With 10 races down and 10 to go in the 2021 ARCA Menards Series season, the second half of the schedule begins Saturday night with the Shore Lunch 150 at Iowa Speedway (8 p.m. CT / 9 p.m. ET on MAVTV and TrackPass).
The Shore Lunch 150 arrives with a bit of a wrinkle in the story of the season; for the first time in 2021, neither Heim nor Gibbs is coming off a victory. Daniel Dye won his first ARCA Menards Series event in just his second start last week at Berlin Raceway to break up the monotony of Heim and Gibbs winning every race of the season to that point.
Gibbs and Heim finished second and third, respectively, at Berlin. Which leaves Heim with a five-point lead over Gibbs in the standings entering the second half of the season. With third-place Thad Moffitt 74 points behind Heim, there is little-to-no doubt the title is down to the top pair of drivers.
Beyond their racking up wins — the 17-year-old Gibbs leads the series with five, and the 18-year-old Heim has four — the paths the points leaders took to reach this point were different. Gibbs in the first half of the season leaned on dominance, leading a series-high 796 laps. To put that in perspective, Dye is second in laps led in the series this year thanks to the 198 circuits he led last week.
Heim in the first half of the season relied on his consistency. In 10 races, he never finished outside the top 10, with a seventh-place run at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, thanks to a pair of pit-road penalties being his worst result. He has nine top fives and an average finish of 2.3, easily the best among series regulars.
So Saturday night’s race at Iowa will make for an interesting start to the second half of the season given each driver’s short history at the track.
Many will consider Gibbs the favorite to win in part because he led 140 of 150 laps in last year’s Iowa race on his way to Victory Lane. He also finished fifth in his Iowa debut in the ARCA Menards Series in 2019. Heim, on the other hand, has just one AMS start at Iowa on his resume; he finished sixth in that 2019 race.
Yet history is on Heim’s side. The ARCA Menards Series has raced at Iowa 14 times dating back to 2006 and produced 14 different winners. Gibbs would be the first two-time winner at the track in the series, let alone a back-to-back winner.
Iowa Speedway is unique, believed to be the only 0.875-mile oval in America. With that length and with progressive (12, 13, 14 degrees) banking in the corners, the oval drives more like a speedway than a short track.
We will see whether Gibbs’ experience on “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet” can make Heim sweat even more in the seasonlong title chase.
Sammy Smith’s homecoming (and AMS debut)
For the first time in an ARCA Menards Series race this season, Gibbs will have a Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in the field.
ARCA Menards Series East points leader Sammy Smith technically will make his ARCA Menards Series debut Saturday night since the Shore Lunch 150 is the first of three AMS / East Series combination races on the 2021 schedule. And the 17-year-old from nearby Johntson, Iowa, will do so at his home track.
“I grew up about 40 minutes away,” said Smith. “It’s going to be a lot of friends and family there that don’t normally get to watch me race, so that will be super cool.”
— Sammy Smith (@sammysmithSS) July 22, 2021
Smith used the first five events of the eight-race East Series schedule to build a comfortable, 30-point lead in the championship standings over second-place Mason Diaz. Like Ty Gibbs in the ARCA Menards Series, Smith has dominated the East Series in the laps led count with 396.
He is the only driver with multiple wins (three) in the series this season.
Gibbs and Smith did race together on the ARCA Menards platform earlier this season, when the former entered in the East Series race at Dover International Speedway in May. Gibbs led every lap of that race. Smith finished fourth.
Make it a combo
The standalone portion of the 2021 ARCA Menards Series East schedule is over. Beginning Saturday night at Iowa, the last three races of the East Series season will be combination events with the ARCA Menards Series.
Which is why, in addition to Smith, names like Dye, Diaz, Joey Iest, Max Gutiérrez and Rajah Caruth can be found on the Iowa entry list. The East Series regulars will see additional competition for the remainder of the year.
Beyond the Iowa race, the East Series will close its season with the Sprecher 150 at the Milwaukee Mile on Aug. 29 and the Bush’s Beans 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 16.
All three races remaining on the East Series schedule are not just combination events with the ARCA Menards Series. They also are Sioux Chief Showdown events.
The Iowa race represents Round 5 of the Showdown, a 10-race series within the series that is designed to allow ARCA Menards Series East and West drivers a chance to compete for a title against ARCA Menards Series drivers. The Milwaukee race will be Round 8, and the Bristol race will be Round 9.
Gibbs leads the Showdown standings through four races by five points over Heim.
Rev Racing’s duo
The two drivers competing on the ARCA Menards platform for Rev Racing as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program, Nick Sanchez in the ARCA Menards Series and Caruth in the ARCA Menards Series East, will race together for the first time Saturday night at Iowa.
Sanchez, the 20-year-old from Miami, Florida, sits fourth in ARCA Menards Series points through 10 races. He has five top fives and eight top-10 finishes.
Caruth, the 19-year-old from Washington, D.C., is seventh in East Series points through five races. He is one of several drivers jostling for position in the standings behind Smith.
Proud to have the Cuban flag on my car this weekend in show of my support of freedom🇨🇺.
— Nicholas Sanchez (@Nicksanchez080) July 21, 2021
— Rajah Caruth (@rajahcaruth_) July 22, 2021
Neither Sanchez nor Caruth has ARCA Menards experience at Iowa.
“I’ve known Rajah for two and a half years, and I’ve never raced with him,” Sanchez told the Great Lakes Post’s Casey Campbell. “We’re both going into the unknown with never being here.”
Added Caruth: “It’s going to be cool, going to bigger places and going faster. It’s continuing along with the progression we’ve had so far. I’m really excited; I’ve been counting down the days until then.”
Pre (and post) race spectacle
Fans at Iowa Speedway on Saturday will see several faces that are familiar and famous in the racing world.
Rusty Wallace, the NASCAR Hall of Famer and 1989 Cup Series champion who designed Iowa Speedway in the mid-2000s, will participate in an autograph session alongside his son Steve, who won the first ARCA Menards Series race at Iowa in 2006, in the concourse between qualifying and the race.
Rusty will serve as the Grand Marshall for the race, and Steve will drive the pace car leading the field to the green flag.
Additionally, NASCAR and Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs will be in attendance at Iowa, and not just to watch his grandson Ty race in the Shore Lunch 150. The team owner will offer the invocation before the start of the race.
Three ARCA Menards Series champions, all with Iowa ties, will also participate in the pre-race autograph session. Three-time champ Ron Hutcherson (1972-74), from Keokuk, Iowa, will be joined by West Des Moines native and 2014 champ Mason Mitchell. The drivers will be joined by nine-time ARCA Menards Series car owner champion and Iowa Speedway founding partner Larry Clement.
On display during the autograph session in the concourse will be Clement’s first ARCA race car, which has a notable history.
Other special guests at Iowa will include Jim France, Mike Helton, John Menard, J.R. Menard, Jim Johnson and Joe Ismert.
Other fan activities in the concourse will include the Sioux Chief sim racing gaming trailer, the Van Wall John Deere display and a cornhole tournament. There will also be live music behind the grandstands.
Naturally, the night will be punctuated with a fireworks display.
Back to crew chief duties this weekend at Iowa with Conner Jones at the wheel! 🏁 pic.twitter.com/W1iotewpnA
— Amber Slagle (@AmberSlagle) July 21, 2021
- Amber Slagle, a crew chief and mechanic for Cook-Finley Racing who made her ARCA Menards racing debut in the West Series event at California’s Irwindale Speedway earlier this month (finished 14th) is back atop the pit box at Iowa. She will serve as the crew chief for Conner Jones’ No. 42 Jones Utilities Chevrolet entry.
- Drew Dollar, who is splitting time racing in the ARCA Menards Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, will make his eighth ARCA start of the year at Iowa driving for Venturini Motorsports. He has five top-five finishes in seven ARCA Menards Series races this season and ranks sixth in points.
- Defending ARCA Menards Series champion Bret Holmes, who like Dollar is running a handful of Truck Series races in 2021, will make his fourth AMS start of the season at Iowa. He notched top-five finishes at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway before a crash on the first lap led to his 19th-place finish at Kansas Speedway.