A combination event, Sunday’s Sprecher 150 at the Milwaukee Mile provided new chapters in season-long title races for both the ARCA Menards Series and the ARCA Menards Series East.
The race also delivered a little more clarity on who might emerge as 2021 champions in both series, even if one is far less clear than the other.
Ty Gibbs won the ARCA Menards Series’ first race at the historic, one-mile paved oval since 2007, and he did so in dominant fashion. The 18-year-old led all 150 laps after setting a track record (29.354 seconds / 122.641 mph) to qualify on the General Tire Pole.
His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith finished fifth, a result that extended the 17-year-old’s lead in the East Series standings.
The long-term impact of those results leads our takeaways from the Sprecher 150, the 16th of 20 races this season for the ARCA Menards Series and the seventh of eight for the East Series.
Ty Gibbs’ statement
To say Gibbs’ performance at the Milwaukee Mile was his strongest yet this season would be difficult given his frequent flashes of dominance throughout 2021, but the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was as perfect Sunday as he has been all year.
In turn, Gibbs’ series-high ninth win gives him his largest championship points lead of the season.
Gibbs in his flag-to-flag victory hogged all six available bonus points for the event. Just as impactful in the title race was Corey Heim’s sixth-place finish, his second worst result of the year behind his seventh-place run at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in June.
The two entered Sunday’s race at the Milwaukee Mile tied atop the standings, and Gibbs left with an 11-point lead. Which proves how quickly this season-long title battle can change.
At Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 20, Gibbs led all but one lap to take a similarly dominant victory. A couple days later, Heim flexed his muscle with a convincing win on the Springfield Mile dirt track at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Those results led to the aforementioned tie in the standings.
Now, as was the case after the Michigan race, the ARCA Menards Series is headed to a dirt track. Sunday’s Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds will be the second and final dirt race of the season and, apparently, another chance for Heim to strike back.
The back-and-forth has been raging all season, but Gibbs reminded everybody at the Milwaukee Mile how unbeatable he can be when he and his team strike the right balance.
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Sammy Smith gets one step closer to East Series title
Basically, as long as Smith didn’t experience a result similar to his 18th-place finish at Iowa Speedway the last time the East Series was on track, he was going to leave the Milwaukee Mile having preserved his comfortable lead in the championship standings.
Smith’s fifth-place run extended his advantage in points to 24 over Daniel Dye, who with his third-place finish at the Milwaukee Mile jumped Mason Diaz for second in the standings.
So Smith will take that 24-point lead into the East Series’ season finale at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 16.
Unfortunately for Smith, the Bush’s Beans 200 will be another combination event with the ARCA Menards Series. Depending on the car count, he might not be able to clinch the title simply by starting the race.
Regardless, at this point, only a catastrophic night at Bristol can keep Smith from his first ARCA Menards championship. He needs to finish 19th or better (regardless of what Dye does) to get it done.
Milwaukee Mile a hit among drivers
All but one driver (Brad Smith) in the field Sunday made their first ARCA Menards starts on the Milwaukee Mile, the oldest continuously operating speedway in the world. The track first hosted auto races in 1903.
That history generated pre-race excitement and anticipation, and the experience delivered post-race admiration for the facility.
“It’s so cool to win here,” Gibbs said. “This track has so much history. I remember being super, super, super young and watching Denny Hamlin win here. It’s just awesome. That’s one of those things where I have to sit back and think about it.”
The event was especially meaningful for Sam Mayer, who grew up in nearby Franklin, Wisconsin, and finished second in his first race at his “home” track.
“This place is really fun,” said Mayer, who expressed a desire to run for Bret Holmes Racing at the Milwaukee Mile again next season should the ARCA Menards Series return. “I’ve never got to run here before today, and man, I wish I would have a long time ago, because this place is pretty awesome.
“NASCAR needs to come here. This place will put on a show, for sure.”
Added Dye: “It was really cool, trying to figure out the air. … It’s a flat race track; first time I’ve ever been on a flat race track, so I had a lot of fun.”
Sunday’s Sprecher 150 was the ARCA Menards Series’ 11th race at the Milwaukee Mile dating back to 1958.
Check out some behind-the-scenes images from yesterday’s race at the Milwaukee Mile
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) August 30, 2021
- By leading all 150 laps at the Milwaukee Mile, Gibbs clinched the season-long Valvoline Lap Leader Award for 2021. He has led 1,238 laps through 16 races, with Springfield being the only event in which he failed to lead at least one circuit. With 600 scheduled laps of racing still to come in 2021, Gibbs leads Heim by 833 laps in the standings.
- Gibbs’ 17th ARCA Menards Series victory moved him to a tie for 15th on the all-time wins list. Other drivers with 17 victories include Bob James, Bob Schacht and two-time series champion Bobby Bowsher.
- Including the standalone East Series race at Dover International Speedway he entered in May, Gibbs has now won all three East points races in which he has competed in 2021. He started from the pole in all three events and has led all but one lap through the trio. His fifth career East Series win Sunday at the Milwaukee Mile moved him to a tie for 30th in all-time East Series wins with Bryan Wall, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Sergio Pena, Dylan Kwasnieski, Austin Hill, Ben Rhodes and Harrison Burton.
- Dye’s Milwaukee Mile run marked his third top-three finish in his last four races. He is the only driver who has finished in the top 10 in all seven East Series races this season.
- Heim remains the only driver who has finished in the top 10 in all 16 ARCA Menards Series races this season. He also is the only driver who has completed every lap of competition, having run all possible 2,026 laps.
- Gibbs at the Milwaukee Mile extended his lead over Heim in the Sioux Chief Showdown standings to 13 points with his sixth Showdown win of the season. Nick Sanchez, Thad Moffitt and Taylor Gray round out the top five in the Showdown standings with two races (Bristol, Salem) remaining.