Though Ty Gibbs remains one point behind leader Corey Heim in championship points, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has left no doubt through seven races he is the driver to beat in the ARCA Menards Series this season.
The 18-year-old has won five of those seven races and has led 525 of the 735 laps he has run in 2021. Not including his flag-to-flag triumph in the East Series at Dover International Speedway last month, Gibbs is on a four-race win streak in the ARCA Menards Series.
If he wins again Friday in the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200 at Pocono Raceway, also known as the Tricky Triangle, he will become the first driver to win five consecutive events in the series in more than 20 years.
The last driver to win five straight ARCA Menards Series races was Tim Steele in 1997; he won at Salem Speedway, Winchester Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and the Springfield Mile on his way to that season’s series championship.
Other drivers who have won five consecutive ARCA Menards Series races are Bruce Gould (1973), Jack Bowsher (twice in 1965) and Harold Smith (1961). Like Steele, Bowsher and Smith also went on to win titles in those years.
No driver has won six consecutive ARCA Menards Series races.
The good news for Gibbs as it relates to his chances to win Friday — beyond the speed he has displayed thus far in 2021 — is the fact that he led 65 of 80 laps last year at Pocono and won in his first ARCA Menards start at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
The bad news for Gibbs is recent history is not on his side.
Pocono Raceway has not produced a repeat winner in the ARCA Menards Series since Casey Mears won both events at the track in 2003. The last 27 ARCA Menards Series winners at Pocono, a list that includes current NASCAR Cup Series regulars Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Cole Custer, had not previously reached Victory Lane at the Tricky Triangle when their wins arrived.
Gibbs’ competition Friday is hungry to keep alive the streak of new winners at Pocono.
And one driver in particular is a threat Gibbs has not yet faced in 2021.
Sam Mayer’s return
Not many ARCA Menards drivers have successfully kept Gibbs in their rear-view mirrors in individual events, let alone entire seasons.
Sam Mayer has proven himself capable of both.
The two-time reigning ARCA Menards Series East champion (and last year’s Sioux Chief Showdown winner) won five of the six races the East Series contested in 2020. Gibbs was the only other driver who won a race.
Mayer in the offseason announced he had teamed with 2020 ARCA Menards Series champion Bret Holmes in a deal that would allow both drivers to split time in the latter’s No. 23 Chevrolet throughout the 2021 season.
Mayer originally planned to make his ARCA debut with Bret Holmes Racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course earlier this month, but it was pushed to Pocono. Holmes also tentatively plans to run the ARCA Menards Series races at Watkins Glen International (Aug. 6), Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 20), the Milwaukee Mile (Aug. 28), Bristol Motors Speedway (Sept. 16) and Kansas Speedway (Oct. 23).
Holmes has already started three ARCA Menards Series races this season in the No. 23 Chevy, picking up top-five finishes at both Daytona and Talladega before crashing on the first lap at Kansas.
The team’s speed is evident, as is the talent that allowed Mayer to dominate each of the last two East Series seasons.
That combination produces an entry that is expected to compete for the win Friday at Pocono.
Double duty at Pocono
The Pocono parties for Gibbs and Mayer are only getting started with Friday’s General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200. Both are entered in Sunday’s Pocono Green 225 Recycled by JP Mascaro & Sons (Noon ET, NBCSN) for the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
They are two of five drivers in Friday’s ARCA Menards Series field who will pull double duty at Pocono.
Gibbs will run Sunday’s Xfinity Series race in the No. 54 Toyota, a car in which he already has two wins and six top-five finishes in just seven series starts.
Mayer is wasting no time making his Xfinity Series debut, as Sunday’s race arrives the day after his 18th birthday, making him eligible to compete at Pocono. An alumnus of JR Motorsports’ Late Model program, Mayer will become the second driver from the team’s pipeline to return to the organization for Xfinity competition, joining 2017 series champion and current NASCAR Cup Series (Hendrick Motorsports) driver William Byron.
— JR Motorsports (@JRMotorsports) June 22, 2021
Three drivers in Friday’s ARCA Menards Series race at Pocono will also enter Saturday’s CRC Brakleen 150 (Noon ET, FS1) for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Chandler Smith will run the No. 18 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck race after piloting the No. 25 Safelite Toyota for Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA race.
Kris Wright will race the No. 02 Chevrolet for Young’s Motorsports on Saturday after competing in the No. 30 Master Tech Ford for Rette Jones Racing on Friday.
Jack Wood will represent GMS Racing in both Friday’s ARCA race and Saturday’s Truck Series race.
The NASCAR Cup Series will compete a doubleheader on Saturday and Sunday at Pocono. Race 1 is a 130-lap event starting at 3 p.m. ET, and the series will follow with a 140-lap race the following day starting at 3:30 p.m. ET. Both will broadcast live on NBCSN.
The first Cup Series race is the second leg of a Saturday doubleheader with the Truck Series. The second Cup Series race is the second leg of a Sunday doubleheader with the Xfinity Series.
The ARCA Menards Series gets the spotlight Friday as the only race of the day scheduled at Pocono.
CEO behind the wheel
Nick Igdalsky is the CEO of Pocono Raceway and the director of the Mattioli Foundation, both of which were co-founded by his grandparents. For the 33rd time in his professional career, the 43-year-old will also be known as “ARCA Menards Series driver” when Friday’s race arrives.
Igdalsky will partner with Fast Track Racing to drive the No. 12 Toyota for team owner Andy Hillenburg at Pocono and will feature the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Foundation on the hood in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the PMRPF as well as other surrounding police departments.
Backing his cause this weekend will be Sunset Hill Shooting Range, Barley Creek Brewing Company and Pocono Outdoor Adventure Tours, all of which have donated to the PMRPF.
“I and other board and community members wanted to show our support for the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, which serves and protects the area around the track as well as all of the other departments that serve Monroe and the surrounding counties,” said Igdalsky. “People have the ability to show support for their own local police departments by making donations directly to them or to a foundation like ours for everyday needs that not only keep the officers safe but helps them serve the people in a safer and more efficient manner — everything from K-9 training items, vests, body cams, detective equipment, etc.”
Igdalsky has made nine of his 32 ARCA Menards Series starts at his home track; his best Pocono result was a sixth-place finish in 2014.
- Continuing what he calls the “virtual camper appreciation tour,’ driver Ed Pompa will again feature the names of virtual campers from the Double H Ranch on his car at Pocono. The ranch’s mission is to provide specialized programs and year-round support for children and their families dealing with life-threatening illness. “2020 was a tough year for everyone,” said Pompa. “Double H Ranch, for the first time since they opened in 1993, couldn’t have any children attend camp due to the restrictions. All the children who were scheduled to attend had to resort to a ‘virtual camp,’ instead. … When the 2021 race season rolled around, I decided to do a little something for the campers who didn’t get to experience Double H in 2020. Trimaxx Graphics designed an awesome wrap for Talladega, and we added all 476 names of these ‘virtual campers’ from 2020 to the Double H Ranch logo on the hood of the car. … They will also be with me at Pocono.”
- Friday’s race will mark the 69th time the ARCA Menards Series has visited Pocono. It will be the 68th race on the 2.5-mile triangular superspeedway; the series’ first visit in 1969 was on the now-defunct three-quarter mile oval (won by Bobby Watson).
- Only two tracks have hosted more ARCA Menards Series races than Pocono: Salem Speedway leads with 105 races, and the series’ home track, Toledo Speedway, is second with 81 races.
- Sixteen drivers scored their first ARCA Menards Series wins at Pocono: Kerry Earnhardt, Ryan Newman, Casey Atwood, Scott Riggs, Travis Kvapil, Chase Miller, Craig Goess, Robb Brent, Tim George Jr., Chad Hackenbracht, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Justin Allison, Trevor Bayne, Cole Custer and Riley Herbst.
- Jett Noland and Stephanie Moyer will make their ARCA Menards Series debuts in the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200.