Max Gutiérrez’s won the ARCA Menards Series East season-opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway almost three weeks ago in dramatic fashion. There aren’t many better ways to start a season than a victory in a three-wide finish.
Yet the 18-year-old from Mexico City has not altered his expectations or goals for his rookie season as the East Series arrives at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, for Saturday’s Pensacola 200 Presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions (6 p.m. ET on TrackPass).
PIT BOX: More Short Track Action at 5 Flags
Gutiérrez noted this week that he was as surprised as anybody when rivals Taylor Gray and Sammy Smith, battling for the race win on the last lap at New Smyrna, opened the door for him to steal the checkered flag in just his third series start.
And even though 5 Flags Speedway is a similarly configured half-mile oval, the kind of short track on which the 2020 NASCAR Mexico Challenge Series champion has plenty of experience, Gutiérrez understands he is still in learning mode.
“I still have no words to describe that moment,” said Gutiérrez of his first ARCA Menards win. “(But) we want to keep learning and keep training as much as we can. It wouldn’t be possible without the help of many people behind this project.
“We want to focus on the next races. It was just one race that we won. Let’s keep learning. The goals for this year are to keep learning as much as we can, gain experience at (these) tracks.”
Gutiérrez also mentioned the Bounty Rookie of the Year award in the ARCA Menards Series East among his goals for the season. In addition to his early overall points standings lead thanks to his win at New Smyrna, Gutiérrez has a one-point edge over Smith in the rookie standings going into the race at 5 Flags.
Gutiérrez led only one lap at New Smyrna, but he and his No. 30 TOUGHBUILT Ford displayed competitive speed throughout the event. Which is why he was in the right place at the right time in the final corner.
So Gutiérrez’s goal at 5 Flags is to simply finish in the top five. That and, in his words, to “have fun.”
Though it’s hard to imagine a scenario in the second race of the season that would be more fun for Gutiérrez than what he experienced in the opener.
MORE 5 FLAGS:
Stephanie Moyer’s debut
Stephanie Moyer is not new to the driver’s seat and certainly not new to the world of racing. But the 23-year-old from Sheppton, Pennsylvania, is set to make her debut in an ARCA Menards car thanks to a deal with 1995 ARCA Menards Series champion and current team owner Andy Hillenburg.
Moyer, a 2019 graduate of the Automotive Technology program at the University of Northwestern Ohio, will drive the No. 12 Council Cup Campground Toyota for Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing team at 5 Flags.
Her first race comes a little more than a month after her first experience in an ARCA Menards car during the annual preseason test at Daytona International Speedway.
“I’m actually, believe it or not, calm,” said Moyer this week with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve done this before for all the years I’ve been racing. It’s really such a surreal moment, and I’m ready to take on this next step of being in a new race car and going to different tracks. So I’m actually pretty mentally prepared for this.”
Moyer’s father Mike was an accomplished racer. Her brother Mike Jr., who was pursuing a racing career for himself, died in 2011 shortly after Stephanie began racing Champ Karts the Greenwood Valley Action tracks in Pennsylvania.
Stephanie Moyer convinced her mother to let her race her late brother’s championship Factory Stock car so long as she won the 2011 championship in the Gold Kart ranks, which she did. She has been racing stocks ever since, culminating in the 2020 Evergreen Raceway Factory Stock driving championship.
Now connected to Hillenburg and taking the next step in her racing career, of which she has waited for years, Moyer understands the importance of patience.
“My advice that I’ve gotten is that we’re not out there to win right away,” she said. “Be patient. It’s 200 laps. Worry about yourself and race your own race.”
Moyer noted her goal is to simply finish Saturday’s race, but that doesn’t mean she can’t enter her first ARCA Menards event with a little ambition.
“I’m confident we can have at least a top 10 with this car,” she said.
Round 1 of the eight-race championship battle in the ARCA Menards Series East went to Gutiérrez, though Gray and Smith left New Smyrna feeling the season-opening win had been stolen from them.
Smith led a race-high 78 laps at new Smyrna in the No. 18 Engine Ice Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, a driver-team combo that figures to be a factor every time the East Series is on track this season.
– Taylor Gray (@TaylorGray17_) February 23, 2021
The same can be said for Gray and his No. 17 Ford Performance Ford for David Gilliland Racing. He led 43 laps at New Smyrna before losing in the final corner what would have been the race win.
The two other lap leaders from New Smyrna, Parker Retzlaff (55 laps) and Mason Diaz (10 laps), are in the lineup at 5 Flags and looking to make statements in the title race.
RELATED: Pensacola 200 Entry List
– Saturday’s Pensacola 200 Presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions will be the fourth East Series race held at 5 Flags. Previous winners include Ben Kennedy (2013), Ben Rhodes (2014) and Sam Mayer (2020).
– The ARCA Menards Series has raced at 5 Flags six times, with Roy Payne (1992), Harold Fair (1993), Gary Bradberry (1994), Bob Schacht (1995), Frank Kimmel (1996) and Michael Self (2019) scoring wins.
– Daniel Dye will make his second ARCA Menards Series East appearance at 5 Flags; he finished what was then a career-best seventh in last year’s race.
– Daniel Dye (@danieldye43) February 25, 2021
– Gray returns as the highest finisher from last year’s race at 5 Flags (fourth). Mayer, Corey Heim and Ty Gibbs finished first through third in 2020.
– Rajah Caruth, the 18-year-old running in the ARCA Menards Series East for Rev Racing in 2021, will make his second series start Saturday at 5 Flags.
– Zachary Tinkle, an 18-year-old late model racer from Speedway, Indiana, will make his ARCA Menards debut at New Smyrna driving the No. 22 Oakley Blacktop-Rapidfire Pizza-Hothead Burritos Toyota for fellow racer Thomas Oakley.
– Wayne Peterson, the 82-year-old driver and car owner, will race his own No. 06 GreatRailing.com Chevrolet at 5 Flags with his son Michael serving as crew chief.