to run a full season, so we had to get creative with our sponsors Ansell and Menards,” Kimmel said. “It’s a situation where we all had to pool our resources to make this program go.”
“But, we’ve had a lot of people come and say, ‘Hey, we want to put you in a car’, after we said we were only running the ten races,” Kimmel laughed. “I don’t know what we’re going to do yet — it may just be the ten races (in the 25 car) or it may be a few more in another car. I guess we’ll see. We know we have the ten races with Venturini and I’m going out to try and win each time we’re on track.”
“It’s going to be tough if we do have to miss one, though,” Kimmel admitted.
Despite what may or may not come after Daytona, Kimmel will be on track tomorrow with veteran crew chief Jamie Jones atop the pit box. Qualifying was a slight disappointment for the Ansell/Menards crew — Kimmel only placed 11th on the grid — but the Indiana native knows that starting position doesn’t matter where his Venturini team is concerned.
“Venturini Motorsports is competitive on the racetrack no matter where it is, and I know I’m very fortunate to be in their equipment,” Kimmel expressed.
The Venturini team has a win at Daytona with John Wes Townley in 2013, but after years of trying, is a pairing of old rivals — as if marrying the Hatfields and McCoys — the ticket to Kimmel’s elusive victory at the World Center of Racing?
In less than 24 hours, everyone will know the answer to that question.
The green flag will drop on the 80-lap Lucas Oil 200 presented by AutoZone tomorrow at 4:15 p.m. local time, with live coverage on Fox Sports 1.
Venturini Motorsports contributed to this article.