Mullins Speeds To Emotional Daytona ARCA Pole


Willie Mullins with the General Tire pole flag at Daytona Int'l Speedway Friday. (Jacob Seelman photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a wild ARCA Menards Series group qualifying session Friday afternoon at Daytona Int’l Speedway, Willie Mullins sped to his first General Tire Pole Award.

Mullins, driving his family-owned No. 3 Wing Recycling Ford, led the fourth drafting group around the 2.5-mile World Center of Racing and ultimately posted the fastest lap among the 50 entries for the Hard Rock Bet 200.

Mullins’ time of 48.982 seconds (183.741 mph) held up the rest of the way to give him the best starting spot in the house ahead of the traditional ARCA season opener.

The race, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, was moved up to Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET following the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona due to the high probability of inclement weather during the remainder of the weekend.

To Mullins, however, it doesn’t matter when the green flag waves. He’ll be leading the field in “the moment of a lifetime” for the Fredericksburg, Va., native.

“This is unbelievable,” Mullins told Motorsports Hotspot after qualifying. “This has been a goal of ours for such a long time. We’ve been here nine or 10 years now, and to see our car at top of the board is surreal.

“I had faith in [crew chief] Kevin Reed that we’d have great speed and he came through for us,” added Mullins. “I’m just the one that held the [steering] wheel; he’s the one that makes these things fast. I’m so thankful to him for coming on board with us a couple years ago like he did. The Venturinis have been a family to us too, so I don’t wanna discredit anybody that’s been a part of this deal because it took a village to get us to this point.”

Making the effort more meaningful was the fact that it came in the first race since the passing of Mullins’ father-in-law, Dutch VanWyngeeren, as well as the first race since his wife Dinah was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after Christmas.

“There aren’t words to describe this,” Mullins said, emotion in his voice. “You can’t fathom how much we needed this moment.”

In a banner showing for family ARCA teams, 25-year-old Ottawa, Ill., young gun Tim Richmond – a distant relation to the late NASCAR Cup Series driver with the same name – put his No. 27 Toyota on the outside of the front row with a time of 49.003 seconds (183.662 mph) to earn the best start of his ARCA career.

Venturini Motorsports teammates Jake Finch and Toni Breidinger qualified third and fourth, respectively, to give Toyota three of the top four starting spots. Ryan Huff filled out the top five in a Ford.

Three-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore lines up sixth for his ARCA debut, followed by Gil Linster, Bryan Dauzat, Isaac Johnson, and Jason Kitzmiller.

Truck Series regular Tanner Gray was 15th-quick in the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, while Thursday practice leader Marco Andretti could only muster the 25th-best lap in the No. 17 Group 1001 Chevrolet for Cook Racing Technologies.

After 17th-placed Eric Caudell withdrew the CCM Racing entry following the completion of the qualifying session, New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen was lifted to the 34th and final guaranteed starting spot on speed, allowing him to start Friday night’s race for Pinnacle Racing Group after initially failing to qualify.

With 50 drivers on the property and only 40 available starting spots, Caudell, Takuma Koga, Mitch Gibson, Becca Monopoli, Hunter Deshautelle, Cody Dennison, Charles Buchanan, A.J. Moyer, Brayton Laster, and Dale Shearer missed the field for the ARCA season opener.

The Hard Rock Bet 200 is scheduled for a 10:30 p.m. ET green flag Friday night, following the completion of the Fresh From Florida 250 for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

TV coverage of the ARCA event will begin on FS2 before moving to FS1 at the conclusion of primetime college basketball. The radio broadcast will be on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.