Joe Gibbs Racing and Bill McAnally Racing had big 2021 seasons on the ARCA Menards platform, with the powerhouse teams taking both the driver championships and the car owner championships in the ARCA Menards Series, the ARCA Menards Series East and the ARCA Menards Series West.
So it’s no surprise that JGR and BMR drivers took the series’ Bounty Rookie Challenge titles in 2021, as well.
The Bounty Rookie Challenge represents the rookie of the year award on the ARCA Menards platform, with one winner awarded for each of the three series. Unlike overall championship points, rookie points in the ARCA Menards Series are awarded strictly on a driver’s finishing position in each race.
That was an important factor in this year’s Bounty Rookie Challenge.
ARCA Menards Series Bounty Rookie of the Year: Ty Gibbs
Yes, the 2021 ARCA Menards Series champion classified as a rookie. Gibbs because of his age was not able to run the full ARCA Menards Series season in 2020, when he led the series in wins and laps led starting 16 of 20 races.
He was able to run all 20 this year, and the 19-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina, recorded a season for the ages.
Gibbs won exactly half of those races; his 10 wins are tied for the third most (Frank Kimmel) in a single ARCA Menards Series season in the modern era. He easily broke the series record for laps led with 1,689, a mark Tim Steele (1,514) set in 1996 in 25 races compared to 20 for Gibbs.
With the exception of a 27th-place run at Talladega Superspeedway after a crash, Gibbs finished in the top four of every race.
Because Bounty Rookie Challenge points in the ARCA Menards Series are awarded strictly based on a driver’s finishing position in each race, discounting bonus points, Gibbs won the rookie award by just two points over rival Corey Heim.
In comparison, Gibbs won the ARCA Menards Series championship by 37 points over Heim.
ARCA Menards Series East Bounty Rookie of the Year: Sammy Smith
As was the case in the overall ARCA Menards Series East championship battle, multiple drivers were in the mix for the series’ rookie of the year crown.
And as was the case in the title race, ultimately, nobody could stop Sammy Smith from rising to the top.
Smith, the 17-year-old from Johnston, Iowa, won the Bounty Rookie Challenge title in the East Series by 18 points over Daniel Dye, the driver he also beat in overall series points. Both titles were well-deserved for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
Driving the No. 18 Engine Ice Toyota, Smith led all East Series regulars in wins (three), top fives (seven), top 10s (seven), laps led (396) and average finish (4.3). There was no doubt he was the driver to beat in the series all season, even as a rookie.
In fact, omitting the four East Series races Smith’s JGR teammate Ty Gibbs won — three of which were combination events with the ARCA Menards Series — Max Gutiérrez was the only East Series driver not named Smith who won a race this season.
Gutiérrez did it in the season-opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway with a dramatic pass in the final corner. Smith finished second.
He was that close to completing a JGR sweep of all races in the series in 2021. A series championship and a Bounty Rookie Challenge title, though, will do nicely.
ARCA Menards Series West Bounty Rookie of the Year: Cole Moore
The 2021 ARCA Menards Series West season finale at Phoenix Raceway arrived with seven drivers within range of the championship. Similarly, the series’ rookie of the year award was up in the air for one of three drivers to take.
Cole Moore ended up taking it, and he did so by finishing just one position ahead of Jake Drew in the Arizona Lottery 100.
Moore’s 10th-place finish in the finale — his seventh such finish in 2021 — was just enough for the 24-year-old from Granie Bay, California, to win the Bounty Rookie Challenge for the West Series by one point over Drew, who finished 11th at Phoenix.
Driving the No. 99 NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing, Moore was a rookie in 2021 even though he had eight West Series starts on his resume prior to the season. He ran those races on a part-time basis over a three-year span from 2015-17.
In his first full-time West Series season, Moore recorded four top-five finishes and led 114 laps over nine races. Only series champion Jesse Love, Moore’s BMR teammate, led more laps among West Series regulars. Moore finished third in overall series points.