Ty Gibbs ran just half of the ARCA Menards Series East schedule in 2021. So one would think the ARCA Menards Series champion for 2021 would not have dominated the East Series the way he dominated the national series this season.
One would think wrong.
Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Sammy Smith won the East Series championship — and the series’ Bounty Rookie Challenge — driving the No. 18 Engine Ice Toyota. But it was Smith’s teammate who cleaned up the rest of the hardware from an eight-race season in 2021.
Below are the special award winners for the ARCA Menards Series East in 2021. Spoiler alert: Ty Gibbs took all three.
MORE: 2021 ARCA Menards Series championship celebration
Valvoline Lap Leader: Ty Gibbs
Gibbs took stock car racing by storm in 2021 with a string of impressive victories in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and across the ARCA Menards Series platform. His most dominant output may have come in the ARCA Menards Series East, where he won in all four of his series starts and took home the Valvoline Lap Leader award with 621 laps led in East Series competition.
Gibbs planned to make four East starts in 2021, with the final three coming in combination races with the ARCA Menards Series. His single standalone East Series start came at Dover International Speedway in June, when he held off short track star Josh Berry and NASCAR Cup Series veteran David Gilliland to take the checkered flag in style, leading all 125 laps.
Gibbs became the first driver to go flag-to-flag in an East Series race since 2019, when Max McLaughlin led all 34 laps in a weather-shortened race at Watkins Glen International.
Repeat performances were in store for the three-race stretch of combination events between the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East. At Iowa Speedway, Gibbs easily took the top spot in qualifying and led 149 of 150 laps in the Shore Lunch 150, the only blemish coming when Taylor Gray briefly nosed ahead at the line following a restart. He replicated his Dover feat at the Milwaukee Mile when he led all 150 laps at the historic facility.
The East schedule closed with the Bush’s Beans 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. It turned out to be a banner evening for Joe Gibbs Racing, as Ty Gibbs led 197 of 200 laps to win the race while teammate Sammy Smith ran second for almost the entirety of the event, claiming the ARCA Menards Series East title in the process.
In total, Gibbs led an astonishing 621 of 625 possible laps across his four ARCA Menards Series East starts in 2021. It marked the most laps led in a single season for an East driver since 2015, when current NASCAR Cup Series star William Byron led 740 laps.
Byron, however, achieved that number in a season that featured 14 races on the calendar rather than the eight that made up the 2021 slate.
General Tire Pole Award: Ty Gibbs
In what would become a theme in 2021, it was a pretty safe bet to pencil in Gibbs in as the polesitter whenever he showed up for an ARCA Menards Series East event. Sure enough, he paced the series by picking up the General Tire Pole Award four times in as many attempts.
Gibbs rolled from first on the starting grid in exactly half of the East Series races, taking the pole at Dover, Iowa, Milwaukee and Bristol.
The remainder of the calendar was far more balanced, as four different drivers sat on the pole in as many races. DGR’s Taylor Gray kicked off the year by topping the timing charts at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. Eventual series champion Sammy Smith scored his only pole at Five Flags in Pensacola, Florida.
Former ARCA Menards Series championship runner-up Mason Mingus made a surprising pole run at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, giving team owner Andy Hillenburg his first General Tire Pole Award since 2005. Mason Diaz became the fifth different polesitter of the 2021 East season when he used his experience to qualify first at his home track of Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, North Carolina, in June.
General Tire Victory Bonus: Ty Gibbs
It was a rarity through the 2021 ARCA Menards Series East season to see the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota not take the checkered flag, as JGR drivers Ty Gibbs and Sammy Smith took the team’s flagship car to Victory Lane in seven of the eight East races on this year’s schedule.
With four wins to his rookie teammate’s three, Gibbs edged Smith for the series’ General Tire Victory Bonus.
The sole blemish on JGR’s record in East Series competition came in the nail-biting season opener at New Smyrna, where Max Gutiérrez nipped Smith and Gray at the line to score the victory. From there, Gibbs and Smith dominated the rest of the season, winning each of the final seven events.
Gibbs won at Dover as well as the AMS-East combination events at Iowa, Milwaukee and Bristol.
Smith took the checkered flags at Five Flags, Nashville and Southern National.