Ty Gibbs
Ty Gibbs looks on before the Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire for the ARCA Menards Series at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 13, 2021. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

NOTEBOOK: Phoenix Applies Heat To Early ARCA Menards Series Title Race

Ty Gibbs quickly made up for what he felt was a disappointing fourth-place finish in the ARCA Menards Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 13. The 18-year-old won at the Daytona Road Course in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut just one week later.

But Gibbs has waited almost a full month for a reprisal specific to the ARCA Menards Series, an opportunity that arrives Friday with the General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET, MAVTV, TrackPass).

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Gibbs and defending series champion Bret Holmes, who is not in the field for the second race of the 2021 ARCA Menards Series season, left Daytona frustrated by the way Venturini Motorsports teammates Corey Heim and Drew Dollar were able to work together on the final lap to coast to a 1-2 finish.

That kind of teamwork specific to superspeedway racing won’t be a factor Friday at the one-mile paved tri-oval in Avondale, Arizona.

Gibbs and Heim are among the drivers planning to run the complete, 20-race ARCA Menards Series schedule in 2021 and compete for the championship. Heim’s win at Daytona, coupled with Gibbs’ fourth-place finish, left the latter eight points behind the leader in the standings.

And both drivers have reason to arrive at Phoenix with optimism.

Corey Heim
Corey Heim, driver of the No. 20 JBL Toyota, celebrates winning the Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire for the ARCA Menards Series at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Feb. 13, 2021. (Adam Glanzman/ARCA Racing)

Including last season’s finale at Kansas Speedway, Heim is on a two-race win streak. He also knows his VMS team produced the winner (Chandler Smith) last spring in the ARCA Menards Series’ first ever race at Phoenix.

Including the 2019 Arizona Lottery 100 for what was then the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Heim is making his third Phoenix start at this level. He finished eighth in last fall’s ARCA Menards Series West finale at Phoenix.

That event in 2019 was the only NASCAR race the then 16-year-old Heim ran that year. He finished third, but because he was running a non-NASCAR approved engine as part of a testing process ahead of the impending NASCAR/ARCA merger, he was credited with a 25th-place (last) finish.

The winner of that race was Gibbs, who at just 16 was making his only West Series start of the season. He held off Sam Mayer, Derek Kraus and Hailie Deegan for the win on a three-lap dash to the checkers.

Gibbs also qualified on the General Tire Pole for last year’s ARCA Menards Series race at Phoenix before finishing third. And Friday’s ARCA Menards race at the track will help him prepare for his second Xfinity Series start the following day.

Gibbs is not the only driver looking to use the Phoenix race as a way to climb back into the title mix. Jack Wood hopes to improve upon his ninth-place run at Daytona. The same goes for Thad Moffitt and Nick Sanchez — who finished 21st and 31st at Daytona, respectively — after incidents in the season-opener.

Though he will not run the full ARCA Menards Series season in the No. 15 Sunbelt Rentals Toyota for VMS, Dollar is in the field at Phoenix. So is his teammate Gracie Trotter, who finished 23rd at Daytona driving the No. 25 Mobil 1 Toyota for VMS and will also spend time in the No. 15 for the team this season.

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Welcome, West Series

For the first time at Phoenix Raceway and for the only time this season, the ARCA Menards Series and the ARCA Menards Series West will run a combination race. The General Tire 150 will award points and stats for both series.

Which is a unique challenge for West Series regulars in their 2021 season-opener. But the West talent is strong enough for ARCA Menards Series regulars to be in for a challenge, as well.

Jesse Love, driver of the No. 19 NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota, poses for a photo with the ARCA Menards Series West championship trophy at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona, on Nov. 7, 2020 (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Jesse Love poses for a photo with the ARCA Menards Series West championship trophy at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7, 2020 (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Defending ARCA Menards Series West champion Jesse Love is back with Bill McAnally Racing for another full-time run in the series, this time driving the team’s famed No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota. Joining him for the full season at BMR is Cole Moore, who is back in the series after making eight starts from 2015-2017.

For Phoenix, BMR’s lineup also includes 2019 West Series champion Derek Kraus. The 19-year-old is in his second season driving for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He previously raced for three seasons with BMR in the West Series, resulting in 10 wins, eight poles and the 2019 title.

The familiar No. 6 and No. 9 Sunrise Ford Racing cars owned by Bob Bruncati are back for the 2021 ARCA Menards Series West season, as well. Two-time race winner Trevor Huddleston is back in the No. 6, and series newcomer Jake Drew is taking over in the No. 9.

Also associated with Bruncati’s team is Dean Thompson, another series newcomer who hopes to compete for the series title driving the No. 51 Thompson Pipe-High Point Racing Ford.

Other drivers who have announced intentions to run full 2021 West Series slates starting at Phoenix include Takuma Koga, Tony Toste and Bridget Burgess, with more series regulars like Todd Souza and Brad Smith also entered in Friday’s race.

RELATED: General Tire 150 Entry List

Welcome to ARCA Menards racing

The aforementioned Drew and Thompson are two of four drivers making their ARCA Menards debuts at Phoenix. The same goes for Mark Lowrey and Bryce Haugeberg.

Drew, a kart racing ace from Fullerton, California, will race at Phoenix on his 21st birthday. Thompson, an Anaheim, California, native, enters the series as an accomplished late model racer.

Lowrey arrives at Phoenix in the West Series with a strong dirt racing background. In 2020, he became the first African-American driver to win a feature race at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Haugeberg makes his West Series debut as an accomplished sprint car racer from North Dakota.

And more:

  • Current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular and four-time ARCA Menards Series race winner Zane Smith will race at Phoenix in the No. 17W Pit Boss Grills-MMI Services Chevrolet for Steve McGowen with Bruce Cook as his crew chief. Smith finished fifth in the ARCA Menards Series race at Phoenix last season, his only series start of the year, with the same team.
  • Taylor Gray, who is second in ARCA Menards Series East points through two races, will race at Phoenix in the No. 17 Ripper Coffee Company Ford for David Gilliland Racing. David Gilliland himself, of course, won the West Series finale at Phoenix last season.
  • Toni Breidinger will make her second ARCA Menards Series start of the season driving the No. 02 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet.
  • The General Tire 150 will be shown live on MAVTV Motorsports Network, the first time the network has televised a race from Phoenix Raceway. It will be the MAVTV’s first ARCA Menards Series broadcast of 2021.
  • The first ARCA/West combination race was held at Texas World Speedway in September of 1992. ARCA regulars Mickey Gibbs, Roy Payne and Loy Allen swept the top three finishing positions, while the top West finisher was John Krebs in fourth.
  • The West Series has a long history at Phoenix Raceway dating back to 1977, when Cale Yarborough won in a Dodge. Other series winners at Phoenix include Richard Petty, Neil Bonnett, Bobby Allison, Ron Eaton, Bill Schmitt, Rich Woodland Jr., Mike Wallace, Kevin Richards, Ken Schrader, Austin Cameron, Scott Lynch, David Gilliland, Burney Lamar, Andrew Myers, Joey Logano, Mike David, Jason Bowles, Eric Holmes, Greg Pursley, Ryan Blaney, David Mayhew, Michael Self, Gray Gaulding, Cole Custer, Nick Drake, Todd Gilliland and Ty Gibbs.
  • The NASCAR Cup Series races at Phoenix from 1988 through 1996 were combination races with the West Series.