In hindsight, Daniel Dye logging the second fastest lap in practice Saturday at Berlin Raceway before qualifying on the General Tire Pole should have been a sign of what was to come in the Zinsser SmartCoat 200.
Yet few could have predicted a result different than what the first nine races of the 2021 ARCA Menards Series season produced.
For the first time all year, on Saturday night at Berlin, a driver not named Ty Gibbs or Corey Heim reached Victory Lane in the series.
Dye’s triumph on the 7/16-mile paved oval in Marne, Michigan, not only breaks up the monotony of the list of winners this season. The 17-year-old from DeLand, Florida, verified what was assumed but previously unproven: Gibbs and Heim can be beat.
Daniel Dye’s arrival
The results of Saturday night’s Zinsser SmartCoat 200 at Berlin do not accurately reflect what the driver of the No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet did to the rest of the field.
For example, Dye’s margin of victory was just 0.098 seconds over Gibbs. That number was the result of a late, desperate charge on Gibbs’ part in the closing laps.
In actuality, Dye all but cruised to the win after building a lead of almost two seconds over Gibbs during the final green-flag run.
This is not to say Dye had it easy at Berlin, a track on which he and most others in the field had not competed prior to Saturday night. Dye held off Gibbs on multiple restarts. Two of his moves — one when he nearly missed a spinning Morgan Alexander on Lap 50 and another when he maintained control of his car after contact with Gibbs on Lap 81 — were Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race nominees, with the latter voted the winner.
Still, Dye effectively led all 200 laps at Berlin in just his second ARCA Menards Series start. Gibbs was credited with two laps led for crossing the start/finish line in front of Dye while the two were battling side-by-side for the lead.
What happened Saturday night was the vision of Dye and GMS Racing when the driver signed with the team last month. The deal would put Dye in the No. 21 for eight ARCA Menards races and add him to the Chevrolet Drivers Edge Development program.
“The GMS Racing team brings such good cars to the track,” said Dye after winning at Berlin. “From our very first run in practice until right now, we hardly changed anything. I am just so thankful and so blessed to have the opportunity to drive these Chevys for GMS, all the companies that support me, and the people who believe in me.”
GMS Racing had good reason to believe. Dye before he was signed had been driving ARCA and Late Model entries for Ben Kennedy Racing since his ascension from Quarter Midgets. He had logged top-10 finishes in all four of the East Series races he started for BKR in 2021 prior to joining GMS.
Then Dye finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut on July 10 at Elko Speedway after spending most of the event in or around the top five. This is why he was pinned as one of the drivers who had Gibbs and Heim on upset alert going into the Berlin race.
Dye winning at Berlin in dominating fashion despite Gibbs’ best efforts to stop him is obviously a great sign for the No. 21 team’s prospects as the second half of the season plays out. It’s also a great sign for the other drivers who have shown race-winning speed in 2021 but have not been able to finish ahead of Gibbs or Heim.
The likes of Taylor Gray, Jesse Love, Nick Sanchez, Thad Moffitt and Gracie Trotter, among others, can now look to Dye’s performance at Berlin and use it as a motivating factor in their efforts to win in 2021.
Dye, meanwhile, can move forward knowing the first win typically is the toughest to obtain.
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The challenge of Berlin
Dye might have been the only driver who left Berlin Raceway having thoroughly enjoyed racing on the 7/16-mile oval.
Berlin is known as one of the toughest short tracks in the midwest, if not the entire country. The track’s small straightaways are a bit rounded, so what is categorized as an oval races more like a circle, leaving drivers feeling like they are constantly turning left while gently working the throttle and brakes.
Oh, and the backstretch wall does not exist. So drivers coming off Turn 2 have no reference points as they prepare for the next corner.
Combine that difficulty with the fact that only three drivers in Saturday’s field (Brad Smith, Mike Basham and Mason Mingus) had ARCA Menards experience at Berlin prior to Saturday night. It was a formula for frustration from all but one driver.
“It took me 99 percent of the time to figure the race track out,” said Heim, who finished third and kept his championship points lead by five over Gibbs.
Added fourth-place finisher Taylor Gray: “This place is definitely unique. That’s an understatement. Me and Berlin did not get along very well.”
And fifth-place finisher Jesse Love when asked whether he will remember Berlin as fun: “No. I mean, I liked this place before I came here (for the weekend), and now I’m back to where I don’t like Berlin.
“I do like the fans, and the race track is a good race track, but it’s hard for us to like a place we didn’t run the best at.”
Looking back on a perfect night of racing at @BerlinRaceway
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) July 19, 2021
- Saturday night’s race at Berlin served as Round 4 of the 2021 Sioux Chief Showdown, a 10-race series within the series that brings together the best of the ARCA Menards Series, the East Series and the West Series. Gibbs after the Berlin race has a five-point edge over Heim to lead the Showdown standings.
- With a ninth-place run at Berlin, Owen Smith picked up his first top-10 finish in his 16th ARCA Menards Series race. The 21-year-old from Louisa, Virginia, did so driving for Andy Hillenburg.
- An accomplished dirt racer, Morgan Alexander finished 10th in his ARCA Menards Series debut Saturday at Berlin. He recovered well from a solo spin early in the race.
- Before Saturday, Dye had led two laps over the course of his eight-race ARCA Menards career; he spent a couple laps in P1 in the East Series race at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, in February. He led 198 laps in his ninth race.
- Those 198 laps led at Berlin move Dye to second in ARCA Menards Series laps led in 2021. Gibbs leads with 796. Dye jumped Heim, who has led 125 laps this season.
- Dye’s General Tire Pole Award at Berlin broke a streak of eight consecutive ARCA Menards Series races that began with either Gibbs or Heim on the pole. Drew Dollar (season-opener at Daytona) is the only other driver who has started a race on the pole in the series this season.