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ARCA Menards rewind: What we learned at Iowa

Saturday night’s Shore Lunch 150 at Iowa Speedway ushered in the second half of the 2021 ARCA Menards Series season.

And the driver who dominated many of the first 10 races on the schedule left no doubt at the 0.875-mile paved oval in Newton, Iowa, he will be the one to beat over the last nine.

Ty Gibbs led all but one of 150 laps Saturday to pick up his sixth win of the ARCA Menards Series season. Finally, for the first time in 2021, he left the track as the leader in championship points.

The 18-year-old’s dominant performance at Iowa — and the impact it has on the bigger picture — leads the takeaways from the Shore Lunch 150.

IOWA: Race Recap | Highlights | Photos

Ty Gibbs

Ty to the top

Gibbs spent the first half of the season trying but failing to jump Corey Heim for the lead in the standings after the latter won the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Now Heim has to hope he does not spend the second half of the season trying but failing to jump Gibbs.

Ty Gibbs
Ty Gibbs, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, awaits the start of the Shore Lunch 150 for the ARCA Menards Series at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, on July 24, 2021. (Matthew Putney/ARCA Racing)

Heim to this point has been able to rely on his consistency; his average finish of 2.5 is the best among series regulars. But he could only hold off Gibbs in the standings for so long.

The 149 laps Gibbs led at Iowa give him 945 laps led on the season, nearly five times more than second-place Daniel Dye’s 198 laps led. Gibbs has led the series in wins since May, when his victory at Toledo Speedway broke a tie with Heim.

Yet he still did not lead in the standings. His 27th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway in April after an accident was the primary reason. He also let victories slip away at Pocono Raceway in June and at Elko Speedway earlier this month. Heim won both of those races.

Those moments only delayed what felt inevitable, and Gibbs’ dominant performance at Iowa emphatically made it a reality.

Several tracks remaining on the schedule will benefit the new points leader — for example, Gibbs is the defending ARCA Menards Series winner at Winchester Speedway, the next venue on the slate — but Heim will have his chances to win more races and keep battling Gibbs for the championship.

There’s a road course race at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 6. There are two dirt track races, one at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Aug. 22 and one at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds on Sept. 5. The versatility of the ARCA Menards Series schedule will force Gibbs to stay sharp on all types of configurations and surfaces.

Still, those laps led figures are tough to ignore in the context of Gibbs winning the majority of races this season.

And now he has points on his side, too.

RELATED: Updated ARCA Menards Series Points

Dye’s the real deal

On July 17 at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan, Daniel Dye won his first ARCA Menards Series race in just his second start.

Lest anybody think the 17-year-old’s quick success was a fluke, he was the only driver who even had a chance to challenge Gibbs for the victory Saturday night at Iowa.

Dye’s second-place run was impressive enough in a vacuum given his lack of experience in the series. The way he and his GMS Racing team pulled it off is evidence they will continue to compete for wins through the remainder of the season.

Mason Diaz spun on Lap 2 to bring out an early caution at Iowa; it was the chance Dye and his crew needed to find out what was wrong with their No. 21 Chevrolet.

“We were sluggish on the start,” Dye’s crew chief Chad Bryant told MAVTV after the early pit stop, which forced the driver to restart at the tail of the field.

Just a few laps into the following green-flag run, Dye had returned to the top five. He stayed there for the rest of the race.

This is the result of a strong pairing between driver and team, as GMS Racing signed Dye last month for a part-time ARCA Menards Series schedule to close the season.

“The faith Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Beam had to bring me to this 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet and letting me live my dream, I’m so blessed and thankful,” Dye said. “To be racing in front of all these fans, the sold-out backstretch packed with campers, and just this race track, in general, is so cool.”

East Series tightens

With the last three ARCA Menards Series East races of 2021 (including the Shore Lunch 150) being combination events with the ARCA Menards Series, East Series points leader Sammy Smith only needed a strong run at his home track Saturday to preserve his comfortable edge.

The opposite occurred, and suddenly, the 30-point lead he had over second-place Mason Diaz in the standings is down to 19 with two races (the Milwaukee Mile and Bristol Motor Speedway) remaining.

Smith’s right rear tire went down during a restart on Lap 37 at Iowa. He smacked the wall and was forced to pit, and with his car damaged, he was forced to retire after 97 laps. He finished 18th.

Diaz, meanwhile, salvaged a top-10 finish (eighth) despite early trouble of his own; he spun by himself on the second lap of the race.

The East Series championship race is still Smith’s to lose, but the Iowa race served as an example of how the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s lead can evaporate quickly if he is not careful over the last two races.

RELATED: Updated ARCA Menards Series East points

Notes

  • The defending winner at Iowa, Gibbs on Saturday became the first driver to win multiple ARCA Menards Series races at the track, also becoming the first back-to-back winner. The first 14 races at the speedway had produced 14 different winners dating back to 2006.
  • Gibbs’ 14th ARCA Menards Series win moved him to 23rd on the all-time wins list, breaking a tie with short-track veteran Dave Weltmeyer.
  • Heim continues to be the only driver who has completed every lap in the ARCA Menards Series in 2021.
  • Former ARCA Menards Series champions and Iowa natives Ron Hutcherson and Mason Mitchell, along with nine-time car owner champion Larry Clement, were honored at the drivers meeting prior to the Shore Lunch 150.
  • NASCAR Hall of Famer and 1989 Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace was the grand marshall at Iowa. He welcomed the crowd, estimated at nearly 6,000 people, prior to the race. He was joined on the pre-race stage by his son, Steven, who won the first race at Iowa Speedway (an ARCA Menards Series event) in 2006. Hutcherson, Mitchell and Clement also joined, as did Cup Series winner and 19-time ARCA winner Ken Schrader. John Menard, the founder and CEO of series title sponsor Menards, was also on stage to greet the drivers prior to the race.