Robusto Excels During Long-Awaited ARCA Debut

Robusto

Isabella Robusto (Photo Courtesy of Toyota Racing)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – If Friday night at Phoenix Raceway was to be considered Isabella Robusto’s first major test since being sidelined by a concussion last April, it’s safe to say she passed with flying colors.

Robusto, who lost most of her racing season a year ago after a late model crash at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway left her with lingering symptoms for nearly eight months, finally got to make her long-awaited ARCA Menards Series debut for Venturini Motorsports in the General Tire 150 at the one-mile desert oval.

While there were no true expectations placed on her given the situation, simply being part of the winningest team in ARCA history comes with its own set of goals, and Robusto checked many of the early boxes admirably behind the wheel of the No. 55 Mobil 1 Toyota Camry.

She had top-five speed all night long, ran as high as third in the first half after a brilliant, sweeping pass of past ARCA Menards Series champion Grant Enfinger on lap 41, and ended with a head-turning, sixth-place finish that impressed many onlookers and left Robusto both satisfied and motivated for more.

“I feel like, overall, our night went pretty well,” said Robusto. “I wish we’d had one less caution or a little bit longer [to battle], because we were definitely better all night on the long runs. At the break, I felt like our car was really where I needed it to be, and we just fired off a little too free in the second half. That cost us some positions on that restart, but I feel like I learned a lot.”

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Restarts proved to be Robusto’s Achilles heel on Friday, as she slipped back several positions on the high lane after being “a bit swallowed up” by those around her because her Toyota lacked short-run speed.

She circled them as her key point to work on as she progresses and gets more used to the driving style required by the heavier ARCA stock cars.

“I definitely need to learn how to perform on restarts with these heavy cars,” Robusto noted. “The main key is the aero [aerodynamics]. I’m an aerospace engineering major [at Arizona State] for school, and they didn’t teach me that in class! Definitely a learning experience all night, but I know more about what I need to look for now when I’m watching film.

“I can’t thank Toyota [Racing Development], Mobil 1, and Venturini [Motorsports] enough for all their support through the whole process to get to this point,” she added. “Billy [Venturini, team owner] being on the radio helped a ton. We had a really fast Toyota Camry and I can’t wait for the next time out.”

In looking back on Robusto’s concussion recovery, it was clear to see her disappointment through the process over the races she lost along the way. She hasn’t shied away from making that point clear, despite gaining valuable perspective during the eight-month layoff.

“It was very frustrating,” Robusto told NASCAR.com in February, just before racing at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway during the World Series of Asphalt. “I was able to do all my day-to-day stuff and even do the sim while feeling relatively normal. When I would get into the car, though, I knew I wasn’t there yet.

“I’ve learned throughout this concussion that you could be good doing everything, but there’s a whole different level in recovery when it comes to driving a race car. When you’re in the car, you really don’t think about how on you have to be.”

But now, with her first national-level stock car race in the books at last, Robusto isn’t thinking about the past any longer. She’s focused forward and optimistic about what’s to come in her burgeoning career.

“[The wait] was definitely worth it,” she said with a smile. “I wish we’d been one spot further forward [for a top-five finish], but overall, I’m really happy about our showing.”

Robusto’s next ARCA Menards Series platform race is planned to be March 30 with the ARCA Menards Series West at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway.

In addition to her ARCA efforts, Robusto will also run part time with both Lee Pulliam Performance and Wilson Motorsports in late model action, as well as in select GT4 road course races with Smooge Racing.

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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.