AVONDALE, Ariz. – The ARCA Menards Series made its debut in Phoenix on Friday night, which saw a surprise winner, the dominant car of the day fall short of victory, and the points leader fight through adversity.
Here is what we learned from the General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway.
Welcome to Chandler, Arizona
Chandler Smith was in contention for a top-five finish all day long, but did not have the speed to catch Ty Gibbs.
Thanks to a risky call on pit road from owner and crew chief Billy Venturini, Smith was able to run away with the win on the final restart.
"It came down to the final pit stop," Smith said. "Billy made a legendary call to decide to only go with two tires while everyone would get four so we could get track position."
The call put Smith’s No. 20 JBL Toyota out front and he led the final 11 laps, including on the final race-deciding Lap 149 restart.
Huge win for @CSmithDrive tonight!
– Phoenix Raceway (@phoenixraceway) March 7, 2020
Smith touted the chemistry between Venturini and himself.
"You don’t come across something like that often," Smith said. "That’s what wins championships."
Smith has won close to 40 percent (eight of 21 starts) of the races he’s ran with Venturini Motorsports. Phoenix also served as the opener of the 10-race Sioux Chief Showdown. Smith plans to run the entire Showdown slate, and his track record makes him one of the early favorites to take home the championship.
Venturini Motorsports owner Bill Venturini Sr. credits it to the 17-year-old’s control on the track.
"He’s unbelievably smooth," Venturini said. "I don’t think this kid ever uses the brakes. He just rolls the centers."
The win was Venturini Motorsports’ fourth straight ARCA Menards Series win: Smith won at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis last year and Christian Eckes closed the year with a victory at Kansas Speedway, while Michael Self opened 2020 with a win at Daytona International Speedway.
In the first half of Friday night’s race, Michael Self dealt with an electrical issue that saw him come to pit road multiple times and lose track position. An inopportune stall even wound up getting him sent for a spin.
More problems for @michaelself
Race Center -> https://t.co/iqeEBBBgaJ
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) March 7, 2020
However, the team diagnosed the issue, and Self climbed back through the field. He was able to put himself in position in the closing laps and edged Ty Gibbs at the line to secure a second-place finish. Self credited his team with the comeback.
"The fight was awesome," Self said. "It’s easy to melt down after the car started shutting off, but these guys did an awesome job of figuring out the problem and getting us back in the race."
The effort allowed Self to leave Phoenix with a 12-point lead over Hailie Deegan, who finished seventh, and a 20-point cushion on third-place Drew Dollar.
Gibbs falls short
Going into Friday night, Self and Gibbs were the only drivers that had wins at Phoenix.
The 17-year-old Gibbs was the class of the field throughout the majority of Friday. He was fastest in practice, won his third General Tire Pole Award, and led a race-high 122 laps. But due to late cautions and multiple restarts, Gibbs could not hold grasp of the lead and finished third.
He was disappointed with how drivers raced on the restarts.
"My frustrations start from the people running at the end. They weren’t even racing and have no idea what they’re doing," Gibbs said. "I got jacked at the end. Just embarrassed by the whole deal."
- Gio Scelzi had an adventurous ARCA Menards Series debut. The Bill McAnally Racing driver got together with Sam Mayer on Lap 38 and spun into the wall. But the 18-year-old got the free pass three times and clawed his way back to a 10th-place finish. His BMR teammate Lawless Alan was ninth
- Sam Mayer entered the event having won the ARCA Menards East opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway and ARCA Menards Series East opener at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But after starting fourth at Phoenix, his run for a third straight win came to an end with radiator issues and he finshed 20th. It marked Mayer’s worst finish in 33 starts between the ARCA Menards Series, and the East and West series.
Rough night all together. But we’ll be back don’t you worry!
We win as a team, and we lose as a team. Good days ahead! #Wearegms
– Sam Mayer (@sam_mayer_) March 7, 2020
- Zane Smith secured his 20th top-five finish in 37 starts. This was his first ARCA Menards Series race since October of 2018.
- Nick Sanchez finshed sixth in his ARCA Menards Series debut, and his fifth career start between the ARCA Menards Series and the East and West.
- With his win, Chandler Smith joins former Bounty Rookie of the Year Charlie Glotzbach; former series champions Dave Dayton, Justin Allgaier, and Austin Theriault; superspeedway masters Jimmy Horton and Jeff Purvis; NASCAR Hall of Famer Davey Allison; and teammate Michael Self for 42nd on the all-time win list with eight.
- The Phoenix race was the first time the ARCA Menards Series has competed in the state of Arizona. It’s the 174th track the series has competed at, and Arizona is the 28th state to host at ARCA Menards Series race.