Corey Heim and Venturini Motorsports kicked off their quest for the 2021 ARCA Menards Series championship with the best result possible: a win in Saturday’s season-opening Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona International Speedway.
The 18-year-old driver of the No. 20 JBL Toyota was in command throughout the second half of his Daytona debut, and not even a one-lap shootout to end the race fazed the Marietta, Georgia, native as he grabbed both the victory and the early lead in several of ARCA’s special award chases.
As part of a new-look Daytona Speedweeks schedule, General Tire Pole Qualifying was conducted early on the morning of the race. The special group qualifying session saw Heim’s VMS teammate, Drew Dollar, score his first career General Tire Pole Award.
Dollar retained the lead at the drop of the green flag, but an early caution neutralized his advantage. Dollar led the first 18 laps before giving way to the other two VMS drivers, Gracie Trotter and Derek Griffith, who each had a stint as the race leader prior to their involvement in an accident.
Derrick Lancaster and later Tanner Gray would ascend to the point following the Lap 28 incident before Heim took the top spot on Lap 45. He did not relinquish that position over the final 38 laps, a performance that earned Heim both the Valvoline Lap Leader and Richmond Water Heaters Halfway Leader awards.
Heim’s win also earned him Bounty Rookie of the Race honors and put him in the early lead in the Bounty Rookie of the Year standings.
Heim will attempt to become the first driver to win the overall ARCA Menards Series championship and the Bounty Rookie of the Year award in the same season thanks to a rule change made ahead of the 2020 season. Previously, if a driver were to the ARCA Menards Series points championship, he or she would be deemed ineligible to claim the Bounty Rookie of the Year award, as well.
Last year, Hailie Deegan became the first female driver in ARCA Menards Series history to be named the series rookie of the year.
Heim’s win was significant for car owner Billy Venturini, who exited Daytona with the lead in the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge standings. The GT Superspeedway Challenge tallies points for individual car owners over the course of the seven superspeedway races on the schedule, concluding with the series finale at Kansas Speedway in October.
One of the few contingency award categories that Heim and the No. 20 team could not claim at Daytona was the Cometic Crew Chief of the Race nod, which instead went to Billy Venturini atop the pit box for Dollar. Venturini, the winner of the Cometic Crew Chief of the Year award in 2019, led Dollar to P1 in General Tire Pole Qualifying and a runner-up finish in the main event.
A new award for the 2021 ARCA Menards Series season puts the fans in charge of deciding the winner; the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race is put to a fan vote on the official ARCA Menards Series Twitter account the day after each race, and the driver with the most votes at the final tally collects the prize.
With 61 percent of the votes, defending series champ Bret Holmes made the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race with a nifty near-miss on Lap 28.
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) February 14, 2021
Holmes’ award-winning wreck avoidance allowed him to finish third, his best result in five starts at Daytona.
The ARCA Menards Series teams will have several weeks to recover from Daytona before the General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway on Friday, March 12. Live TV coverage of the Phoenix will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on MAVTV and stream live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.
The General Tire 150 will count for points toward both the ARCA Menards Series and the ARCA Menards Series West championship, serving as the season-opener for West Series competitors.