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Stock cars return to the high banks of Daytona for ARCA testing

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Die hard stock car fans are rejoicing this week, as once again the sound of high speed machines are thundering around the world center of racing. From now through Sunday, Dec 22, the drivers of the ARCA series are preparing their hot rods for yet another year of action on a wide variety of racing surfaces.

Daytona, of course, is it's own animal. It requires a special skill set that not every driver can master. Late model standout Jacob Engle, who is making the move to the ARCA Racing Series in 2014, driving for Mooresville, North Carolina based team, Empire Racing, hopes that he has the right stuff to try and conquer the high banked oval. At just the ripe age of 21 years old, this young man has done everything on his own, building and organizing his own late model team for the past three seasons, and making a name for himself on the racetrack at the same time.

“I’m really looking forward to working with Empire Racing next season,” explained Engle. “They had great results last year and I’m confident that with the relationship between Roush-Yates Engines and Empire we are going to have a very successful program.”

The deal with Empire Racing also includes the potential for some starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series next season as well. Running the ARCA cars and getting used to bigger cars on bigger race tracks will give Jacob the experience he needs for to move up through the NASCAR ranks.

“We were introduced to Jake this past summer at a charity military event at Myrtle Beach Speedway,” said John Bellesfield from Empire Racing. “He is a talented driver with a great relationship with his marketing partners which is something that is hard to find today in racing so we are looking forward to a successful 2014.”

While growing up in Southern California, Jacob cut his teeth racing go-karts in the San Diego Karting Association (SDKA), US Karting Championship, International Karting Federation (IKF), Stars of Tomorrow, and the World Karting Association (WKA). Engle was dominant, winning 159 races in just 286 career starts, an amazing 56% winning percentage. Jacob picked up an SDKA Championship and three WKA Championships in his time racing karts from the ages of 10-16.

In 2008, Engle made the move to full bodied stock cars, racing super late models at Orange Show Speedway and Irwindale Speedway. In 2009 and 2010, Jacob ran full time in the ASA Late Model Series, picking up his first career win at Orange Show Speedway. Over the next five seasons, Jake raced his super late model at some of the biggest races in the country including the All-American Showdown at Irwindale and the Myrtle Beach 400, getting top-15’s in both races.

In 2011, Jacob made the move from El Cajon, California to the home of NASCAR, Mooresville, North Carolina, where he competed in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Myrtle Beach Speedway. All told in his late model career, Jacob made a total of 60 starts picking up three wins, four poles, 24 top-fives, and 58 top-tens.

Engle may be the newest face in the garage, but a boy named Elliott may very well be the most famous. No, not the two-time Daytona 500 champion and the record holder for the fastest lap around DIS in a stock car with a speed of 210.364 mph, Bill Elliott, but his son Chase.

“It was really exciting for me,” Elliott said of his first laps driving the No. 9 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet around Daytona. “I told Dad this when we were flying down here, it’s weird coming down here and not to come watch him (drive). It’s kind of a weird feeling for him and I both.”

Elliott is among the approximately 40 drivers that are taking part in the three-day test session that teams are using to prepare for the Lucas Oil 200 Presented By MAV TV American Real on Saturday, Feb. 15, part of Budweiser Speedweeks 2014.

“The race track has been good,” Elliott said. “Doing qualifying runs is pretty straight forward. If we ever get a chance to do a little bit of drafting, that’s where I’m going to have to learn a lot there. The superspeedway stuff is different for me.”

Bill Elliott is in attendance for the test and Chase plans to pick his brain when it comes to drafting.

“I think his knowledge and his experience is going to be more so beneficial when it comes time to be around other cars,” Elliott said. “I think he’s one of the best when it comes to understanding the air and what it takes to take advantage of it when you’re with other guys around you and trying to get runs on people. Whenever that side comes into play, I’m sure he is going to have some tips for me.”

The 18-year-old Elliott of Dawsonville, Ga., is one of the rising stars in stock car racing. He is a developmental driver for Hendrick Motorsports and has been competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, ARCA and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Elliott’s plans for the 2014 season have not been finalized but he does have plans to compete in the Lucas Oil 200 Presented by MAV American Real, the 80-lap, 200-mile race that is held prior to The Sprint Unlimited.

“To finally be able to come down here and be a part of this is pretty neat,” Elliott said.

As racecars lap around the track, race fans eagerly await arguably the biggest race of the year; the Daytona 500. Some of the ARCA racers dream of competing in NASCAR's marquee event, and are hoping that this weekend's on track testing will help to propel their brand to the top of the charts.

Other racers are simply happy to be able to continue to participate in the Great American Race. One of those drivers is former NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Bobby Labonte. Labonte, whose recent career has not lived up to his championship caliber, was recently announced as a driver for Phoenix Racing in their second entry for the Daytona 500. The move reunites Phoenix Racing chairman emeritus, James Finch, with the 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Bobby Labonte. Labonte drove for Phoenix Racing for 13 races in the No. 09 in 2010 and for one race at Michigan International Speedway in 2013 in the No. 51.

"I'm thrilled to be headed back to Daytona with Bobby Labonte," said Finch. "I thank Harry Scott for this opportunity. He knew I would have to be weaned off racing, I can't quit cold turkey."

Harry Scott, Jr., who purchased the team from Finch in 2013, said, "James continues to be a valuable part of our team and when he came up with the idea of running Bobby in a second car, I jumped at the opportunity to bring him back into the fold. Bobby is a veteran driver that can also provide valuable insight and leadership for Phoenix Racing."

Labonte, who will run a number of races for Phoenix Racing has won 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in his career that started in 1991. During that time Labonte scored 115 Top 5s and 203 Top 10s. In 1990 Labonte was named the NASCAR Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver. He captured the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship a year later in 1991.

"I am grateful and excited to return to Daytona with Phoenix Racing," said Labonte. "The Daytona 500 is obviously a special event for everyone involved in the sport. I can't wait to get back in the car for my 22nd Daytona 500."

Fans can follow NASCAR on Twitter and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtags #NASCAR,#DAYTONA500 and #ROADTODAYTONA. Fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for the latest news all season long.

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