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Amber Balcaen claims Top-10 from 2 laps down at Daytona

"This weekend, we made the best out of a bad situation and we were able to bounce back" - Having been caught in an accident early on in the race, Amber Balcaen was the protagonist of a stellar recovery in the ARCA Menards season opener at Daytona, where she made her way forward throughout the race and gained back two laps to ultimately finish ninth.

Ella Lloyd, Ginetta GT5 Championship 2023
Photo Credit: James Gilbert / NASCAR

The ARCA Menards season opener at Daytona has featured several female drivers on the grid in recent years and has seen traditionally some very positive results. From pole positions to great runs, including top-5s and top-10s this year's edition of the Hard Rock Bet 200 race at Daytona International Speedway was no exception: Amber Balcaen secured a ninth place finish following a stellar recovery, where she charged back through the field after being involved in an accident early on in the race.

Five women were on the grid of last year's running of the race which ended with a spectacular top five for Mandy Chick and some highly positive runs for Amber Balcaen, Natalie Decker and Logan Misuraca with a more unfortunate Toni Breidinger slowed down in the second half of the race by a few issues.

Four female drivers were set to kick-off their 2024 season at one of the most legendary racing venues in the United States: Mandy Chick, Toni Breidinger, Amber Balcaen and rookie Becca Monopoli who unfortunately couldn't make the grid as the huge 50-car entry list that meant that 10 cars could not qualify.

Balcaen and Breidinger had strong practice sessions, both running solidly in the top-10, and Chick was eyeing a relatively comfortable qualification as well with times around the top-30.

On Friday, the qualifying draw wasn't too nice to Amber Balcaen, as the Canadian ended up in a group that offered little chances to take advantage of the draft. She would finish P28, but her speed shown throughout the week was an encouraging sign that the Venturini Motorsports' driver would be able to make up ground in the race.

A good lap for Mandy Chick resulted in a start from P31, while Toni Breidinger was one of the stars of qualifying: the driver of the #25 Toyota was fourth fastest. With rain forecasted for most of the weekend, the race was rescheduled for Friday night at 10:30pm.

The first few laps of the race ended up being less than ideal for the women of the field: Toni Breidinger was spun by another competitor, igniting the first crash of the race which took out of contention Breidinger, Ed Pompa, John Aramendia and Kris Wright and collected several more cars including the #22 ICON Direct Toyota driven by Amber Balcaen.

The accident had caused damage to the front-end toe, nose of the body and both sides of the body near the front tires. She made her way back to the pits and the Venturini Motorsports crew worked on repairs eventually sending her back out albeit two laps down during the caution.

When the race resumed after also another short yellow for debris it would be Mandy Chick to get crashed out, ending the day for the driver of the #74 Dynamic Drivelines/FK Rod Ends/Fragola Perf Chevrolet.

The first chaotic stages of the race allowed Balcaen to pit several times during cautions for additional repairs, as the team worked endlessly to make the car driveable enough including knocking the toe straight.

“I still had to be in someone else’s draft for my car to handle okay because of all the nose damage,” Balcaen commented. “Without the draft I would lose the pack.”

Nevertheless, she drove with precision and never gave up, eventually making up the two laps during following cautions. “My Venturini Motorsports crew worked their butts off all race long to keep fixing my car and making it easier to drive, so that we could be in contention for the race,” she explained. “Everyone did a great job of persevering and staying positive. We were determined to have a good finish. I knew that if we could get lucky and get our laps back, we could have a shot to fight for points, and that was exactly what we did."

Balcaen made her way forward throughout the race and caught back the leading pack. Despite a battered car, she survived the final laps and crossed the finish line in ninth place - in a brilliant display of determination that nevertheless left the Shift Up Now athlete slightly disappointed for the missed opportunity to battle for the win.

“We are going for the championship, and having the no-quit attitude to always finish the race is what’s going to help us get there", she commented. "This weekend, we made the best out of a bad situation and we were able to bounce back, and get all the way up to the top ten."

"I am so grateful for the support of my sponsor, ICON Direct, and was so glad to have them in attendance. Overall, it was a great points day for us and am proud of my teams’ determination and ability to recover.”

Balcaen, who is contesting a full-season campaign with Venturini Motorsports, will be back behind the wheel for the second round of the ARCA Menards Series at Phoenix Raceway on March 8th.



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