The ARCA Menards Series continued their summer stretch Friday by visiting the short track of Madison International Speedway.
Chandler Smith returned to the series after being away for a short while, due to ARCA’s age restriction limit rule. Smith is just 16-years-old and is only allowed to compete on short tracks which means he will have to wait a couple of years before he can race at tracks like Daytona, Talladega and Michigan.
With Smith returning to the ARCA field and being a previous Madison winner, there was plenty of speculation as to whether he could recapture the magic from last years race. But, Smith did just that, leading three times for 166 laps. In last year’s race at Madison, he only led 102 of the scheduled 200 laps.
The rising star has been making a name for himself as of late. He has even been mentioned as a future Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star if he continues his winning ways. Smith is one of the few drivers that is taking the ARCA route to the NASCAR big leagues, race by race, series by series.
The Talking Rock, Georgia native born in 2002 has had a dominating season so far in the ARCA Menards Series earning two wins; his first was at Toledo. He won twice last year as well, at Madison and Salem.
Smith rarely crashes and almost has a perfect score in the ARCA Series with only one wreck that came at the first Salem race last year. Still, he finished 10th in that race. Since his first ARCA start at Nashville, Smith has never finished outside the top-10.
You could possibly say that Smith is the next Kyle Busch or Jimmie Johnson, or maybe a Kevin Harvick. However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and let the young racer progress before being rushed into an Xfinity or Cup car.
Other drivers like Michael Self, Sam Mayer, Travis Braden, Bret Holmes, Carson Hocevar, Christian Eckes and Ty Gibbs all had a decent outing at the paved half-mile track in Oregon, Wisconsin.
Several drivers took to Twitter after the race and gave their thoughts on their performance, including Smith, who is competing in a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck for the first time ever at Iowa this weekend.
General Manager and Team Owner Billy Venturini even chimed in to speak about Smith’s success.
Finally getting to twitter. Great night by my entire @VenturiniMotor team. All cars were good and contended. At end of the night @CSmithDrive closed the deal when he needed to and we #FlytheV. #TeamToyota . Congrats to him and my 20 team but great job across the board by all— Billy Venturini (@BillyVenturini) June 15, 2019
Despite winning last week’s race at Michigan, Smith’s teammate, Self had to settle for a top-five finish with second place after leading 20 laps.
Solid night at @MISRacing for our @SinclairOilCorp team last night! Took me way too long to figure that track out, but had a lot of fun once I did. We were awesome on long runs but struggled on restarts and couldn’t hang on at the end for the 🏁.— Michael Self (@michaelself) June 15, 2019
Another future prospect who is also making a name for himself in the 2019 season is Sam Mayer. Mayer is a GMS Racing developmental driver who is getting all the track time he can this season by also competing in the K&N Pro Series. Mayer has four starts in ARCA this season with a best finish of second at Salem.
Madison International Speedway is sort of a home racetrack for the Franklin, Wisconsin native. Franklin is just one hour and 25 minutes to the west of the racetrack. Mayer had high hopes for a win and was excited to be back in the ARCA Series this weekend at the track. Unfortunately, he will have to wait another year but he still had a strong showing of third in front of his hometown fans.
Last nights race was intense. That is all.— Sam Mayer (@sam_mayer_) June 15, 2019
Carson Hocevar, along with Smith and Mayer, is also making limited starts due to age restrictions. He returned in his usual No. 28 KBR Development machine. Hocevar was last seen at Toledo, where he finished sixth. The ARCA driver has three other starts with finishes of 17th at Pensacola, third after starting on the pole at Salem and fourth at Nashville.
Hocevar qualified fourth and was seen up front at times, but was facing tight conditions throughout the race and was even caught a lap down at times. However, a lucky break came with a caution and he received the free pass on Lap 127. Still, Hocevar couldn’t quite do much with the car, even with the late race restart that came with ten to go. He earned a somewhat disappointing sixth place finish.
Got stuck on the high side during the last restart and lost a few spots. @CarsonHocevar battled back from one lap down and is scored sixth at the checkered flag.#ARCA #ShoreLunch200— KBR Development (@KBRdevelopment) June 15, 2019
Christian Eckes had a disappointing night finishing in the seventh position after qualifying on the outside pole. He was up front late in the going battling with his two other Venturini Motorsports teammates, Self and Smith. Unfortunately, the Middletown, New York native accidentally got turned around late on the frontstretch. Eckes never rebounded and ended up seventh. He looks forward heading to Gateway next weekend.
Super strong @JBLaudio Camry tonight. Spun after contact while passing for the leading with 18 to go. My fault! Sucks but we will move on. Proud of my @VenturiniMotor team, we’re ready for Gateway 👊— Christian Eckes (@christianeckes) June 15, 2019
Like others, Ty Gibbs returned to action after a short hiatus and was strong from the get-go. Gibbs took his No. 18 Monster Energy machine and qualified it in the third position. After Smith led the first 150 laps, Gibbs finally became the first lead change of the night on Lap 151 and held on for the next 14. The rain came on Lap 156 while Gibbs was leading and he was hoping for a little bit of extra luck in hopes to secure his first ARCA win of the season.
However, it wasn’t meant to be as the light shower quickly passed over the track and the race went back under caution. When coming down to pit road, Gibbs failed to obey the stop sign at the end of the pit road, was penalized, and sent to the back to serve his penalty.
Despite the penalty, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was having a solid run up front before another caution took place for Hailie Deegan’s car. With a late race restart that came with five to go, Gibbs jumped too early and changed lanes before the restart and was penalized again. He had to serve a drive-through penalty with just three laps to go. This ultimately ruined his chances of winning and he wound up with a frustrating eighth-place finish after being dominant early on.
Yesterday was rough. One of the fastest cars I’ve ever drove. We led a couple laps and had shots to win the race. Just got on the bad side of the last restart, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. We will be back at gateway next weekend, see you there! #teamtg pic.twitter.com/Vb0GkeqcPm— Ty Gibbs (@TyGibbs_) June 15, 2019
Corey Heim had a frustrating night as well, finishing 10th, five laps down to the race winner, after starting seventh. He was involved in the first caution of the night that came out on Lap 111 as Mayer accidentally made contact with Heim and sent him into the entry of Turn 3. Afterward, handling issues would plague the No. 22 machine. It was disappointing after being dominant as of late, winning at Charlotte and Pocono. Heim couldn’t keep the results and momentum going due to the accident, and finished in 10th place.
Last night was rough. We had a good car but couldn’t show for it. I need to qualify better if we’re going to get good finishes. Still learning every race.— Corey Heim (@CoreyHeim3) June 15, 2019
The ARCA Menards Series will continue their championship run to Kansas in October at World Wide Technology Raceway on Saturday, June 22.