ARCA wrapped up its two-day test at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday and Empire Racing and its drivers were the big stories.
The test, in preparation for the season-opening and 52nd Lucas Oil 200 on February 14, was dominated by Empire, which took the three fastest spots on the speed chart.
Sean Corr (pictured) had the fastest speed (188.509 mph) and elapsed time (47.743 seconds) of the 49-driver field around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, with his No. 48 Ford Fusion powered by a new ARCA Ilmor 396 motor.
“It’s an amazing powerplant,” Corr said in an ARCA media release. “The pull off the corners is incredible; it just wants to go. I’d fall behind them down the backstretch just to see what would happen and they’d pull away in (turn) three, but coming off four it’d power right back up to the pack.
“It’s an amazing motor. This is also my first time with fuel injection. … Everything I’ve ever raced before was with a carburetor, but this entire package is making a believer out of me.”
Even though he was not originally scheduled to take part in the test, teammate Patrick Staropoli made a last-minute beeline to Daytona and ultimately recorded both the second- (188.478 mph) and third-fastest (188.344) speeds, first in his own No. 8 Ford Fusion, and then in Corr’s No. 48 Fusion.
“This wasn’t exactly supposed to happen,” said Staropoli, a Harvard graduate and aspiring doctor. “One of Empire’s drivers got really sick so we got a call Thursday night to see if I’d be interested.
“So l left Charlotte right away, drove all night and got here at four in the morning, slept for about an hour, and came out to the track.
“It’s more than I could have hoped for. I still can’t believe it. I just want to thank Richard Hardin of American RF. … He found out that Sean Corr was looking for a driver, and got in touch with me. This is amazing. The biggest track I had ever been on before was Iowa.”
But Staropoli took to Daytona like a duck to water, surpassing every driver in the field except teammate Corr.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Staropoli said. “The only race I’ve ever run here was on the backstretch in a K&N car so I had no idea what I was getting into.
“I’ve never drafted before, but it’s the coolest thing. … To feel how the wind moves and shoves the car around. Hopefully I’ve turned some heads and opened some doors. I’m so hoping I get to come back here and race. This place is amazing.”
Austin Cindric, son of Penske Racing president Tim Cindric, had the fourth-fastest speed (187.758 mph) in his first appearance as a racer at Daytona.
“I learned a lot this weekend,” Cindric said. “This is the first time I have been in a stock car. I went from knowing nothing to knowing something. I certainly can’t say that I know a lot, but I sure did learn a ton this weekend.
“From crew chief Paul Andrews to teammate Tom Hessert and spotter Richard Coleman … all of them worked with me and taught me a lot. This was the first time that I have ever drafted. Lots of credit goes to Richard for talking me through all of the specifics that go into drafting.
“We probably ran five draft sessions today with, at most, six cars in the draft. This was a great weekend, a great first experience with Cunningham Motorsports.”
Tom Hessert, Cindric’s Cunningham Motorsports teammate, recorded the fifth-fastest lap. Eight-time Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart was sixth-fastest, while Leilani Munter was seventh-fastest.
“I’ve never had a car this good before,” Munter said. “It took me 14 years of driving to get in a car this fast. I want so bad to win this race for the Venturini’s (team owners). … They believe in me. Now it’s time for me to do my job and win the race. I want to be the first female driver to get to Victory Lane in ARCA, and I know I’ve got the car to do it.”
Cody Coughlin was eighth-fastest, followed by ARCA rookie David Levine and 2014 Rookie of the Year Austin Wayne Self.
ARCA returns to DIS on January 16 for a single-day open test.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski