The two most dominant drivers on the ARCA Menards platform this year have been Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Ty Gibbs and Sammy Smith, with the former doing most of his damage in the ARCA Menards Series and the latter carving up the ARCA Menards Series East.
But how each driver has managed to reach Victory Lane time after time is different.
Gibbs has rewritten history with multiple flag-to-flag wins, rarely being challenged over the course of the race. Smith has had to work for his results by overcoming penalties, on-track incidents and seemingly stronger competitors each week. And on Saturday in the Southern National 200 presented by Solid Rock Carriers at Southern National Motorsports Park, Mason Diaz played the role of the strong competitor whose night was spoiled by Smith.
Running at the track operated by his father, Diaz earned his first career General Tire Pole Award with a qualifying lap of 15.558 seconds/92.557 mph, establishing the track record mark for Southern National in its maiden East Series event.
Diaz got off to a quick start and showed the field his experience on the 0.4-mile paved oval gave him an edge; he led 130 of the first 132 laps. Diaz added his name to the list of Richmond Water Heaters Halfway Leaders, the fourth different driver to have done so this year.
Diaz easily clinched the Valvoline Lap Leader race award in the process, but the only other driver to lead laps on the night was ready to pounce.
Smith applied heavy pressure to Diaz on the restart following the second race break. He took the position on Lap 133 and never looked back, adding 70 laps to his season-leading total of 396 laps led in the series. Smith’s rapid tear lasted all the to the checkered flag, eventually lapping everyone else but runner-up Joey Iest.
To add to the impressive anecdotes regarding his path to victory, Smith did it all with a car that was not near the top of the leaderboard in single-lap speed, having placed only sixth in General Tire Pole Qualifying. Gaining five spots between his qualifying and race positions, Smith earned K&N Filters Hard Charger honors for the second time this season.
Smith also added to his lead in the Bounty Rookie of the Year standings by becoming the Bounty Rookie of the Race yet again. Smith leads the rookie standings with 211 points. He has 16 more points than Iest, who is locked in a tight battle for second with only 13 points separating himself, Max Gutierrez, Daniel Dye and Rajah Caruth.
Dye on Saturday made first start for GMS Racing after starting the first four races of the season with the Ben Kennedy Racing outfit. Dye found himself in a dogfight late in the race battling for sixth place, swapping paint with Diaz. Dye came out on top of that dustup, worsening the slide for Diaz, and his stand was voted by fans as the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race.
The ARCA Menards Series East has concluded the standalone portion of its season and will round out 2021 with a trio of races held in conjunction with the ARCA Menards Series. The next event for the series will be at Iowa Speedway on Saturday, July 24, with the green flag scheduled for 8 p.m. CT / 9 p.m. ET.
The Iowa race will broadcast live on MAVTV Motorsports Network with live streaming available on NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass.