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Sammy Smith
Sammy Smith, driver of the No. 18 Engine Ice Toyota, awaits the start of the Pensacola 200 Presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions for the ARCA Menards Series East at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, on Feb. 27, 2021. (Morgan Givens/ARCA Racing)

NOTEBOOK: Southern National race gives Sammy Smith chance to extend Joe Gibbs Racing’s streak

Saturday’s Southern National 200 presented by Solid Rock Carriers at Southern National Motorsports Park is sure to be a show. The half-mile paved oval in Lucama, North Carolina, has all the ingredients needed for an exciting ARCA Menards Series East race.

The question is whether the event will become yet another Joe Gibbs Racing show.

SOUTHERN NATIONAL: Previewing last standalone East race of 2021

ARCA Menards racing in 2021 has been defined by the Huntersville, North Carolina-based team’s dominance on multiple platforms. Driving for JGR, Joe Gibbs’ grandson Ty Gibbs has won five of the seven races the ARCA Menards Series has contested this season, with Corey Heim being the only other driver who has reached Victory Lane (Daytona, Talladega) in the series.

Gibbs also led every lap in his lone ARCA Menards Series East start of the season, a dominating victory at Dover International Speedway last month.

Sammy Smith
Sammy Smith, driver of the No. 18 Engine Ice Toyota, places a winner’s sticker on his car after winning the Pensacola 200 Presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions for the ARCA Menards Series East at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, on Feb. 27, 2021. (Morgan Givens/ARCA Racing)

Coupled with fellow JGR driver Sammy Smith’s pair of wins at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, and Tennessee’s Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Gibbs’ triumph at Dover means a JGR driver has emerged victorious in three of the four races the East Series has run this season. And the team likely would be four-for-four if not for Max Gutiérrez’s dramatic, final-corner pass to steal the win at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway in the season-opener.

Dating back to May 1, and not including last weekend’s West Series race that did not feature a JGR car in the field, a JGR driver has won each of the last six races across the ARCA Menards platform.

Overall, a JGR car has won eight of the 12 ARCA Menards races contested thus far in 2021.

Gibbs is riding a four-race winning streak in the ARCA Menards Series. His personal ARCA streak extends to five if you include his win at Dover in the East Series.

Smith, who turned 17 last week, won back-to-back East races before Gibbs’ win at Dover, preserving a three-race winning streak for JGR in the series.

Should Smith win again Saturday at Southern National (Gibbs is not in the field), JGR’s streak will extend to four consecutive victories in the East Series. Overall, the team will have won each of the last seven ARCA Menards races it has entered.

Saturday’s race is the East Series’ final standalone event of 2021; the last three races of the season (Iowa Speedway on July 24, the Milwaukee Mile on Aug. 29, Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 16) will be combination events with the ARCA Menards Series.

Based on the way Gibbs dominated at Dover, that’s a positive sign for JGR as it looks to extend its winning streaks, particularly in the East Series, through the end of the season.

MORE SOUTHERN NATIONAL:

Daniel Dye’s new ride

Daniel Dye, the 17-year-old from DeLand, Florida, ranks fifth in ARCA Menards Series East championship standings on the strength of four top-10 finishes driving for Ben Kennedy Racing.

Just 11 points out of second place, Dye will look to climb the standings through the second half of the season behind the wheel of a new ride on a different team.

Dye recently joined GMS Racing for the rest of the East Series season, plus select ARCA Menards Series races. With Race to Stop Suicide sticking as his sponsor, Dye will drive the team’s No. 21 Chevrolet that Sam Mayer wheeled to consecutive East Series championships in 2019 and 2020.

“I’m feeling good about going to a new race track with a new team,” said Dye, who will be paired with crew chief Chad Bryant at GMS Racing. “It will be an adjustment learning a new team and how to communicate what we need in the car, but I’m ready for the challenge.

“Chad has a good bit of experience, and I’m looking forward to using that to our advantage this weekend.”

Dye and the No. 21 team will compete with GMS Racing chassis No. 407 at Southern National, a chassis with which the team earned a pair of second-place finishes (Iowa, Memphis) last season.

After Saturday’s race, Dye will drive for GMS Racing at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway, Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan, Iowa Speedway, Indiana’s Winchester Speedway, the Milwaukee Mile, Bristol Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. The events at Iowa, Milwaukee and Bristol are East Series/ARCA Menards Series combination events.

Dye has driven ARCA and Late Model entries for Ben Kennedy Racing since his ascension from Quarter Midgets and will continue pilot the No. 43 for BKR in late model events throughout the southeast, including the Governor’s Cup, Snowball Derby and more.

In addition, Dye will join the Chevrolet Drivers Edge Development program, which features industry-leading physical and mental training, engineering and technical support, simulation time, enhanced social media exposure and more.

Boo Boo’s ARCA debut

Boo Boo Dalton
Ross “Boo Boo” Dalton (Empire Racing)

Ross “Boo Boo” Dalton has been dominating Late Model races at North Carolina tracks since 2009, racking up seven track championships and 120 wins in local divisions.

Saturday’s race at Southern National marks his first chance to run an ARCA Menards car at one of those venues.

Dalton, a Liberty, North Carolina, native, will drive the No. 8 Ford for Empire Racing at Southern National, where he finished second in the 2018 track championship standings.

“I have never ran anything other than a late model type car, and to have this opportunity in an ARCA car is unbelievable,” said Dalton. “And for it to be at a track I have had a little success at makes me feel a little more comfortable stepping out of my comfort zone.”

Added Empire Racing competition director Mike Cheek: “I am excited for Boo Boo to drive for us. This was a local effort that several local partnerships helped put together. It’s a big deal to give a local standout talent a shot in this caliber of race in the ARCA series.

“He has an impressive driving resume and deserves this opportunity.”

Davey Callihan’s ARCA debut

Mullins Racing announced last month that Davey Callihan, a 31-year-old from Fredericksburg, Virginia, would run the No. 3 CW Metals-Bugsy’s Repair Ford at Southern National. That time has come.

Callihan is a third-generation driver who started his racing career in go-karts and motorcycles before transitioning to stock cars. With support from former NASCAR Cup Series team owner Ron Devine, Callihan was a standout late model stock car competitor at Virginia’s Old Dominion Speedway prior to that track’s closure.

Callihan is now a regular at Dominion Raceway in Woodford, Virginia, where last year he focused most of his efforts on the Virginia Racer class, earning two victories en route to a third-place championship finish. Callihan in 2021 has moved back into the late model stock car class.

“It means a lot to me that (team owner) Willie (Mullins) believes in me enough to give up his seat and let me drive his car at Southern National,” said Callihan. “I never thought I would start an ARCA race or anything of that caliber. That’s a dream come true to be able to be in a top notch series like that with a team like Mullins Racing. It’s really cool and humbling for me.”

Added Mullins, who typically drives his own car: “I feel we’re going trophy hunting; we’re going to Southern National to go for a trophy. I can go there and run top-10 or top-five, but I want to go there for a win.

“I want to know when we unload we’re going there to compete for the win, and that’s why we’re putting (Callihan) in the car.”

And more:

  • Mason Diaz, who sits second in East Series points with three top fives in four races, will compete at his home track Saturday. His father Michael is the track operator at Southern National.
  • Mason Mingus, who qualified on the pole before finishing third in the East race at Nashville last month, is back in Andy Hillenburg’s No. 11 Team Construction Ford for the Southern National race. Mingus, who has experience in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Menards Series, led 56 laps in his first East Series race.
  • Owen Smith and Stephanie Moyer, the latter of whom has a top-10 finish in each of her first two East Series starts (5 Flags and Nashville this season), also are entered in Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing cars at Southern National.
  • The Southern National 200 presented by Solid Rock Carriers will be race No. 576 in ARCA Menards Series East history dating back to 1987. Southern National will become the 62nd different track to host at least one East Series race.
  • Smith has led 326 laps in the series this season — 78 at New Smyrna, 145 at 5 Flags and 103 at Nashville. The only race in which he did not lead a circuit was at Dover, where Gibbs led all 125 laps.
  • Smith and Joey Iest are the only two drivers who have completed all 712 possible laps in the series thus far in 2021. Gutiérrez has completed 711 of 712.
  • Smith, Gutiérrez, Iest and Dye are the only drivers who have top-10 finishes in all four East Series races so far in 2021. Smith is the only one to finish in the top five in all four starts.