Bluffton’s Gus Dean has a love-hate relationship with Daytona International Speedway, site of Saturday afternoon’s ARCA Series Lucas Oil Complete Engine Treatment 200.
The “World Center of Racing” is the place of Dean’s ARCA debut in 2016, plus the origin of priceless memories through the years with his family. But on the race track, the 2.5-mile speedway has swallowed the former ARCA winner in back-to-back crashes two laps in 2016 and 49 laps into last February’s ARCA season-opener.
Dean is keeping his head high and returns to Daytona hoping he’s paid his dues and can draft to a strong finish in this weekend’s 80-lap roar.
“I love Daytona, but for some reason, I don’t think the track likes me,” Dean joked. “In all seriousness, the place takes my breath away every time I set foot on the ground. The last two races haven’t gone the way I hoped, but this is a new season, and I’m confident we’ll make it to the checkered flag on Saturday.”
Dean, who qualified sixth for Saturday’s race, is no stranger to finishing first on a superspeedway.
In 2016, the 23-year-old bounced back from his Daytona disaster to win a nail-biting race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway nearly two and a half months later. Dean’s first career ARCA victory opened the door to his relationship with GREE Cooling Products, which returns with the rising star for the third consecutive season.
“It sure would be great to rekindle that magic we had at Talladega a couple years ago,” Dean recalled. “Unlike Daytona, everything came together and we ended the race in Victory Lane. It sure would be cool to do that again this weekend.”
Car owner Kevin Cywinski says Dean is approaching his return to Daytona as focused as ever, and he expects that to continue throughout the year. Dean also has a new crew chief this season in Jamie Jones.
Dean had 12 top-10 finishes last year.
“Gus is excited as ever for the new season,” added Cywinski, a former winning car owner at Daytona. “We’ve made a lot of changes to the team during the offseason, and I think everyone will see that, while we were solid last year — we’re going to be that much better in 2018.
“Jamie and the guys are giving Gus a car that I believe he can win with, and what a way that would be to jump start our 11th season of ARCA competition.”