Sam Mayer isn’t showing no signs of letting up as the summer transitions into the championship home stretch. And Bret Holmes knocked off another career first in his breakthrough season.
While Mayer and Holmes left Ohio smiling, the rest of the racers at Toledo Speedway departed with more questions than answers. There won’t be much time to dwell as the ARCA Menards and ARCA Menards East will both count championship points Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway, before the ARCA Menards Series heads to Indiana’s Winchester Speedway Saturday for the third race in an eight-day stretch.
Before we get to there, here’s what we learned from the Royal Truck & Trailer 200 at Toledo Speedway.
Sam Mayer Flipped The Switch
The return to racing in June wasn’t "bad" for Mayer, but most driver’s standards. But the 17-year-old from Franklin, Wisconsin, had backed up his East championship last year by winning his first two races before radiator issues derailed him at Phoenix Raceway. Then came the hiatus.
When Mayer returned, he scored four top fives — including a pair runner-up finishes — in the ARCA Menards Series, and settled for second after winning the pole at Toledo. To compound matters, Ty Gibbs won four of those five races.
And then Mayer returned to Toledo at the end of July. He swept the weekend and has compiled five wins and two third-place finishes in a seven-race stretch.
"I can’t thank these GMS guys enough," said Mayer in Victory Lane. "The amount of race car I had here was insane," said Mayer. "It’s definitely an understatement to say this is the best race car I’ve had this year.
"It’s definitely very special, and hopefully we can keep that going."
RELATED: Sam Mayer Career Stats
Did we mention the series head to Thunder Valley, where Mayer won both East races last year? His first trip to Bristol he led all 150 laps. The return trip, he was penalized for rough driving on Lap 1 with race leader Chase Cabre, then drove through the field and led the last 13 laps for the victory.
It’s already been a special week, as JR Motorsports announced Mayer, a former development driver for the organization, will return to the team next year.
– #NASCARPlayoffs on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 15, 2020
Another First With A First
Holmes put the drama at Lebanon I-44 behind him and put in a solid fourth-place run at Toledo. It was his 10th top five in 15 races, and more importantly, it put him atop the ARCA Menards Series points standings for the first time in his career.
"We’re just focusing on getting wins," said Holmes. "Keeping our nose clean and not getting in any accidents.
"When you win, everything else takes care of itself. That’s all we’re focused on right now. We want more than one win."
Holmes finished third in points last year, with eight top fives and 18 top 10s in 20 starts. It was a three spot improvement from his previous full-time season in 2017 as a 20-year-old. Earlier this season, he won his ARCA Menards Series race.
Now he’s got a two-point lead over Michael Self with five races to go.
"It’s definitely a good feeling," said Holmes. "There’s some strong cars up here — they’re hard to beat," said Holmes. "We’re right there knocking on the door in these short track races. Just proud of my team, they’ve put in a lot of long hours working on this thing, improving it."
Holmes said he allowed too much of a gap on restarts to be able to track down the top three over the longer runs. Still, it was the third straight race he finished ahead of Self, which allowed him to erase the deficit created by Self’s win at the DAYTONA Road Course.
"I definitely want to thank the fans for coming out," said Holmes. "It’s been a while since we’ve seen you guys."
While Holmes is trending up, Self has been running out of answers. He finished seventh at Toledo, his 14th top 10 in 15 races, but still managed to lose ground.
"It sucks," said Self. "It’s really frustrating."
Self said they made a change with a rear spring at the end of practice that wound up getting them off track. That led them to using up the right rear tire.
"You can’t be fast at this place if you don’t have good drive off the corners, because it does have such good grip," said Self. "Once we got the spring changed, we were better. … The last run, we were okay. We were running decent lap times. It was just too late — we lost too much track position at that point.
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) September 12, 2020
Chandler Smith recorded his third runner-up finish in his last five ARCA Menards Series starts. He also qualified second, the eighth straight race he’s started on the front row.
"I think overall we just need to go back and work on it a little bit," said Smith. "Just massage on it. … "We just need to go back and work on it and play a little catch up."
Taylor Gray had his sixth top five in eight ARCA Menards Series starts. His average finish of 5.4 is sixth best in the series.
Hailie Deegan finished sixth, while ARCA Menards Bounty Rookie of the Year contender Drew Dollar was knocked out of the race by a Lap 86 accident. That allowed Deegan to increase her rookie lead to a season-high 16 points.
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) September 12, 2020
- After finishing second to Mayer in the East last year, Cabre’s rough 2020 continued at Toledo with a 16th after a Lap 55 accident. He has just one top five in four races and sits fifth in points.
- Mayer is now tied for 78th on the all-time ARCA Menards Series win list. Others with four wins include Curtis Turner, Jesse Baird, LaMarr Marshall, Bill Green, Ben Hess, Bob Hill, Mark Gibson, Kerry Earnhardt, Ryan Newman, Steven Wallace, Michael McDowell, Scott Speed, Andrew Ranger, Dalton Sargeant, Zane Smith, and Sheldon Creed.
- Former racer and long-time industry representative Larry LaMay was the first in line to buy a ticket for Saturday’s Royal Truck & Trailer 200. LaMay has one career ARCA Menards Series win, at Toledo, in 1976. It was the first time LaMay had watched a race from the grandstands at Toledo since 1963.
- Former ARCA Menards Series driver Ron Otto was at the track serving as crew chief for "Farmer Bob" Pawlowski. Otto’s last trip to Toledo Speedway was exactly 27 years earlier, September 12, 1993. Driving Jerry Lawrence’s Chrysler, Otto was swept into a crash in a heat race and was not able to start the night’s feature event. Otto went on to work for several NASCAR teams in the Charlotte area, including most notably Richard Childress Racing. Pawlowski finished 14th.
- Toledo-area native Jim Long was also at the track serving as crew chief for Justin Carroll. Long grew up just north of the border in Temperance, Michigan, not far from the ARCA home office. Carroll finished 11th.
- Over the weekend, ARCA received word that former car owner Jerry Haupt passed away in the month of May. Haupt was affiliated with Randy Van Zant for nearly 20 years and the two teamed up to run 61 ARCA Menards Series races from 1998 through 2006.