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ARCA Menards Rewind: What We Learned At Mid-Ohio And Sonoma

Drivers competing on the ARCA Menards platform received their fixes of right turns over the weekend. Which is a good or bad thing depending upon whom you ask.

Both Friday’s ARCA Menards Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, and Saturday’s ARCA Menards Series West race at Sonoma Raceway produced thrilling events and multiple takeaways.

And after the Dawn 150 and the General Tire 200, the championship points lead in both the ARCA Menards Series and the West Series is a single point.

That’s good news for Corey Heim, the AMS points leader who kept his edge over Mid-Ohio winner Ty Gibbs despite a seventh-place finish and an evening to forget on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course.

NASCAR Cup Series regular Chase Briscoe won at Sonoma, meaning the first two West Series races of the season have been won by non-series regulars.

The beneficiary of that development is Todd Souza, now the ARCA Menards Series West points leader after two races in 2021.

Below are the takeaways from the weekend’s road course action at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma.

MID-OHIO: Race Recap | Highlights | Photos
SONOMA: Race Recap | Highlights | Photos

Ty Gibbs
Ty Gibbs pictured before the Dawn 150 for the ARCA Menards Series at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on June 4, 2021. (Emilee Chinn/ARCA Racing)

Heim’s points lead shrinks to one

Gibbs thought for sure he was on his way to taking the ARCA Menards Series championship points lead when Heim was forced to serve two drive-through penalties, first for jumping a restart and then for speeding on pit road, at Mid-Ohio.

The winner of a series-high five races in 2021 said as much during his post-race interview, after he had won and Heim took his worst result of the season in seventh.

Gibbs was wrong, but not by much.

Thanks to the bonus point Heim gained by winning his first career General Tire Pole Award on Friday afternoon at Mid-Ohio, he still has a one-point lead on Gibbs in the championship standings.

Heim is lifted by his average finish of 2.6 in the series this season. He also is the only driver who has completed all 750 possible laps through seven races. He has two victories, at Daytona and Talladega.

Gibbs leading the series with five wins is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the way he has dominated the series in 2021. He has led 525 laps; Heim is second in laps led with 94.

Which is why Gibbs at this point in the season is not bothered that he still can’t call himself the points leader. He noted after Friday’s race that he likes how Heim has to sweat out the fact that his lead is slowly shrinking, and that plenty of races remain before championship weekend in October.

Gibbs also has reason to be confident since the next ARCA Menards Series race on the schedule will take place at Pocono Raceway on June 25. He dominated last year’s race at Pocono, leading 65 of 80 laps.

If Gibbs wins again at Pocono, there will be nothing Heim can do to hold the points lead for another week.

RELATED: Updated ARCA Menards Series Points

Todd Souza’s hot start

Todd Souza
Todd Souza, driver of the No. 13 Central Coast Cabinets Ford, in action during the General Tire 200 for the ARCA Menards Series West at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, on June 5, 2021. (Matt Cohen/ARCA Racing)

In a way, Souza’s fifth-place finish in Saturday’s General Tire 200 at Sonoma was more impressive than his qualifying second earlier in the day.

Souza, the 56-year-old West Series veteran, suffered a disastrous start at Sonoma, as he was penalized for jumping the green flag and forced to serve a pass-through penalty after the first lap.

That didn’t stop Souza from aggressively racing his way through the field. He had the driving talent and a car quick enough to battle back to a fifth-place finish, his 13th top five in 90 West Series starts dating back to 2006.

Because of that run, Souza left Sonoma as the ARCA Menards Series West points leader.

Souza, who finished eighth in the series’ season-opener at Phoenix in March, is the only driver who has a top-10 finish in each of the first two West races. His average finish of 6.5 is best among those who have run both races, and he is the only driver who has completed all 201 possible laps.

If his strong performance at Sonoma is an indication, this is no fluke. The Watsonville, California, native has race-winning speed in 2021, especially with his road course racing acumen.

Souza’s lone West Series win came at the Utah Motorsports Campus in 2008. A second win arriving in 2021 is on the table as a possibility.

Special day for the Pedroncellis

P.J. Pedroncelli could have beat Briscoe and second-place Dylan Lupton to the checkered flag at Sonoma. That’s the only way he could have scripted a more perfect afternoon at his home track.

The race was going to be special for Pedroncelli no matter what, as his father Paul was making his first start on the ARCA Menards platform, meaning the dad and son would be able to compete on the same track.

Neither could have predicted a third-place run for P.J.

Paul and P.J. Pedroncelli are Sonoma natives who run their own race team with the younger Pedroncelli as the driver. P.J. Pedroncelli has run part-time in the West Series since 2008. Until Saturday, he had never finished in the top 10 at a race.

Paul Pedroncelli and Rodd Kneeland, the latter of whom entered Saturday’s race but failed to complete a lap because of a clutch issue, are firefighters at the same post in Sonoma.

Paul Pedroncelli
Paul Pedroncelli, driver of the No. 31 Select Mobile Bottlers Chevrolet, in action during the General Tire 200 for the ARCA Menards Series West at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, on June 5, 2021. (Matt Cohen/ARCA Racing)

The Pedroncellis had always discussed the idea of both father and son running the same ARCA Menards race as long as their second car was in good enough shape to compete. The opportunity came at their home track.

Paul Pedroncelli finished 13th in his debut. He completed all 51 laps in the No. 31 Select Mobile Bottlers Chevrolet.

After the race, he did not seem to care about his own accomplishment. He climbed out of his car and ran over to his son’s No. 33 Pedroncelli Mobile Bottling Chevrolet.

He gave P.J. a massive hug, not caring that the show of love and pride interrupted the live interview his son was giving after finishing the race third.

Notes

  • Austin Hill finished second at Mid-Ohio, his best result and first top-five finish in four ARCA Menards Series races dating back to 2015. He was the only driver who was able to hang with Gibbs in the closing laps Friday before the eventual race winner pulled away.
  • NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Brandon Jones led four laps and finished fourth at Mid-Ohio in his first ARCA Menards Series race since 2018. Jones ran the Dawn 150 in part so he could practice for the Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio the next day. He finished fourth in that race, too.
  • Gibbs finished third in the Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio on Saturday. That gives him six top-five finishes in his first seven Xfinity races, all this season. He also has two wins (Daytona road course, Charlotte) in the series.
  • Bridget Burgess, who technically had never raced in the West Series on a road course even though her home track is the Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, Utah, finished a career-best eighth at Sonoma despite multiple incidents. She ran as high as fifth and proved she can be a factor for top-five finishes in 2021, especially when right turns are involved.