It’s going to take a lot to derail Sam Mayer. But Ty Gibbs isn’t giving up the chase.
Both flexed their speed over the weekend, taking home wins at Bristol Motor Speedway and Winchester Speedway, respectively. Bret Holmes and Michael Self continue to push the ARCA Menards Series championship down to the wire, and Brad Smith earned a career milestone.
Here’s what we learned from the Bush’s Beans 200 at ‘The World’s Fastest Half Mile’ on Thursday and the Toyota 200 presented by Crosley Brands at ‘The World’s Fastest 1/2 Mile’ on Saturday.
Sam Mayer Pulls Historic Double
Sam Mayer keeps quietly adding his name to the record book.
After becoming the youngest driver to win a NASCAR touring or national series championship last year, the now 17-year-old from Franklin, Wisconsin, is moving forward on a unique feat: Successfully defending his East series title — now under the ARCA Menards banner — and adding a Sioux Chief Showdown crown in the same year.
And then came Thursday, when Mayer became the first driver to win an ARCA Menards Series race and a NASCAR national series race in the same day. Mayer earned his first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win at Bristol, and then climbed him his No. 21 and won his third straight ARCA Menards Series race.
"I love this momentum," said Mayer. "Like I said in Toledo, we have the momentum and we’re just going to keep it going.
"I’m still at a loss for words. Even after the truck race, it really hasn’t sunk in yet."
"Sam Mayer is a star on the rise."
– NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) September 18, 2020
The Bristol race counted points toward the ARCA Menards Series, ARCA Menards Series East and Sioux Chief Showdown. While Mayer isn’t running the full ARCA Menards schedule because of his age, he pushed his East points lead to 26 over Gibbs and 61 over Nick Sanchez and likely will just have to start the finale at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, on October 10 to wrap up that title.
Mayer now heads to Memphis International Raceway Saturday for the Sioux Chief Showdown finale. He leads Gibbs by six points and Michael Self by 18 going into the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200.
RELATED: Sam Mayer Career Stats
"We came of the gate running and we’ve been sprinting ever since, and we haven’t stopped," said Mayer of the ARCA program at GMS. "They haven’t stopped working. We get better each week. It’s hard to believe that’s possible. But we’re going to find a way to improve for next week."
Gibbs Returns To Victory Lane
The easiest way to stop Mayer’s win streak? Have him not show up.
With the late race rescheduled date of the ARCA Menards Series race to Indiana’s Winchester, Mayer was not entered in Saturday’s event. In his absence, Gibbs put on quite a show. He posted the fastest time in practice by two-tenths, won the General Tire Pole Award, and then went out and led 199 of 200 laps en route to his fifth ARCA Menards Series win of the season.
"We had a good day, a fun time," said Gibbs, who was second to Mayer at Bristol. "I learned a lot about this track in a short time here. It’s cool to come here and win."
Up & out and celebrating!
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) September 19, 2020
"We’ll just keep working and go win as many as we can," said Gibbs. "Hopefully we’ll have a shot to win Memphis. I feel like we’ve had a shot to win every race this year besides last Toledo and I-44. We’ll have a fun time. I like racing."
Gibbs has six wins and 12 podium finishes in 16 races between the ARCA Menards Series and East.
Self and Holmes are committed to taking this ARCA Menards Series championship battle down to the final laps at Kansas Speedway in October.
Self finished fifth at Bristol, three spots ahead of Holmes, to retake the points lead. And then finished second at Winchester, a spot ahead of Holmes, to push the margin to three points with three races remaining.
Holmes stayed out during the second race break at Bristol to lead three laps and grab a valuable bonus point. Self managed to edge Gibbs at the line on a Lap 80 restart at Winchester to steal a point back.
"A P2 finish here with our Sinclair Oil team is really solid," said Self. "There’s no denying it’s been a really frustrating middle portion of the year. Our guys are figuring this out. They’ve been working a ton.
"We’re not entirely 100% were we want to be, but we’re making progress."
The two battled for position in the closing laps at Winchester.
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) September 19, 2020
"That was just hard racing there," said Holmes. "At some of these tracks with these heavier cars, it’s really tough. I felt like that was my last chance to get by him or get close to passing him. We were all so even there, it made it really tough."
Holmes also had to fend off 15-year-old rookie Jesse Love, driving his first race for Venturini Motorsports, to hold onto that third position.
Career Mark for Brad Smith
Smith, the 51-year-old driver, from Shelby Township, Michigan, had made 362 career starts before Saturday without scoring a top 10. He finally accomplished the feat with a ninth-place run at Winchester. His previous career best was 12th, accomplished several times including twice this season.
– #DriverBradSmith #BradSmith (@DriverBradSmith) September 22, 2020
Winchester was also notable for several other drivers: Mike Basham finished seventh, a career best for the second-generation driver out of Henryville, Indiana. Eric Caudell raced the car he plans to use at Kansas at Winchester, finishing it up just a couple of hours before loading it for the haul from Piedmont, Oklahoma to Indiana. Caudell was rewarded with an eighth-place finish, his career best. And Con Nicolopoulos also scored a career-best finish of 10th, and earned his first career top-10 in his 87th career start.
- With his win, Gibbs moves into a tie for 53rd on the all-time ARCA Menards Series win list with seven. Other drivers with seven wins include Jim Cushman, two-time series champion Lee Raymond, 2009 series titlist Justin Lofton, and 2019 champ Christian Eckes.
- With another 199 laps led added to his season total, Gibbs has clinched the 2020 Valvoline Lap Leader Award. He has a 465-laps led gap over second place Sam Mayer with three races to go at Memphis (200 laps), Springfield (100 laps), and Kansas (100 laps).
- Max McLaughlin finished a career-best third in the ARCA Menards Series at Bristol. He also led for 19 laps, the first laps led in his ARCA Menards Series career. McLaughlin won an East race last year at New York’s Watkins Glen International.
- Mason Diaz also scored his career-best ARCA Menards Series finish in fourth. And Justin S. Carroll earned his first career ARCA Menards Series top-10 finish in 10th.
- Max Gutierrez made his ARCA Menards Series debut and finished a respectable 14th. The 17-year-old was the 2018 FB-Bohn MIKEL’s Trucks Champion in Mexico and is leading the FedEx Challenge Series, the second tier of the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series.