Thanks to the dominance of Ty Gibbs in 2021, a young driver entering any given ARCA Menards Series race and blowing the field away by leading every lap from the pole is not uncommon.
But on two occasions this year, including Daniel Dye’s July triumph at Berlin Raceway in his second series start, a relatively unproven racer has pulled off this feat. Landen Lewis did it Sunday night on the one-mile clay oval at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, taking the victory as well as many of the series’ special awards from the Southern Illinois 100 presented by Lucas Oil.
Heavy rainfall Saturday led to unpredictable track conditions Sunday, as if racing on dirt wasn’t already enough of a curveball for the primarily asphalt-based racers in the field. The lone practice session offered little clue as to who might top the charts in General Tire Pole Qualifying, as the two quickest drivers, Jesse Love and Kelly Kovski, both encountered issues that prevented them from making a qualifying attempt.
With a lap of 34.236 seconds/105.152 mph, Lewis sped to the pole ahead of his ARCA Menards Series start. Lewis became the fifth different polesitter in 2021, joining Dye, Drew Dollar, Corey Heim and Gibbs; Gibbs leads the series with 11 pole starts.
As attrition took its toll with nearly every team encountering issues through the night, Lewis managed to stay clean enough and frequently opened large gaps on the pack within a few laps of a restart. Lewis was the runaway Richmond Water Heaters Halfway Leader, the eighth different leader at the crossed flags this year, and he led all 104 circuits to become the Valvoline Lap Leader.
While Gibbs has already clinched the year-long Valvoline Lap Leader title with 1,238 laps led, there is still room for significant movement behind him in the lap leader standings. Lewis jumped to fourth with his 104 laps led, having been held out of that column in his only previous start at Springfield. Sandwiched between Gibbs and Lewis are Heim and Dye with 405 and 198 laps led, respectively.
Running for Rette Jones Racing in association with Rev Racing, using Rev’s traditional No. 2 on the door, Lewis’ crew chief Mark Rette was the Cometic Crew Chief of the Race. In the battle for the Cometic Crew Chief of the Year honors, Mark McFarland has built an 11-point advantage over Shannon Rursch. McFarland is the crew chief for Gibbs, who started fourth and finished second at DuQuoin. Rursch calls the shots for Heim, who had to take his first DNF of 2021 at DuQuoin when he pulled in after 95 laps in seventh place after qualifying third.
Heim was one of many drivers who had a run-in with the track surface Sunday night, though nobody may have done so as literally as Heim did. Heim hit a clump of dirt on Lap 33, and the nose of his No. 20 Craftsman Toyota dug into the track, sending his car briefly airborne. Though he incurred damage that impacted the remainder of his night, Heim managed to keep his car under him and was voted as the winner of the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race for making the impressive save.
Heim still leads the Bounty Rookie of the Year standings despite the DNF, albeit with a gap that has been slimmed down to just eight points over Gibbs with three races remaining. Lewis was named the Bounty Rookie of the Race but had no impact on the top of the standings.
Heim had completed all 2,026 laps that had been run through the first 16 races of the season as he attempted to join Chris Buescher (2012) as the second driver to complete every single lap over the course of a season. Though Heim retired nine laps from the end as one of many with overheating woes, he still tops the S&S Volvo Laps Completed standings and will likely claim that title should he avoid early trouble at each of the final three races of 2021.
Tim Monroe was named the K&N Filters Hard Charger for the DuQuoin. He finished sixth, a new career-high, after starting 11th.
The Southern Illinois 100 was the final leg of the CGS Imaging Four Crown, a four-race championship within the overall ARCA Menards Series season that tests the mettle of drivers at the four distinct track types on the series schedule. Gibbs won the first three rounds at Kansas Speedway (superspeedway), the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (road course) and Winchester Speedway (short track). Gibbs with his second-place run at DuQuoin accrued 171 of a possible 172 points to take his first Four Crown title by 15 points over Heim.
Gibbs is the 26th different CGS Imaging Four Crown winner dating back to the inaugural winner, the late Davey Allison, from the 1984 season. Bret Holmes had been the two-time defending Four Crown titleholder in 2019 and 2020.
The ARCA Menards Series will be back in action Thursday, Sept. 16, with the running of the Bush’s Beans 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Bristol race will be a combination event with the ARCA Menards Series East and serve as the championship race for East Series drivers. Sammy Smith currently leads the East Series standings.
It will also be the ninth of 10 races in the Sioux Chief Showdown, where Gibbs has a 13-point lead over Heim.
The Bush’s Beans 200 will go green at 6:30 p.m. ET with live television coverage on FS1 as the first half of a doubleheader evening with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Additionally, live radio coverage for the race will be provided by MRN and simulcast on SiriusXM.