Written by Christian Cowell, Staff Writer
With Sammy Smith promoted to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2023, speculation is in the air for Joe Gibbs Racing’s ARCA Menards Series program. The organization has teamed up with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2022 resulting in the ARCA Menards Series East and Sioux Chief Showdown Series championships with Smith. Now that the Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck Series program has moved to Chevrolet in 2023, speculation is that the Joe Gibbs ARCA program will be shutting down.
On December 9, 2022, speculation was halted as Joe Gibbs Racing signed 16-year-old William Swalic to a multi-year contract. The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native will run a total of 20 races within ARCA starting with the ARCA Menards Series / ARCA Menards Series West race at Phoenix Raceway on March 10, 2023.
“I think this is a great opportunity for my racing career and I know it’s going to challenge me a bit but I’m ready to take on the challenge,” said Sawalish. The #18 Toyota Camry has seen good success the past few years and I hope I can continue that success this season. I’m grateful to have the support of Starkey, Toyota and JGR this season and hope we can be up front a lot.
“I’m still finalizing some plans, but I have plans to run the Slinger Nationals, potentially the Winchester 400 and the All-American 400. The 20 ARCA races are going to be really fun and I look forward to getting down to business with the team.”
As noted above, Sawalich will make his ARCA debut in Phoenix in March. He has run Super and Pro Late Models in his career, including starts in the CARS Pro Late Model Tour and the CARS Late Model Tour to make his 2021 debut at Tri-County Motor Speedway where he finished 17th after starting on pole. . Sawalich earned his first CARS Pro Late Model Tour win at Hickory Motor Speedway. He also has wins under his belt at South Boston Speedway, Winchester Speedway, Toledo Speedway and Five Flags Speedway. Many of his winning tracks happen to be on the ARCA Menards Series schedule as well, be it the Eastern or National Series.
“The ARCA will be heavier than my very late models and there is little difference in power, but other than that they are very similar,” said Swalich. “I think having laps on the track is definitely helpful, but I’m really using this year as a learning year in the car while I’m still going out and trying to win races.”
My ultimate goal is to be the first driver from Minnesota to win the top three levels of NASCAR,” added Swalich. “This year, I’m definitely going to try and get the East Championship as well as as many wins as I can get. Like I said, I’m going to learn a lot this year with a new team, a new car and new tracks but I think we can have a really good year.”
Since returning to the ARCA Menards series in 2017, Joe Gibbs Racing has become a huge threat. It was the starting point for NASCAR’s top three series for drivers such as Riley Herbst, Ty Gibbs, Todd Gilliland, and Sammy Smith. Gibbs captured the championship trophy for JGR in 2021, the organization’s only championship trophy to date. Sawalich is looking to add to the small legacy that Gibbs has had at ARCA thus far.
“I don’t feel like there is any pressure,” Sawalish said. I’m just going to take it all as a learning experience. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Wow, this is a great opportunity.” I haven’t spoken to Ty or the Cup drivers yet, but I know I will reach out for advice especially once the season starts picking their minds and learning from them.”
It should be noted that Sawalich will not be competing in the upcoming annual ARCA Daytona Preseason Practice weekend because he is not old enough. As for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization, whether or not they will participate in testing remains to be determined.