Two races over three days, and a trio of drivers who’ve yet to turn 21 all took trips to Victory Lane.
While young risings stars dominated the front of the field, several series veterans turned in solid performances that have them square in the middle of the championship battle.
Ty Gibbs won for the second time in 2020 at Pocono Raceway on Friday, while in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, Jesse Love and Blaine Perkins earned their first career series wins at Utah Motorsports Campus.
Here is what we learned from the General Tire #ANYWHEREISPOSSIBLE 200 at Pocono, and the ENEOS/Sunrise Ford Twins presented by West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in Tooele, Utah.
Gibbs Picks Up Another Win
This one was a little easier that two weeks ago at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway, but Gibbs’ win Friday wasn’t without tense moments for the 17-year-old North Carolina driver.
Chandler Smith, who took a win away from Gibbs earlier this year at Phoenix Raceway, made an early three-wide pass to grab the top spot. While Gibbs would get it back, it was championship points leader Michael Self who powered to the front after the first of two scheduled breaks.
Gibbs, however, was not to be denied.
On Lap 27 of 80, he drove the No. 18 Monster/Terrible Herbst/ORCA Toyota on the inside groove past Self, overcame a momentary bobble, and drove away with a lead he would not relinquish.
"I was fighting loose the whole time," said Gibbs. "I was just a little free man. I felt the freeness hurts me in the middle of the run, but later in the run it helps.
"You’ve got to work it a little bit. You can’t give too much. With the PJ1, sometimes you give too much, and it looses grip so fast. I had that happen one time next to (Self). I just kept working."
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) June 26, 2020
Even as he set sail after the second break, Gibbs was still conscious that a late race caution could erase his lead.
Chandler Smith got by Sam Mayer for second, but couldn’t close ground. And, unlike earlier this season at Phoenix, a caution never materialized to slow Gibbs’ run.
"I’ve been ready for it, prepared for it, so I just kept going as hard as I could to get away from that 20 because he was a little faster than me," said Gibbs. "I wasn’t really that nervous. I come into this deal — I come here to win — and I keep the positive attitude, and that’s how I get through my days."
It was Gibbs’ sixth win in the ARCA Menards, East and West series over the last two seasons. His Toledo win has him two points behind Sam Mayer in the ARCA Menards Series East standings, while he’s not running the full ARCA Menards Series schedule.
"I love racing race cars," said Gibbs in the post-race video media conference. "I love racing race cars so much that I work my butt off, more than anything."
Birthday Celebrations Muted
Smith celebrated his 18th birthday Friday, and Mayer his 17th. While neither wound up in the top spot, there were plenty of bright spots for the pair.
"First time here, I’ll take a top three in the ARCA Menards Series any day," said Mayer.
It marked the eighth time in the last two years across the ARCA Menards, East and West series that Mayer and Gibbs have shared the podium. Gibbs now holds the advantage in wins in those scenarios, four to three. The only time neither won? Last year at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway, where Gibbs was second and Mayer third to race winner Smith.
"It’s interesting to say the least," Mayer said of racing Gibbs. "Obviously, he’s going to take what he can get, and then some occassionally. But he’s in probably the best equipment, and we’re in just as good equipment, to be honest. And we’re both really good drivers, in my opinion.
"It’s just really fun racing with someone that hopefully I’ll be racing with a lot in the future in many different series. Just having that mindset of whether I win or lose, or whether he wins or loses, it’s all about having fun and being part of this sport in general."
Overall, Mayer has six wins across the ARCA Menards Series and the East and West series.
Smith, who has eight wins and 21 top 10s in just 22 career ARCA Menards Series races, was making his first start since his Phoenix win in February.
"It was up and down, to be completely honest with you," Smith said. "It just wasn’t good enough to win the race early on. If we had another 10, 20 laps, I felt like we could have got up to Ty, but I don’t know what much we could have done with him."
Michael Self rolled off his fourth straight top five finish to start the season. After falling short in the championship last year, the 29-year-old from Park City, Utah, has shown the veteran savvy to make a title run so far in 2020. He salvaged potential disasters at Phoenix and Talladega, won at Daytona International Speedway, and turned in a solid performance at Pocono.
Self led laps and finished one spot ahead of Talladega winner Drew Dollar, added to his points lead over Dollar and seventh-place finisher Hailie Deegan.
Meanwhile, Alabama driver Bret Holmes continued his hot streak following the time away from the track for the COVID-19 pandemic. After finishing third at Toledo in the East race and third at Talladega, the 23-year-old was fouth at Pocono and is fourth in points.
First-Time Winners Out West
In a field that included several road-course aces, it was 15-year-old Jesse Love and 20-year-old Blaine Perkins to captured their first career ARCA Menards Series West wins.
Perkins started on the pole for both races. Love was able to power by on the outside on an early-race restart in the first race, and then kept Love from returning the favor following a subsequent caution.
"I just drove it in harder than the next guy," said Love of his pass for the lead. "And made sure I hooked the thing in there, pinch him down … I was able to maximize my opportunity with it. And then figure out where to put my car to make sure he can’t do that to me."
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) June 27, 2020
"It went from the get go; we were fast," said Love, who had car owner Bill McAnally spotting for him on the 2.2-mile course. "We had really good restarts. Bill was up in the bird’s nest, giving me really good information on where guys where better than me, and where I was better than certain people."
Love finished second to Mayer at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and now has a win and a pair of seconds after a runner-up finish in the second race.
"We’re the points leader, which is always good to say," said Love.
He leads Perkins by nine points. The Bakersfield, California, driver went off course late in Race 1 while running second and had to settle for an 11th-place finish. He was third in the season opener.
Post-race, Perkins said the first race mistake was a motivation for his second race performance.
"I think it definitely helped," said Perkins. "Having a little adversity in the first race sucks, but there was nothing we could do about it. We lost a tire there on that green-white-checkered. I thought we had a car to win in that first race. But thankfully they got it all tuned up for the second one."
The ARCA Menards Series West has a quick turnaround now, going to California’s Irwindale Speedway next Saturday for the ENEOS 125 presented by NAPA Auto Parts at Irwindale Speedway. While his teammate, Trevor Huddleston, is the defending race winner, Perkins took home the Late Model division championship at Irwindale last year in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series.
"I’m looking forward to getting back there," said Perkins. "I’m from Bakersfield, but I’ve raced Irwindale my whole life. I’m looking to get back to a familiar race track, and I think these two Sunrise Ford race cars will be battling for it up front."
- In his first start since a runner-up finish in the East opener back in February, Derek Griffith finished eighth at Pocono. Ryan Huff was ninth for his first career top 10 in four starts, while 58-year-old Scott Melton brought home his fourth career top 10.
- Huddleston had an early end to his first race at Utah, when he went off course on Lap 11. He rebounded to finish fifth in the second race and is sixth in points — 24 back of Love.
- Todd Souza, the only driver before Saturday with a West win at Utah, was sixth in both races and is fifth in points. Just six points separate third-place Gio Scelzi, fourth-place Gracie Trotter, Souza and Huddleston, after three events.
- Will Rodgers entered the race with four wins in the East and West, all on road courses. That previous form he showed with Jeff Jefferson Racing never materialized in Utah, as he qualified third and finished fifth in the first race and then finished eighth in the second race while battling brake issues. Instead it was Kris Wright, making his series’ debut in the No. 7 for Pitts Racing, who impressed with a second and a third.
- Wright has the line of the day, when asked after the race about what he learned the most, he said the tire degradation, and then seamlessly transitioned into quoting "Days of Thunder": "The cars I come from, they’re half as much weight and the tires are twice as big. Here they’re twice as big and the tires as half as wide." The Tom Cruise movie celebrated its 30th anniversary this week.