Chandler Smith and Ty Gibbs seemed to have dominant cars and victories in hand. Until they didn’t.
Sam Mayer arrived in Ohio in search for his first ARCA Menards Series win, and left with two of them.
Bret Holmes continued to chip away at Michael Self’s points lead, the Bounty Rookie Challenge continues to be a slugfest, and the historic doubleheader race weekend at Toledo Speedway was a bit of a damper on everybody not named Mayer.
Here is what we learned from the Menards.com 200 presented by SPxE on Friday and the Menards 200 presented by Crosley Brands on Saturday, er, Sunday, at Toledo Speedway.
Sam Mayer Completes The Sweep
The two wins could not have been more different. On Friday night, the 17-year-old powered by Chandler Smith after the first race break and drove away in the No. 21 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet. Sunday, when they finally got a chance to complete the second race, he pounced on a late-race restart and fended off a challenge from pole sitter Ty Gibbs before the rains came.
Either way, Mayer
"Going two in a row at Toledo is definitely very cool," said Mayer after Sunday’s win. "I’m liking this place a lot more than I did last year, and hopefully we can keep it going."
Mayer ran fifth at Toledo last May, in a race that was shortened to 152 laps before of rain and won by Smith. When he came back in June with the ARCA Menards Series East, he finished second to Gibbs.
Mayer’s win was also extra special, as he had Why Not You Foundation on the car. Founded by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in 2014, the foundation is "is dedicated to creating real and lasting change in the world by motivating, empowering and preparing today’s youth to be tomorrow’s leaders." Throughout the season, Mayer’s feature a number of various foundations on his race car, including Indiana Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon and his Brogdon Family Foundation, and Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz’s AO1 Foundation.
"It means a lot to have all these foundations on the car," said Mayer Friday night. "I can’t think of a better way to do it than dominate the second half of the race."
What Might Have Been
Chandler Smith had the field covered for the first 103 laps Friday night and appeared to be on his way to his third Sioux Chief Showdown win in four races in 2020. However, the No. 20 JBL Toyota started to go away on Smith. First he lost the lead to Mayer, and then he kept going backwards. Eventually, Smith retired the car after 162 laps because of suspension issues. Post-race, the Venturini Motorsports team diagnosed it with issues with the right side sway bar.
"Trouble for Chandler Smith!"
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) August 1, 2020
It was another in the long long of unfortunate finishes for Smith at the Ohio half-mile. In 2018, he had a plug wire come loose while leading and settled for fourth. While he won last year, Friday’s race was another opportunity to win that slipped away.
"That was heart breaking to be honest," said Smith. "It just seems like this track doesn’t really like us, you know what I mean?"
Smith rebounded to finish second Sunday. He nearly stole the win. When Gibbs got loose and went around in Turn 4 racing under leader Mayer, Mayer bobbled briefly. It allowed Smith to pull alongside, but the caution came out handed the lead back to Mayer. Then the rains came and the race never resumed.
Smith leads Self by six points and Mayer by seven.
Gibbs chased Mayer Friday night, at one point looking like he might be able to wrestle the lead away before setting for second. After taking the lead from Smith on Lap 20, his No. 18 Monster/Terrible Herbst/ORCA Toyota ran out front for 95 laps. Following a brief caution for rain, Gibbs lost the lead to Mayer, and then lost more than that trying to get it back.
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) August 2, 2020
While he kept from wrecking, the spin knocked Gibbs back to 10th in the final rundown. Instead of leaving Toledo second in the standings just three points out of the lead, he is fourth, 12 points behind Smith.
Gibbs will have some time to stew; JGR teammate Riley Herbst is scheduled to be back in the No. 18 at Michigan.
Championship Gap Narrows
Michael Self finished fifth and fourth at Toledo, running his streak of top 10s to start the season to 10 and upping his top five finishes to seven while maintaining the points lead.
The bad news was chief rival Bret Holmes finished fourth and third, knocking another two points off Self’s margin. It’s now down to seven.
"It’s not the runs we wanted, we’ve fought a ton of problems the last couple weeks," said Self. "Frustrating thing is, it’s been some of my best tracks. We’re not running where we should be right now. We shouldn’t be losing sight of the leaders; we definitely shouldn’t be at risk of going a lap down, I don’t think.
"We’ve all got to do a better job. That includes me and my driving."
The good news is Self heads to Michigan, where he won the General Tire Pole Award last year and led 86 laps en route to the victory.
Holmes was third at Michigan last year, but was on another zip code from the field last week at the last 1.5-mile track with his win at Kansas Speedway.
"From last weekend’s win at Kansas, it’s been amazing," said Holmes. "I just can’t thank my friends and family enough. All the people that have helped me in racing, it just brought back a lot of good memories. A lot of people I haven’t heard from in a while. That’s the best feeling in the world. So I definitely want to get back to it, and get back there soon."
Bounty Rookie Race
Hailie Deegan rebounded from a string of bad luck to finish eighth and sixth at Toledo, while leading Bounty Rookie contender Drew Dollar finished sixth and ninth. That left Dollar four points in front of Deegan for fourth in the championship standings.
Taylor Gray, 15, finished third in Friday night’s race, but was involved in an early spin Saturday. He wound up 11th after the race resumed Sunday.
- With his victories at Toledo on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, Sam Mayer became the first driver to earn his second career victory in the very next race following his first career win since Ty Majeski did it in 2019 at Charlotte and Pocono. Michael Self also followed his first career win with a victory in the following race, spanning the season finale at Kansas in 2017 and the 2018 opener at Daytona.
- After winning the first seven races of the season, and the last seven of 2019, Toyota has gone winless in the last three ARCA Menards Series races. Chevrolet has won all three, with Bret Holmes winning at Kansas and Sam Mayer sweeping the Toledo weekend.
- The last time the ARCA Menards Series held a weekend doubleheader both races were won by the same driver. Casey Mears won both ends of a Friday-Saturday doubleheader at Pocono in 2003. Almost exactly seventeen years later, Sam Mayer also swept both ends of a weekend doubleheader at Toledo Speedway.
- Derek Griffith earned his first career series top-five finish in Sunday.
- Austin Green made his series debut on Sunday driving for Visconti Motorsports. Green, son of former NASCAR XFINITY Series champion David Green, finished on the lead lap in seventh. Green, a last minute substitution after the team made a driver change after the race on Friday night, wore the firesuit that Sam Mayer wore on Friday night on his way to victory.
- Tim Richmond earned his first career series top 10 finish when he finished ninth on Friday night; similarly, Rick Clifton earned his first career top 10 with a 10th-place run on Friday night
- Bill Kimmel Sr. passed away July 30 at his home of natural causes at the age of 91. A three-time winner in the ARCA Menards Series in the 1970s, he was father of series veterans and champions Bill and Frank Kimmel and grandfather of current drivers Will and Frankie Kimmel. The series and MAVTV held a tribute to Bill Sr. with an extra pace lap prior to the start of Friday’s race.