Everybody knew Saturday at Kansas Speedway was going to be Ty Gibbs’ night. The points leader needed only to take the green flag and start the Reese’s 150 to clinch the 2021 ARCA Menards Series championship.
That’s exactly what the 19-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina, did in the season-finale. And the season-long triumph arrived about an hour after Gibbs secured a less expected victory.
Gibbs on Saturday afternoon won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Kansas, marking his fourth Xfinity Series victory in 17 starts.
Gibbs winning a race at Kansas on Saturday in addition to his clinching the ARCA Menards Series championship was not a surprise. The surprise was the fact that the Reese’s 150 was not the race in which he emerged victorious.
The reason for that was Nick Sanchez.
Nick Sanchez steals the show
In the bigger picture, Sanchez’s first ARCA Menards Series win Saturday at Kansas did not come out of nowhere. The rookie entering the final race of the season had recorded 13 top-10 finishes in 19 races and sat comfortably in third place in ARCA Menards Series points.
In the context of Saturday’s Reese’s 150, though, Sanchez’s victory was a stunner.
Gibbs led the first 99 laps of the race in dominating fashion before a late caution reset the field for an overtime finish. Sanchez, restarting in third place on the bottom of Row 2, took advantage of a battle between Gibbs and Corey Heim and snuck underneath the leaders entering Turn 1 of the penultimate lap. What turned out to be Sanchez’s winning pass was voted the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race.
Sanchez was able to hold off a charging Gibbs on the final lap to take his first checkered flag in his 22nd ARCA Menards Series start dating back to last season.
And it continued the 20-year-old’s upward trajectory on the track.
— NASCAR Drive for Diversity (@NASCARDiversity) October 24, 2021
Sanchez, a native of Miami, Florida, drives for Rev Racing in the ARCA Menards Series as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program. His opportunity to race full-time in the ARCA Menards Series in 2021 came after a successful 2020 season in the ARCA Menards Series East.
Sanchez was also part of Rev Racing’s Youth Development Program in 2017-18, driving a Legend car in the Bojangles’ Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In his 2018 Legend car season with Rev Racing, Sanchez earned five podium finishes, six top fives and one win in the Pro Series Class.
He made the jump up to full-bodied stock cars after winning the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award in 2019 as the most outstanding minority driver at NASCAR’s weekly level in a late model.
“He’s good. He’s just good,” crew chief Steve Plattenberger said of Sanchez after Saturday night’s race. “He never quits. He never gives up. He’s going to be one heck of a race car driver one day. He’s just awesome.”
Unreal……Winners at @kansasspeedway !!!!
Thank you to @Max_Siegel and @NASCARDiversity for their continued support and everything they do. Ecstatic to get everyone on @RevRacin this result, they deserve it! And of course thank you to my family for all they do.
Let’s go!!! pic.twitter.com/LL8wr7wCZ8
— Nicholas Sanchez (@Nicksanchez080) October 24, 2021
The fruits of Sanchez’s labor in the ARCA Menards Series started to arrive before he won his first race. In the days leading up to the Reese’s 150, B.J. McLeod Motorsports announced Sanchez will make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut with the team for several races in 2022. This in addition to Sanchez’s plans to race for an ARCA Menards Series championship next season with Rev Racing.
“The significance of this next step is very meaningful for me,” Sanchez said. “It’ll obviously be my first time participating in one of the top three series of NASCAR, which is something I’ve always dreamed of ever since I started racing. … My main goal next year is to learn and get the most out of the car’s performance, hopefully yielding some good finishes for myself and the team.”
As for his efforts in the ARCA Menards Series next season, Sanchez can look to Heim as an example of what could lie ahead.
Heim in 2020 earned his first ARCA Menards Series win in the season-finale at Kansas. That propelled him to a bid for the series championship in 2021, though he ultimately fell just short of Gibbs in the standings.
Sanchez will look at his win in the 2021 finale as a similar springboard.
Ty Gibbs’ exclamation point
Gibbs after Saturday night’s race noted his disappointment in not ending 2021 with what would have been his 11th win of the ARCA Menards Series season.
He also realized “that doesn’t really matter.”
The dust settled on Gibbs’ 2021 ARCA Menards Series season to reveal one of the most dominant efforts in the history of the series.
The number that best illustrates the stranglehold Gibbs held on the series this season is 1,689, the number of laps he led through 20 races. He had already broken the modern-era record for laps led in a single season (Tim Steele; 1,514 in 1996) before he arrived at Kansas.
Gibbs led every lap of three different ARCA Menards Series races in 2021 — at Kansas in May, at Charlotte Motor Speedway later that month and again at the Milwaukee Mile in August. He led all but one lap in two more races, at Iowa Speedway in July and at Michigan International Speedway in August. He also led all but three laps in his Bristol Motor Speedway victory last month as well as in Saturday’s finale.
Gibbs ended up winning 10 ARCA Menards Series races in 2021, or half of the schedule. The victories came at Phoenix Raceway, Kansas, Toledo Speedway, Charlotte, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Iowa, Winchester Speedway, Michigan, the Milwaukee Mile and Bristol.
He logged 19 top-five finishes in 20 races, with his only finish outside the top five being his 27th-place run at Talladega Superspeedway after a crash. He led series regulars with an average finish of 3.0, a new modern-era record breaking Scott Stovall’s 3.80 in 1982.
He won 11 General Tire Pole Awards throughout the season. Including races he started on the pole based on points, Gibbs led the field to green 15 times in 20 events.
Oh, and he won the Bounty Rookie Challenge (rookie of the year in the ARCA Menards Series) title for the season as well as the Sioux Chief Showdown and the CGS Imaging Four Crown.
So no, Gibbs’ second-place effort in the finale — even though it was a letdown in the context of his dominance Saturday night — did not matter as it related to his dominance all season.
Gibbs became the 38th different champion in the history of the ARCA Menards Series, and he was as deserving as any who came before him.
- Sanchez at Kansas became the fourth first-time ARCA Menards Series winner of 2021 and the 348th driver to register at least one series win. Other first-time winners this year include Daniel Dye at Berlin Raceway, Landen Lewis at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds and Jesse Love at Salem Speedway.
- The two laps Sanchez led to close Saturday night’s race were his first two laps led in the ARCA Menards Series.
- Max Siegel, the owner of Sanchez’s No. 2 Chevrolet, became the first Black team owner to score a superspeedway victory in the ARCA Menards Series dating back to the series’ first superspeedway race in 1964.
- Gibbs’ winning margin in the standings was 37 points over second-place Heim.
- Heim finished third at Kansas for his 20th top-10 finish of the season. He was the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all 20 races in 2021.
- J.P. Bergeron finished fifth driving for David Gilliland Racing, his first career top-five finish.
- Including Sanchez and Bergeron, five drivers achieved new career-high finishes in the Reese’s 150. The others were Kris Wright (sixth), Dean Thompson (eighth) and Connor Mosack (11th).