FREDRICKSBURG, Va. - Looking back at the 2017 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season, driver and team owner Willie Mullins knows he has a lot to be proud of.
Despite failing to garner the finishes Mullins believes his team deserved, the small team based out of Fredricksburg, Virginia, managed consistent qualifying efforts and finishes all year and were competitive each time they went to the race track.
“I would call it an average season. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but we had some solid finishes and some great qualifying efforts,” Mullins said when recapping the 2017 season.
The season started off for Mullins Racing at Florida’s legendary Daytona International Speedway, where Mullins shocked Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200 field with a fifth-place qualifying effort, the best of his ARCA Racing Series career.
Unfortunately the race didn’t go as well as qualifying. Mullins was involved in an early accident, forcing him to retire from the 75-lap race after just 13 laps. He finished a disappointing 40th, last in the competitive field.
Following the disappointment at Daytona, Mullins and Mullins Racing refocused and turned their attention to the team’s first short track race at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville in Tennessee.
Making his first start on a short track, Mullins qualified 23rd in his No. 34 Ford managed to keep his car out of trouble all day. He finished the Music City 200 in 17th, three laps behind race winner Chad Finley.
“We went to Daytona with a high and left there a little beat up and dejected,” Mullins admitted. “We then went to Nashville and made our first short track start in the ARCA Racing Series. That went better than expected. We came away from there with no damage and finished 17th.”
After making his short track debut at Nashville, Mullins returned to competition at another historic track, Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway, on May 6. He put together another strong qualifying effort, starting 11th in the 36-car field, but on-track contact with another car cut down a tire. Mullins spent the rest of the race playing catchup and he finished the race in 16th, one lap down.
“We went to Talladega and had a great starting position there again,” Mullins said. “We were running good until
we got a cut tire because of some contact on the track. That dropped us to a 16th-place finish. Our hopes were high and we left there dejected and beat up again.”
Mullins Racing wrapped up the season on June 3 when, for the first time, the team brought two cars to the track for the Shore Lunch 250 at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway. Mullins was joined by veteran short track driver Robert Bruce, who piloted the No. 28 Ford alongside Mullins in the No. 34 Ford.
Both Mullins and Bruce put together strong finishes on that night, with Bruce finishing 12th in his ARCA debut while Mullins earned his best finish of the season in 14th. Mullins believes his finish could have been better were it not for trouble on pit road.
“A bad pit stop put us back and we fought all day and we finished 14th,” Mullins said. “Robert Bruce actually beat me and had a better weekend. I would love to be the lead car there, but he was able to work hard and finish 12th. It shows our team has a little depth to it.”
The highlights of the season for Mullins Racing was the team’s short track debut at Nashville and Elko, as well as the team’s first two-car effort at Elko. Mullins believes the team has a lot of room to grow on the short tracks and they plan to be back at both Nashville and Elko in 2018.
“I think that was a great start for us. We’ll be able to go build on that,” Mullins said. “We went to those events to just try and finish the races, to try to look good and have a solid weekend and we did. So next year we’re going to go back and try to improve by four or five positions.
In addition, Mullins said he is hoping to run two cars in more events in 2018 pending sponsorship.
“We’re definitely looking to have a multi-car team if we can if we can put the right opportunities together,” Mullins said. “I think we did great at Elko and I think we could do that again if things work out.”
Mullins Racing is currently working on putting together a new race car for the season-opening Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 10. In addition to Daytona, Nashville and Elko, the team also tentatively hopes to compete at Talladega Superspeedway on April 27 and Charlotte Motor Speedway May 24.