NEW SMYRNA, Fla. – Another start to a new era under the ARCA Menards banner came Monday evening at New Smyrna, where we saw last year’s dominator continue his winning ways, a surprise driver and team almost steal the show and a three-wide battle turn wreck lead to a war of words.
Here is what we learned from the Skip’s Western Outfitters 175 at New Smyrna Speedway.
New Year, More Mayer Dominance
Sam Mayer ended 2019 in Victory Lane with a championship. As 2020 began, he wound up in the same place with the same championship aspirations — and the team isn’t shy about them.
The Franklin, Wisconsin, native said he and his GMS Racing team have looked at the eight-race schedule and they believe winning every race is a goal that they’ll be striving for all season.
"I mean, we’re looking forward to that. That’s what I’m trying to do," Mayer said. "This year is going to be a lot harder than last year. It’s a very long shot, but we’re one for one right now."
Mayer led 27 of the 175 laps, but lost the top spot to Ty Gibbs on a restart with 16 laps to go. But four laps later, Mayer got the top spot back and was able to hold off a hard-charging Derek Griffith for the victory.
"The (No.) 2 car (Griffith), I didn’t even know he was coming," Mayer said in disbelief. "My spotter didn’t tell me, and I’m glad he didn’t because I would’ve been … myself.
"He was fast. Props to them, I’ve never seen their race cars go that fast."
Derek Griffith, Chad Bryant Racing’s Improbable Run
It wasn’t until the Wednesday before the race that Derek Griffith actually found out he’d be competing for Chad Bryant Racing
But once the deal came together, it wound up being an unforgettable handful of days for all parties involved.
"We were coming down here for Speedweeks, got a call from Chad (Bryant) a couple weeks back and they talked about maybe doing something," Griffith said. "The deal never manifested, but Wednesday we saw him in Daytona and it happened. Literally just happened. That’s it."
Thursday, Friday and Saturday were spent coordinating logistics, getting the proper crew and car prepared for Monday night’s event. Sunday morning, Bryant and Griffith met early in the morning, got fitted for the car and hopped in for open practice.
"The first time I ever laid eyes on the thing was (Sunday) morning," Griffith said. "Those guys work really hard, such an honor to be a part of this team from this race. Just crazy story, I’m never gonna forget this one."
Thought the @ChadBryantRace guys were gonna pull that one off, easily the class of the field. @DerekGriffith12 did an awesome job for his first @ARCA_Racing start. Hope you guys can race more together.
– Chase Briscoe (@ChaseBriscoe5) February 11, 2020
Griffith thought they would be a contender for the win, along with Mayer, Gibbs and DGR-Crosley’s Tanner Gray among others. But to he that good for that long and the class of the field? He didn’t quiet expect that.
"I felt like I rode around for 140 laps and they said I had almost a straightaway lead at some points on the same set of tires," he said. "Then I took off from them when they put stickers on. If that doesn’t speak for how good of a car that was, I don’t know what does. I couldn’t have asked for a better car."
"I can’t believe how cool it is to work with Paul Andrews. I mean, Alan Kulwicki’s crew chief when he won the Cup championship? That’s amazing."
Team owner Chad Bryant, who also doubled as a pit crew member during the 175-lap race, spoke on not just the performance from Griffith, but the state of the organization.
"We’re fighting to stay alive here as a company," he said. "We don’t have a full-time driver for the season, very fortunate to come across Derek to showcase our equipment and showcase what we can do. We had the best race car here tonight, everybody knows that. They couldn’t hold us off with fresh tires, ours had 150 laps on them. We just ran out of time. You win some, you lose some that way. I’ve been on both ends now."
"I’ve been telling everyone for the last two years, ‘hey, we get the right driver, we get the right people together, we’re going to go back to our winning ways like we were in 2016-2017 with Cunningham Motorsports Group.’ Proud of all our guys."
– Chad Bryant Racing (@ChadBryantRace) February 11, 2020
The win for the No. 2 CBR group may have gone out the window under a Lap 143 caution, where Griffith made his pit stop, but was penalized for pulling up to pit and was sent to the rear of the field.
Still, he wound up having a chance at the win on the white flag lap. After carving his way through the pack, he couldn’t help but think on what could have been if he didn’t receive the penalty.
"They kind of rushed me in a little bit to get in, I don’t run NASCAR rules too often and all of a sudden they were penalizing us," he said. "Such a bummer. If we didn’t have so many yellow flag laps that counted, we probably would’ve at least had a shot at it. It is what is, honest mistake, we can move forward for sure."
Bryant said they’d like to continue and perhaps run a full ARCA Menards Series East campaign, but the necessary funding hasn’t presented itself. He and Griffith both hops their performance Monday speaks for itself, and somebody will come calling.
The Wall Ride Seen ‘Round The World
On a restart with just over 20 laps to go, Max McLaughlin, Mason Diaz and Tanner Gray were involved in an accident which saw Gray ride the frontstretch wall.
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) February 11, 2020
"I put myself in a bad spot when I spun the tires on that restart," Gray said. But the (No.) 1 (Max McLaughlin)’s an idiot. Always has been, always will be I guess. So whatever. It is what is. I put myself there, I gotta do a better putting myself in better positions in the race and staying away from idiots."
When asked about Gray’s comments, McLaughlin was dismissive of them, but did take blame for wadding up a couple of cars.
"You can run three wide here all day if you have drivers capable of running three wide, but obviously we didn’t. At the end of the day it was a error on my part and I take responsibility," he said. "I thought I could make it work but one I got to center and we made contact, he was turned into my right rear and I couldn’t steer down the track. I have a ton of respect for David Gilliland and Billy Venturini, and I’m sorry for the torn up equipment."
Gray ultimately finished 18th, Diaz 17th and McLaughlin 10th.
- Ty Gibbs led four laps en route to a third-place finish, but was pretty hard on himself for not being able to close the deal.
— Ty Gibbs (@TyGibbs_) February 11, 2020
- Nick Sanchez earned a fourth-place finish (career-best) for Rev Racing.
- Giovani Bromante scored a top five in his first career series start and first for Visconti Motorsports.
- Bill McAnally Racing struggled, with Jesse Love (12th) leading the way over Gio Scelzi (13th), Holly Hollan (15th) and Gracie Trotter (16th).