It took Justin Boston time to reach full speed on the ARCA series in 2013, but once the 24-year-old driver from Sparks got going, he left much of the competition in his rearview mirror.

Boston ended the season for Venturini Motorsports with eight finishes in the top five and 16 in the top 10 to place third overall in the Automobile Racing Club of America's point standings.

It was good enough to earn him ARCA's Rookie of the Year award, which he's receiving this weekend in Indianapolis.

"At minimum, [winning Rookie of the Year] was one of my expectations," Boston said. "About halfway through the season, I was like, 'Man, I don't know if we're going to get it,' but you just have to remain optimistic and there's 21 races on the schedule for a reason."

He credits Billy Venturini, who was his crew chief during a crucial stretch from July 21 at Chicago to Sept. 2 at Du Quoin, Ill., for the late charge.

Boston started and finished in the top 10 of each of those seven races, including a season-best second-place finish Aug. 25 at Madison (Wis.) International Speedway. His average finish during that run was 4.5.

"He improved dramatically throughout the year," Venturini said. "I think he mainly learned the art of closing a race. He had speed initially, but I think his race management and how he handled the race really improved in the second half of the year."

Venturini said the first half of many rookie seasons is spent learning how to conserve the car for the end of races. Venturini said Boston's "ability to close the race improved really in leaps and bounds" during the second half.

Although he showed significant improvement during the season, victory lane eluded him. He looks back at the Sept. 14 race at Salem (Ind.) Speedway as one he should have won. Boston took the pole but was done in by troubles on a restart.

"We were by far, I feel like, the best car there," said Boston, who loves the dirt track there because of his experience on dirt bikes. "We were leading the race and we had transmission problems on a restart. So instead of finishing first, we finished I think in the mid-20s. A day like that where you're the best car and you end up finishing not anywhere close to where you should've, it's a tough day to swallow."

It wasn't his only close encounter with victory lane.

"If we would have raced Kansas again the next day, I think he would've won it, which is the last race of the year," Venturini said. "He was the class of the field at Salem. … As a whole, he was really, really close. I don't think there's anything we need to do different going into next year and I think he will win plenty of races next year. I expect to win a lot."

Boston has signed on to race the No. 25 ZLOOP Toyota Camry again next season for Venturini Motorsports with Kevin Reed as his crew chief.

"I think the expectations for him next year are to win the championship, plain and simple," Venturini said. "We will win races with him. I can't even say we hope to because we will win races with him, no doubt in my mind."

Boston's success bodes well for a possible future in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series and beyond, but he wants to taste success in the ARCA series first.

"I don't feel like I'm ready to move up until I prove myself and I'm up at the front of every race and my focus is to do that," Boston said. "I want to be the guy everyone chases in the ARCA series next year and I'm the person to beat every week and until I'm that person, I don't feel like I'm ready to move up."

thschwartz@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Grand Prix 2013 news from The Baltimore Sun