A year ago, ARCA driver Mason Mitchell was in the field at Kansas Speedway when all Frank Kimmel had to do was start his engine to claim his record 10th ARCA Racing championship.
This time, it’s Mitchell’s turn.
If Mitchell finishes Friday night’s ARCA 98.9 200 at Kansas Speedway in 35th place or better, he’ll win his first championship at the tender age of 20. There’s no guarantee that many cars will enter the race.
Kimmel left nothing to chance in last year’s 32-car race and won the rain-shortened event. Mitchell was happy to finish second, but this year he wants to follow Kimmel’s blueprint to the title.
“We weren’t running well that day and were able to come home with a really good finish, and I was definitely satisfied with that,” Mitchell said. “But this year we don’t have much to lose, and we’re going to do everything we can to win the race.”
Mitchell has been the picture of consistency this season. He’s won only once — at Kansas Speedway’s sister track at Chicago — but he’s posted 16 top-10 finishes in 18 starts, including six runner-up finishes.
“All year, we’ve raced with the championship in mind,” Mitchell said of ensuring good points finishes and taking care of his No. 98 Ford. “A lot of people don’t understand that attitude, but there are some races where you have to make strategy calls to get to the end of the race … and put yourself in position where you don’t get wrecked and give up a lot of points. It’s a lot of risk management.
“It’s been a heck of year. I can’t wait to cap it off.”
Mitchell, of Des Moines, Iowa, enters Friday night’s race with an almost insurmountable 200-point lead over Grant Enfinger. He also leads Tom Hessert by 145 points in the Hoosier Superspeedway Challenge that includes races at the series’ seven superspeedway tracks, including Kansas.
Mitchell would become the third owner/driver to win an ARCA title in the 2000s and the third-youngest champion in the 62-year history of the series. He split time with two race teams in 2013, but last November decided to go it alone and had just enough time to pull a team together for Daytona.
“A lot of people thought it’s crazy, and it wouldn’t be possible, but we got a group of guys together, were determined and worked really hard,” said Mitchell. “I felt if I do my own deal, there are no excuses. It’s all in your hands. It’s put-up or shut-up time, and we made it happen.
“It looks all pretty from the outside, but trust me, there were some moments that were tough.”
The toughest moment came when Mitchell changed crew chiefs this year after his win at Chicago. But every move he’s made has seemed to work for Mitchell, who eats, sleeps and drinks racing.
He lives in the North Carolina race shop, where he has all the comforts of home: a bed, a shower, a bathroom, a television, a kitchen area and plenty of time to get the car ready.
“I’m involved as much as I can be,” he said. “This is my life. … It’s been unbelievable what we’ve been able to accomplish. We had high expectations going into the season, to compete for wins and compete for the championship.”
Mitchell hopes winning the ARCA championship raises his profile and attracts the attention of a NASCAR organization.
“I don’t have anything for next year,” he said. “If an (opportunity) is going to be available in the trucks series or the Nationwide Series … I’ve been able to be successful at this level, and hopefully I can further my career and move up.”