New to the 2008 schedule, Rockingham has the potential to shine into the spotlight as one of the most premier events this season. With a 50-car starting field expected, the biggest purse in ARCA RE/MAX Series history not to mention a former ARCA champion and current car owner Andy Hillenburg promoting the event, there’s no reason why hype shouldn’t be surrounding the May 4th North Carolina 500K event.
Currently 38 drivers are entered for the two-day test. Some of the best-of-the-best inside the 56-year tour will participate in the Easter weekend session.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the drivers and team’s set to tackle the Rockingham mile.
1 Tom Hessert, Maaco Auto Painting Ford Fusion – No doubt that Hessert’s strong sixth place outing at Daytona International Speedway showed that Andy Belmont Racing is alive and well. Hessert, a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate already has some laps around the one-mile facility in a private test session. It should pay off this weekend.
2 Scott Speed, Red Bull TOYOTA Camry – Scott Speed, Eddie Sharp Racing’s newest prot�g� has kept in the racing saddle with a stint in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Morgan-Dollar Motorsports. The extra seat time is crucial for Speed as he adapts to the stock car world. Speed is another driver who has track time around Rockingham Speedway. Hopefully the experience works into his favor.
3 Jeremy Clements, Boudreaux’s Butt Paste Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – After missing the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Jeremy Clements needs to prove this weekend that his program isn’t suffering and Daytona was a nightmare that he’ll never experience again. We know that Jeremy can win and his quick thinking and relaxed driving style should play into effect at a track like Rockingham Speedway. Time will tell.
4 Tayler Malsam, Dodge Motorsports-Cunningham Motorsports Dodge Charger – With Mark Gibson help making the calls, Malsam has no reason to worry. While the ARCA RE/MAX Series hasn’t raced at Rockingham for decades Gibson can connect with his many acquaintances in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for some assistance. On the other hand, Gibson may not need some assistance at all. Rockingham will be a test for Malsam but I like his chances.
5 Bobby Gerhart, Lucas Oil Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – After a solid effort at Daytona International Speedway, Gerhart’s next step is to pick up the rest of his performance. He realizes that – thus making the trip to Rockingham. It’s anyone’s game on the tour this year but the Bobby Gerhart Racing team has to realize that they cannot be just super strong at Daytona or Talladega, they have to be flawless everywhere. I think they get the picture.
11 Bryan Silas, Nortrax-ICI Homes Ford Fusion – Silas has turned more laps at Rockingham Speedway than any other driver heading into this weekend. That should pay off. Banking on the experience of crew chief Jeff McClure and the determination of Silas not to mention the constant encouragement of owner Andy Hillenburg, Silas is a favorite not only this weekend but for the fifth event on the schedule.
12 Alli Owens, ElectrifyingCareers.com Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – It’s not real clear if Owens will be running a full 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series as originally thought so Rockingham is crucial for Owens to put her sour Daytona run in the rear-view mirror and re-attract the attention that she deserves in the DGM Racing entry. I look for Owens to be solid this weekend.
12 Mario Gosselin, James Carter Attorney At Law Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – With a possible move to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, its unclear how many races Gosselin and his Florida based team will run in the ARCA RE/MAX Series this year. Rockingham Speedway is a track that fits Gosselin’s driving style and that not only should pay off to him but his development driver Alli Owens this weekend and when the teams return the first weekend of May.
13 Michael Phelps, Bowen Family Homes Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – Another driver who missed Daytona who is looking to rekindle some magic and turn heads in ARCA RE/MAX Series competition. With the characteristics that everyone knows that the Rock has been prone to spurn in the past, Phelps could be on the right end of the stick. With the additional seven cars expected to be added to the starting grid not to mention a second-round of qualifying, Phelps chances of making the North Carolina 500K are extremely high. The test this weekend will help.
17 AJ Henriksen, Henriksen Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – We don’t see much of AJ on the ARCA RE/MAX Series tour as we have in the past, but that doesn’t mean the North Carolina cannot go fast. Sponsorship is pending for the No. 17 team, but a good showing this weekend could boost the team’s confidence heading into the first potential race of the season.
19 Jack Bailey, Eddie D’Hondt Motorsports TOYOTA Camry – My sleeper for the North Carolina 500K, I believe Bailey will show not only this weekend but for the race why he belongs in the ARCA RE/MAX Series and why he’s driving for Eddie D’Hondt Motorsports. An impressive run at Daytona was spoiled by a blown tire. With a little luck, Bailey will shine.
22 Ken Butler III, Aaron’s TOYOTA Camry – Anyone who is driving for Eddie Sharp Racing cannot be taken lightly. Butler seems relaxed in his first full year of ARCA competition and that can continue to show at Rockingham. Butler is no stranger to winning at track he’s only seen once. With ESR in his corner prepare for KB3 as he’s referred to in the ARCA garage to prove why nobody beats Aarons.
23 Brandon Kelley, Porter Glass-Royal Purple Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – Go Kelley go. Hixson Motorsports recently announced that Brandon Kelley will drive the team’s entry for the remainder of the 2008 season. This young-gun put the team back into the spectrum at Daytona despite being devoured into the “Big One.” Kelley’s immediate instinct to learn and improve is evident. Good things are happening for Hixson Motorsports and everyone is intrigued to keep their eyes on the No. 23 entry.
25 Joey Logano, Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – Welcome to the ARCA RE/MAX Series Joey Logano. Eyes are on the 2007 NASCAR Camping World East Series Champion to see if he truly is the real deal. Aligning himself with Venturini Motorsports, the joint power of Logano and Venturini Motorsports will prove to be fireworks.
25 Marc Davis, Howard University Radio-WHUR Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – Welcome back to the ARCA RE/MAX Series Marc Davis. Interesting enough both Joe Gibbs Racing development drivers are set to pilot Venturini Motorsports machines this weekend at Rockingham. Both will be completely green when they tackle Rockingham Speedway and it’s been a while since Logano and Davis have sat in a racecar. However, Davis is still revving from his impressive top-five effort at Toledo Speedway last October. The only question is can Davis do that on a speedway too?
28 Michael Annett, Pilot Travel Centers TOYOTA Camry – The ARCA 200 at Daytona winner Michael Annett is expected to enter another event to fulfill his 10-race schedule in the ARCA RE/MAX Series apart of the driver development program for Bill Davis Racing. Annett can drive. He’s proven that. However, will be as dominant at a track like Rockingham as he was at Talladega or Daytona? This weekend will tell that story.
30 Terry Jones, Jones Group Dodge Charger – Mr. Canadian is running the full ARCA RE/MAX Series schedule in 2008 so any chance to test will prove to be beneficial for a driver known for his exciting driving style in ARCA competition. A rough-go in Daytona has the Jones Racing Group behind but with Bob Blount, the father of former ARCA RE/MAX Series Rookie-of-the-Year Chad Blount, there should be no surprises when this team bounces back.
30 Jesse Smith, Mike Allgaier Dodge Charger – Rumors are spreading around on what Jesse Smith is really doing in 2008. Many say he is driving a second entry for Jones Racing Group this season. Many state that he’ll continue his relationship with Justin Allgaier Motorsports. The only truth is we’ll find out this weekend and bring it back in a later ARCA feature.
32 James Buescher, Win-Tron Performance Dodge Charger – With the Rockingham open test set to be the first time that James Buescher climbs into an ARCA car this season, many expect the domination to continue from 2007. Buescher shined last year. There’s no hiding behind that. Buescher once again is expected to run a limited schedule for the Minnesota based operation and is expected to be to pick up right where he left off this weekend.
37 Dexter Bean, GLOCK Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – Bean’s locked and loaded for Rockingham. Carrying sponsorship from Austria gun manufacturer GLOCK, a good run in the North Carolina 500K will only prove that even a monstrous track like “The Rock” is no match for this rising star. It’s no secret that Bean is not only a championship favorite for the season but also expected to break into the winner’s column and what a place to do it on May 4. Obviously, strong testing results this weekend would be no surprise.
46 Matt Carter, Stine Seed-Fort Dodge Animal Health Ford Fusion – A rookie on the rise. Matt Carter is a driver that some may write off the charts, but I’m not gonna. While Carter’s strength comes on the smaller tracks, Carter is behind the wheel of some healthy racecars. The addition of his father and former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner Travis Carter acting as the crew chief should only aid the North Carolina native at the Rock. Nine time ARCA championship car owner Larry Clements will guide Carter from above and at a place like Rockingham where the track is open to blockage, Clement’s experience will definitely come into play. You go Carter.
48 James Hylton, Rhino’s Energy Drink Dodge Charger – Good ole’ Harvey Hylton is going to be at Rockingham this weekend and it’s a good thing! It’s important to have the flavor of veteran drivers like James Hylton on hand at a place like the Rock. Don’t forget that Hylton has experience at the track formally known as North Carolina Motor Speedway and I expect a solid run from Hylton not only this weekend but coming back for the event in a little less than two months. Rhino’s Energy Drink? Nice.
60 Patrick Sheltra, Ferguson Pipe Enterprises-FloraGanics Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS – Welcome to the Rock Mr. Showtime. Called a serious championship contender in 2008, Sheltra is more focused and show extreme determination even at tests. Off to a much better start to 2008 than last year, Mr. Showtime asks if Rockingham is ready for him? The team is bringing a former Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo this weekend with Sheltra banking on the experience of crew chief John Hayden and veteran team manager Keith Strunk to pay off. Showtime is hoping for a show of his own at Rockingham.
65 Justin Marks, Voodoo Ride TOYOTA Camry – Former full-time ARCA RE/MAX Series competitor Justin Marks is hoping that Germain Racing crew chief Mike Abner can help guide him to his third ARCA RE/MAX Series pole and second behind the wheel of a TOYOTA Camry at Rockingham Speedway. It’s no joke that Marks will be strong, the kid has improved. Hopefully, Mark’s second ARCA start of the season will end better than Daytona. Testing this weekend should be a good indicator what we can expect from them.
90 Gabi DiCarlo, Great Clips Chevrolet – Now the only female expected to run the full 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series schedule, all the eyes are focused on the Phoenix, Arizona native. DiCarlo already has some laps around Rockingham Speedway and she’s hoping that not only the track time will pay off but also the expertise of crew chief Barry Dodson should aid DiCarlo who’s off to a better start this year than last. DiCarlo is expected to run a TOYOTA part-time this season and I’m surprised that the Stringer Motorsports organization is not unveiling a Camry, I’ll dig deep this weekend to find out why.
93 Justin Lofton, Eddie Sharp Racing Dodge – The new kid on the block. The former NASCAR Camping World West Series driver is ready to take a stab at ARCA with Eddie Sharp Racing. It’s not shocking news the kid is in good stuff. Rockingham this weekend will be the first known public speedway test for Lofton. He will run a 10-race schedule in ARCA competition this year and if he can master the Rock, he’ll prove a lot.
99 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, K&N Filters Ford Fusion – Stenhouse, Jr still has a lot to prove and Rockingham is a track that can separate the men from the boys. No doubt that Stenhouse, Jr is looking to move into the bigger category. A shaky start at Daytona has Stenhouse looking for some relief in testing this weekend. Equipment and leadership is there, the rest is up to the this talented open-wheel veteran.
09 John Wes Townley, Zaxby’s Ford – If Townley’s sponsor was Nationwide, it would be easy for John Wes Townley to learn, “Nationwide is on your side.” Luckily, for the 18-year old driver, he can flip the phrase and remind himself “RAB Racing is on your side.” With a masterful crew chief Robby Benton in his corner and the devotion of the entire RAB Racing team, Townley is expected to storm to the front of the charts not only this weekend, but in May as well.
Other drivers scheduled to participate in the two day test include: Jeff Buice, Van Knill, Keith Smith, Ted Olswfski, Ryan Hackett, Todd Hansen and Chris Cockrum.
Nine-time ARCA RE/MAX Series champion Frank Kimmel is missing from the entry list as is Daytona runner-up Justin Allgaier.
Please visit Rockinghamracewaypark.com for the latest ticket information for the North Carolina 500 K.
Catchfence.com will have exclusive coverage of the open-test this weekend, stay tuned for more details.