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ARCA Menards rewind: Takeaways from Elko Speedway

The eighth race of the ARCA Menards Series season turned into a display of force by Sammy Smith, who dominated Saturday’s Menards 250 at Elko Speedway.

Smith controlled the entire day at the Minnesota short track by setting the fastest time in practice, winning the General Tire Pole Award and earning the victory in dominant fashion.

It was Smith’s second straight ARCA Menards Series victory following his maiden triumph one week prior at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway aboard Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 18 Toyota.

MORE ELKO: Results | Highlights

Behind Smith were a pair of Venturini Motorsports Toyotas. Jesse Love came home second after leading 17 laps early in the event, and his teammate, rookie Landon Pembelton, finished an impressive third in his first ARCA Menards Series start.

Below are the key takeaways from Saturday’s Menards 250 at Elko Speedway.

Sammy Smith strikes again

There was no question that Smith had the best car during Saturday’s Menards 250 at Elko Speedway.

Unlike one week prior, when Daniel Dye had the dominant car only to have a mechanical failure late in the race at Berlin, Smith proved to be in his own league.

Leading 233 of 250 laps, Smith was on cruise control most of the evening aboard his No. 18 Allstate Peterbuilt Group Toyota.

The only driver who challenged him throughout the evening was Love, who was able to take the lead during a restart on Lap 44. His time at the front was brief, as Smith ultimately took the lead back for good on the 62nd circuit.

The victory is Smith’s second ARCA Menards Series triumph in as many weeks and came in just his seventh series start. Smith also continues to lead the ARCA Menards Series East standings with two races left on that series’ schedule.

Both remaining East Series events are combination races with the ARCA Menards Series. The first takes place Aug. 28 at The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisconsin. The East Series finale is slated for Sept. 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Smith has six East Series victories during his career, three of which have come this year.

Smith, who is scheduled to compete in all remaining ARCA Menards Series events this season for Kyle Busch Motorsports, is also slated to compete in eight NASCAR Xfinity Series races later this year for Joe Gibbs Racing.

He’ll make his Xfinity Series debut on July 2 at Road America.

Impressive debut for Landon Pembelton

Prior to Saturday, Pembelton had never competed on the ARCA Menards Series platform.

You wouldn’t have known that based on his performance at Elko.

Pembelton, who came to the attention of the motorsports world after becoming the youngest winner of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 Late Model Stock Car race last year at Martinsville Speedway, joined Venturini Motorsports for his first ARCA event at Elko.

He raced in the top five the entire evening, with the only hiccup coming early in the event when he made contact with Taylor Gray in Turn 2. Gray spun out to bring out the first caution, but Pembelton was able to continue without any issues.

Pembelton ended up finishing third behind race winner Smith and teammate Love.

Saturday’s event was the first of four events on the ARCA platform for Pembelton this season. He’ll return to ARCA competition at The Milwaukee Mile on Aug. 28. He’ll also compete in the ARCA Menards Series finale at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway on Oct. 8 and the ARCA Menards Series West finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 4.

Caruth maintains narrow lead in championship hunt

A seventh-place finish wasn’t exactly what Rajah Caruth wanted from the Menards 250, but it was enough to keep him at the top of the ARCA Menards Series standings after eight races.

With Nick Sanchez finishing 11th after a spin, Caruth grew his lead in the standings from one point to five points. Daniel Dye also remains in the title fight following a fifth-place finish Saturday night. He sits nine points behind Caruth.

Sanchez remains the only one of the trio to visit Victory Lane this season with victories at Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway. Caruth’s best finish of the season is second at Kansas, while Dye’s best result of the year is second at Phoenix Raceway.

The first road course race of the season is next on the schedule, as the series visits the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Friday, July 8. Sanchez is the only one of the trio with ARCA experience at Mid-Ohio. He finished fifth at the 2.258-mile road course one year ago.

NOTES:

  • Willie Mullins was involved in no less than three incidents during the Menards 250, all in Turn 2. The incidents resulted in spins by Bryce Haugeberg, Toni Breidinger and Nick Sanchez, though Mullins was able to continue on from each incident unscathed. He ultimately finished ninth, but he admitted on social media after the race he was not happy with himself and apologized to all three of his competitors.
  • Greg Van Alst finished eighth Saturday night at Elko Speedway, extending his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes to five. He’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the last five ARCA Menards Series events.
  • Taylor Gray spun on the seventh lap after contact with Landon Pembelton, but he was able to drive back through the field to eventually finish fourth. It was his third top-five finish in four ARCA Menards Series starts this year.