Before the one-two punch of a red flag for rain and a pit penalty, rookie Sammy Smith in the ARCA Menards Series East season-opener a few weeks ago was four laps away from taking the No. 18 Engine Ice Toyota to Victory Lane.
When the 16-year-old from Johnston, Iowa, rolled into Pensacola’s 5 Flags Speedway on Saturday, he came out swinging and dominated the Pensacola 200 Presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions, scoring the race win while also claiming many of ARCA’s special awards.
Smith laid down a lap of 102.898 mph to earn General Tire Pole Award on Saturday afternoon, a welcome improvement over his ninth-place starting spot at Florida’s New Smyrna in the opener. New Smyrna pole-sitter Taylor Gray started to Smith’s outside and put up a fight early on, grabbing the lead for the first seven laps before Smith regained the spot.
The lead was swapped several times between Gray and Smith, with Daniel Dye also holding the point briefly after the first round of pit stops. Gray was in front of the field for a total of 53 laps and was the Richmond Water Heaters Halfway Leader for the second time in as many East Series races this year.
Gray ceded the point to Smith on Lap 116 and never regained it.
In total, Smith led 145 of the 200 laps and was the Valvoline Lap Leader for the second consecutive race. He already heads the yearlong Valvoline Lap Leader standings with 223 laps led between the first two East Series events. Gray holds second with 96 laps led while Parker Retzlaff sits third with 55 laps led.
Smith was named the Bounty Rookie of the Race thanks to his victory.
He also assumed the lead in the Bounty Rookie of the Year standings with 85 points.
Mexico City’s Max Gutierrez, the New Smyrna winner, is second to Smith with 80 points in the rookie standings. David Gilliland Racing development driver Joey Iest is third with 78 points.
Finishing second to Smith, Mason Diaz recorded his best result in his 11th series start. Making his second appearance with Visconti Motorsports, Diaz worked his way to the runner-up position after qualifying fifth, nabbing the K&N Filters Hard Charger honors in the process.
Fans on Twitter voted for Rajah Caruth as the driver who made the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race on Saturday night.
Caruth, a member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program Class of 2021 and an ARCA Menards Series East rookie for Rev Racing, made a slick save after getting loose at the exit of Turn 4 and held on en route to finishing fourth. Caruth captured 45.3 percent of the fan votes on the ARCA Menards Series’ Twitter account.
It was a welcome turn of events for Caruth, whose series debut at New Smyrna was essentially over before it started when he lost 10 laps making repairs in the pits after being caught in a stack-up at the start of the race.
– ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) February 28, 2021
The ARCA Menards Series East will be on a two-month hiatus prior to its next event at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on Saturday, May 8. The 200-lap affair is scheduled for a 9 p.m. ET green flag with live coverage via TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.