At a track like Talladega Superspeedway, the General Tire 200 was supposed to be unpredictable.
ARCA Menards Series points leader Corey Heim said it himself: Even after he won the 2021 season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday’s race at another superspeedway that produces pack racing was a potential pitfall in his championship push.
Yet the Talladega race played out in a way that was similar to the Daytona race, and Heim reached Victory Lane yet again to extend his championship points lead.
The seeming randomness that is a race at Talladega did bite Heim’s biggest rival in the ARCA Menards Series title chase, as Ty Gibbs was knocked out of contention via a late accident.
The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota simply found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The driver of the No. 20 JBL Toyota, despite a mid-race mistake that cost him track position, consistently found himself at the right place at the right time.
That includes the final lap.
Below are the top takeaways from the General Tire 200 at Talladega.
After Heim and fellow Venturini Motorsports driver Drew Dollar finished 1-2 at Daytona, there was little doubt the same pair would work together at Talladega. This became even more of an inevitability after VMS’ third entry in the race, Gracie Trotter, was taken out of contention by an early incident.
The question was whether the Venturini drivers’ teamwork would be stronger than that of other duos in the race. It indeed was, and Heim believes this factor is why he won the race.
“There were plenty of people working together throughout the field,” said the 18-year-old Heim. “Drew and I were just the best two I think today. If Drew had been in front of me, I think I would have done my job to get him out front.”
Heim and Dollar found themselves side-by-side in third and fourth, respectively, when the green and white flags waved simultaneously for a last-lap sprint to the checkered. Upon the restart, Dollar immediately ditched the top lane and fell in line behind Heim.
Which was the last thing then-race leader Bret Holmes needed to see.
Nick Sanchez with a push from Jack Wood managed to pass Holmes for the lead on the outside entering the backstretch, but by then, the VMS train working the inside had gained too much steam. Heim jumped to Sanchez’s outside at the exit of the backstretch, and Dollar followed.
The final lead change at Talladega was voted the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race.
“I think I was in the prime position there at the end regardless,” Heim recalled. “Drew did a phenomenal job getting me out front.”
Simply put: Neither Sanchez nor Holmes had the kind of assistance Heim received from Dollar.
“To win the superspeedway races, you’ve got to have some help,” stated Heim. “We were just the two best helpers all day.”
RELATED: Updated ARCA Menards Series Points
“This is for all the old people.”
Even after soaking in the last-lap chaos for roughly 30 minutes, the veteran driver still could not explain how he pulled off his best ARCA Menards Series finish since 1991.
“You never know about these places,” said Mader. “All I could do is do my job. Whoever was behind me gave me a great push through (Turns) 3 and 4. I mean, all the way through the corner. And I’m like, ‘Woah.'”
Thad Moffitt and Andy Jankowiak were the drivers who pushed Mader into a favorable position entering the tri-oval on the last lap. Mader suddenly found himself in third, right on Sanchez’s bumper, when another position made itself available.
“Then (Sanchez) moved up the bottom, I guess to throw a block, which opened it up for me,” recalled Mader.
Mader, a native of Maylene, Alabama, who has been racing part-time in the ARCA Menards Series since 1983, was making his fifth series start at Talladega. He has one victory (Michigan in 1991) and four top-five finishes on his 16-race ARCA resume.
An original member of the famed “Alabama Gang” that also featured Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Red Farmer, Mader has run 10 NASCAR Cup Series races, 22 NASCAR Xfinity Series races and a pair of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races dating back to the 1980s.
And Saturday’s run at Talladega was landmark moment for Mader, who returned to ARCA Menards Series competition in 2018 after last racing in the series in 1994.
“It’s beyond words.” – Dave Mader III https://t.co/6vjXrsCTFY
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) April 26, 2021
“It’s beyond words,” said Mader. “Circumstances hadn’t been kind to us, and it was finally kind to us today. It shows that if we weren’t the victim of others in the last several years, we probably could have had another top-three finish along the way.
“This is huge. I’m 65 years old. This is for all the old people. I’m tickled I’m able to do it still. It’s a thrill.”
SPEED SPORT: Mader Leaves Talladega Beaming with Joy
“It’s just superspeedway racing.”
The complexion of Saturday’s race at Talladega changed on Lap 62, when the slightest mistake took out three cars, including that of Gibbs.
After he was shuffled from the front of the pack on a restart, Sanchez was attempting to drive back through the field when he reached Greg Van Alst’s rear bumper. It didn’t take much of a change in aerodynamics for Van Alst’s No. 35 CB Fabricating Chevrolet to lose control and slam into Gibbs’ car.
“Just trying to push the 35; I guess he got a little loose,” said Sanchez of the incident. “A little bad incident on my part. I got him loose and turned him in the tri-oval. I hate it for his day and everyone who got involved.
“It’s just superspeedway racing. Just have to move on from things like that, but I feel bad for them.”
The accident also collected John Ferrier, and all three who were involved in the crash were done for the day.
It was especially troublesome for Gibbs, who entered the race just two points behind Heim in the championship standings and had led 13 laps Saturday before the incident.
“We just got wrecked there,” stated Gibbs. “Not much you can do. A lot of people are trying to get some experience, and somebody made a mistake. But we’ll move on. These are the days that make me better, learning how to handle this stuff.”
Gibbs finished 27th at Talladega and fell from second in championship points to fourth. He is now 31 points behind the leader Heim in the standings.
Sanchez finished an ARCA Menards Series career-best third and moved to eighth in the standings.
- Jankowiak, an ARCA Menards Series rookie, now has top-10 finishes in both of the races he has started. He placed seventh Saturday at Talladega to follow his eighth-place run at Daytona in February.
- ARCA Menards Series veteran Eric Caudell finished ninth at Talladega, just missing a career-best by one position (eighth last season at Winchester Speedway). Caudell ran as high as fifth in the early going and was a factor all afternoon.
- Scott Melton, who has raced in the ARCA Menards Series part-time over the last three-plus years, picked up his sixth top-10 finish when he placed 10th at Talladega.
- Heim has now won three of the last four ARCA Menards Series races dating back to last season’s finale at Kansas Speedway, which marked his first victory. The next race on the schedule? Saturday’s Dutch Boy 150 at Kansas (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN).
- With three wins, Heim moved to a tie for 95th on the series’ all-time list. Other notables with three series wins include Bucky Sager, the series’ first winner at Dayton Speedway on May 10, 1953, former Indianapolis 500 winner Troy Ruttman, NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Red Farmer, Joe Ruttman, 1995 series champion Andy Hillenburg, 2014 series champion Mason Mitchell, and current NASCAR stars Christopher Bell, Justin Haley and Harrison Burton.
- Heim is the only driver to finish among the top five in all three ARCA Menards Series races so far in 2021.
- Heim, Dollar and Kyle Sieg are the only drivers with top-10 finishes in all three races so far in 2021. They also are the only drivers who have completed all 308 possible laps this season.
- Six drivers led laps at Talladega, matching the season high set at Daytona. Dollar and Holmes each led a race-high 28 laps. Michael Harper also led one lap in his series debut.
- Saturday’s race at Talladega featured 13 lead changes, the most in an ARCA Menards Series event since there were 16 lead changes at Iowa Speedway in July of 2018.