They say dirt races are among the great equalizers in the ARCA Menards Series.
Yet when it comes to leading laps on the one-mile clay oval on the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, Landen Lewis did not adhere to a concept of equality in Sunday’s Southern Illinois 100 presented by Lucas Oil.
In just his second ARCA Menards Series start, the 15-year-old Lewis qualified on the General Tire Pole and led all 104 race laps, including overtime, at DuQuoin. The rookie was as dominant Sunday as anybody has been all season.
That includes Ty Gibbs, the ARCA Menards Series championship leader whose second-place run at DuQuoin extended his advantage in the standings to 16 points over Corey Heim with three races remaining.
The DuQuoin race’s impact on the season-long title battle is among the takeaways from the event, but the most notable is Lewis’ stunning triumph.
Landen Lewis’ arrival
A 15-year-old rookie winning an ARCA Menards Series race in just his second start would be impressive enough. But Lewis took the accomplishment to another level with the way he dominated the Southern Illinois 100 presented by Lucas Oil at DuQuoin.
It’s not just that the Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, native led all 104 laps. Nobody was able to challenge Lewis from the drop of the green flag through five restarts to the checkered.
That includes the overtime restart, when the green and white flags waved at the same time. Lewis’ resiliency was impressive considering he was half a straightaway from the checkered flag when a caution came out for a Taylor Gray spin on the last lap of regulation.
“I was trying to get to the checkered as fast as I could,” Lewis said. “My spotter told me there was a wreck in Turn 3, and I just automatically started thinking (about) what Ron Hornaday has taught me.”
That connection with Hornaday, the four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, is why Lewis was in his position Sunday.
Lewis drives Dirt Modifieds for Hornaday. At that level, he has six wins, eight second-place runs and 27 top-fives. Lewis also has 22 wins and 51 top-five finishes in Legends Cars.
This success is why Rette Jones Racing Development and Austin Theriault Racing Development jointly announced last month Lewis would make his ARCA Menards Series debut at the Illinois State Fairgrounds (Springfield) on Aug. 22.
Lewis’ entry at DuQuoin was a combined effort between Max Siegel’s Rev Racing team and Rette Jones Racing, spearheaded by 2009 ARCA Menards Series championship crew chief Mark Rette.
In addition to the support from Rette Jones Racing and 2017 ARCA Menards Series champion Austin Theriault, Lewis leans on advice from both Hornaday and racing icon Ken Schrader, the 66-year-old who finished third at DuQuoin on Sunday.
“I have been working with Landen since he was 12, and he reminds me a lot of myself when I was that young,” explained Hornaday at the time of the announcement. “He’s ambitious and eager to learn and always excels when given a new challenge.”
Added Theriault: “Landen is an aggressive-but-smart driver who I know can be successful at this level. Despite it being a big step for him, his previous dirt experience, combined with the people who have mentored him along the way, will allow him to adapt quickly to the opportunity that is before him.”
Yet nobody could have anticipated Lewis would adapt this quickly.
He finished seventh in his debut on the Springfield dirt, an experience that paved the way for Sunday’s dominating performance at DuQuoin.
“This wouldn’t be possible without any of my guys — Mark Rette, (team co-owner) Larry Jones, Austin Theriault — everyone who’s made this possible for me,” Lewis said standing next to his No. 2 19th Green Toyota in Victory Lane at DuQuoin. “It’s a dream come true.”
Lewis may be where he is in part because of that support, but his obvious talent is the bigger factor.
RELATED: Updated ARCA Menards Series Points
Ty Gibbs takes Round 17 against Corey Heim
Gibbs described Sunday’s dirt race as a “character-building” experience. He was frustrated he could do no better than a second-place finish, as he failed to lead a lap in a race for just the second time this season.
Yet the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s level of frustration at DuQuoin was low compared to that of Heim.
Already battling a race car that was damaged by a clump of DuQuoin dirt, Heim on Lap 33 found himself airborne in the middle of Turn 3. The front of his No. 20 Craftsman Toyota had lodged itself in the dirt and caused significant damage.
Heim immediately was forced to pit and go multiple laps down.
The only positive from the situation was the fact that the Venturini Motorsports crew was somehow able to repair the damage enough to get Heim back on track after losing just six laps. Fans also voted his saving the car as the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race.
Heim salvaged a seventh-place finish, tied for his worst race result of the season (seventh at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in June).
Gibbs with his second-place run added five points to his championship lead over Heim; he now has a 16-point edge.
While things could have been worse for Heim points-wise given the circumstances at DuQuoin, this is not what he wanted from the second and final dirt race of the season knowing such a surface was not Gibbs’ strong suit.
Heim dominated the dirt race last month at Springfield, and Sunday was supposed to be another opportunity for him to keep up with Gibbs in the title race. Instead, he went the opposite direction in points.
The season will close with races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Salem Speedway and Kansas Speedway. Both title contenders should be competitive in all three events.
Ty Gibbs wins CGS Imaging Four Crown title
Gibbs made strides in the overall ARCA Menards Series championship race at DuQuoin. He did so while clinching one of the series’ in-season titles.
The CGS Imaging Four Crown is a four-race series within the ARCA Menards Series that celebrates a diverse schedule with events at each of the types of tracks it visits: superspeedways, road courses, short tracks and dirt ovals.
Gibbs entered the dirt race at DuQuoin having won all three of the prior Four Crown races, at Kansas Speedway (superspeedway), at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (road course) and at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway (short track).
Despite those three wins, Gibbs had just a 10-point lead in the Four Crown standings over Heim and Thad Moffitt entering Sunday. With Moffitt not entered in the race and given Heim’s struggles, Gibbs’ second-place finish at DuQuoin was more than enough to clinch the title.
ARCA Menards Series racing on the DuQuoin dirt 🔥
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) September 7, 2021
- Lewis with his win at DuQuoin became the 346th driver to earn at least one victory in the ARCA Menards Series.
- Ken Schrader finished third at DuQuoin, his 12th top-five finish in 16 ARCA Menards Series starts at his home track. Schrader was racing for Andy Hillenburg, the 1995 series champion who got his first shot in a stock car thanks to Schrader in the early 1990s. Schrader at DuQuoin scored Hillenburg’s best standalone finish as an owner since Chad McCumbee finished third at Pocono in 2006.
- Dirt track ringer Ryan Unzicker finished fourth at DuQuoin. He ran second for the majority of the night, but a slip in Turn 1 on the last lap led to his fourth-place result. It was his sixth top-five finish in 21 dirt races on the ARCA platform.
- Taylor Gray finished fifth at DuQuoin. He still has a top-10 finish in every ARCA Menards Series race he has started in 2021; nine for nine.
- With his sixth-place run at DuQuoin, Tim Monroe has a top-10 finish in both of his ARCA Menards Series starts this season. He finished eighth last month at Springfield.
- Zachary Tinkle picked up his first top-10 finish in the ARCA Menards Series with his eighth-place run at DuQuoin.
- The nine laps Heim failed to complete at DuQuoin marked the first laps he has missed in 2021.