The results from Saturday’s General Tire 150 at Charlotte Motor Speedway do not accurately reflect who had the best chances to beat Ty Gibbs, the race winner who led all 100 laps on the 1.5-mile quad oval in Concord, North Carolina.
The truth is the fifth-place finisher, Nick Sanchez, was the only driver who was able to keep pace with the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with relative consistency. He likely would have finished second if not for a tire issue late in the race.
The driver who did finish second at Charlotte, ARCA Menards Series points leader Corey Heim, felt fortunate to leave the track with such a result after he spent the day fighting his own race car.
Ultimately, the General Tire 150 was further proof that Gibbs is the man to beat in the series this season even though he remains 10 points behind Heim in the championship standings. Gibbs, 18, has won four of the six races the series has contested this season and has led a series-high 490 of the 693 laps he has run.
Some of the movement behind him, though, leads our takeaways from Charlotte.
Nick Sanchez’s speed
Sanchez entered the Charlotte race with supreme confidence, saying after his third-place finish at Toledo Speedway the week prior that he felt great about the car his Rev Racing team would enter in the General Tire 150.
Now we know why.
After qualifying fifth Saturday, Sanchez charged to second place early in the race and remained in that position for the majority of the evening. He even sniffed the lead on a late restart.
With 35 laps to go, Sanchez gave himself the perfect launch and found himself side-by-side with Gibbs coming off Turn 2. Sanchez’s momentum carried him to the lead before Gibbs was able to dive inside and take back the point in Turns 3-4.
Restart with 35 laps to go@Nicksanchez080 takes the lead
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) May 30, 2021
Gibbs had the lead back by the time the field reached the start/finish line, so Sanchez was not credited with a lap led even though he momentarily held the top spot. It would have been the first lap he led in 2021.
Sanchez, though, proved at Charlotte he is capable of competing for a win as a rookie in the ARCA Menards Series driving for Max Siegel’s team as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity development program.
So close….it felt good being able to battle for the lead and run P2 for most of the race.
Between a LR tire going down after the last stop that came apart on the final lap to getting beat by newer tires we weren’t able to contend for the win at the end. pic.twitter.com/v2iF4LSZcV
— Nicholas Sanchez (@Nicksanchez080) May 30, 2021
Sanchez’s fifth-place finish was the result of a left rear tire going down in the final laps of Saturday night’s race.
Through six races, he now has four top-10 and three top-five finishes this season. Ranked fourth in the ARCA Menards Series standings, he is 72 points behind the leader Heim and 25 points behind third-place Thad Moffitt.
If he continues to run as well as he did at Charlotte before the tire issue compromised his finish, those gaps will shrink.
RELATED: Updated ARCA Menards Series Points
Ty Gibbs’ new level of dominance
Prior to Saturday night’s race at Charlotte, Gibbs had led every lap of an ARCA Menards Series race in 2021. He did so at Kansas Speedway on May 1. (He also did it in the ARCA Menards Series East race on May 14 at Dover International Speedway.)
Gibbs also had won in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, as he reached Victory Lane at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course in his series debut back in February.
Until Saturday, he had not done both in the span of a few hours.
In just his sixth NASCAR Xfinity Series start, Gibbs overcame an early spin to win the Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte on Saturday afternoon. At 18, he became the youngest winner at Charlotte in any of NASCAR’s top three national divisions.
After celebrating his Xfinity Series victory, Gibbs strolled over to the ARCA Menards Series garage at Charlotte and climbed into his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for a combined practice/qualifying session.
He proceeded to log the best lap in that session and earn his fifth consecutive General Tire Pole in the series. Later that evening, he was back in Victory Lane celebrating his series-high fourth ARCA Menards Series win of the season after leading every lap of the General Tire 150.
“What a hell of a day right there,” said Gibbs. “I can’t thank everybody enough. I guess we gotta bring out the broom now; that’s two in one day. I’m tired. I might take this (car) back to my house and just take a nap.”
Gibbs now has two wins and five top-five finishes in six Xfinity Series races. He ranks 15th in Xfinity points since he has run only half of the races, but his average finish of 5.2 is the best among drivers who have multiple starts in 2021.
Combine that with the domination Gibbs has maintained in the ARCA Menards Series, and the grandson of NASCAR and Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs is having an unprecedented season in stock car racing.
Happy ending for Venturini Motorsports
For the Venturini Motorsports camp, Saturday’s race at Charlotte began with a mixed bag of emotions.
The frustration on the face of Heim, in particular, was evident after his qualifying run. This is the driver VMS pinned to run for the ARCA Menards Series championship in 2021.
The mood improved when Heim pulled off a second-place finish at Charlotte. Dollar and Chase finished third and fourth, respectively, to give VMS three of the top four positions.
“It’s pretty unbelievable that we finishes second, honestly, for how awful we were in practice,” said Heim.
Heim’s salvaging a second-place run was huge for his championship standing, as he left Charlotte with a 10-point lead over Gibbs. Dollar with his third-place finish at Charlotte ranks fifth in ARCA Menards Series points despite having run only five of the six races.
Not a whole lot to take away from tonight. Struggled really bad for the majority of the race. All around as a team we need to improve, myself included! #TeamToyota
— Corey Heim (@CoreyHeim3) May 30, 2021
Chris Hacker, who finished 15th in his debut on the ARCA Menards platform in the West Series finale last season at Phoenix Raceway, made his ARCA Menards Series debut Saturday at Charlotte. He finished 10th driving the No. 94 Adams Flooring Toyota for Cram Racing Enterprises.
With his team donning the names of fallen soldiers from Western New York on this Memorial Day weekend, rookie Andy Jankowiak finished ninth at Charlotte. He now has a top-10 finish in each of his three ARCA Menards Series starts.
Dave Mader III, who has been racing part-time in the ARCA Menards Series since the 1980s, finished eighth at Charlotte — his fifth career top-10 finish and his second in 2021.
Gibbs’ victory marked Toyota’s second win in the ARCA Menards Series at Charlotte. Brandon Jones also won in a Toyota at Charlotte in 2018.