When it was announced that I-44 Speedway would replace Elko Speedway in Minnesota on the schedule due to COVID restrictions, the speedway was fairly new to everyone in the field. Most drivers had never competed at the .375-mile race track located in Lebanon, Missouri.
But when the checkered flag flew at the end of Lap 200, the race winner wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone as GMS Racing Developmental driver Sam Mayer earned his third checkered flag of the 2020 ARCA Menards Series season.
As it has been since the ARCA Menards Series returned from the pandemic break, three segments made up the 200 lap race at I-44 Speedway. The first segment ended on Lap 75, the second segment at Lap 150 and the final at Lap 200. Bret Holmes was on the pole after setting the pace in practice earlier in the day.
The race was action-packed from the get-go when the green flag flew. Through the first 35 laps of the Zinnser Smart Coat 200, Holmes stretched his lead over second-place driver Ty Gibbs by nearly four seconds. However, the first yellow flew on Lap 36 when Venturini Motorsports driver Chandler Smith got turned sideways going into Turn 1, after contact with the No. 4 of Hailie Deegan. Right before the next restart, another Venturini driver suffered issues when the No. 15 of Drew Dollar came to pit road for battery issues under caution. By taking his No. 15 to pit road, the battery problem really took Dollar out of the race as he returned to the track numerous laps down.
More contact would come at Laps 48 and 70. At Lap 48, Gibbs’ No. 18 made slight contact with the No. 25 of Michael Self. The contact gave Self some right-side damage to his No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota. Meanwhile, the second caution flew at Lap 70, after pole-sitter Holmes got spun by Deegan going into Turn 1. The move sent Holmes up the track and caused more right-side damage to Deegan’s No. 4 Ford.
With the yellow coming so close to the first segment break, ARCA officials decided the break would come at Lap 71. Deegan, Mayer, Gibbs, Gray, Self, Wright, Holmes, Basham, Smith, and Richmond were the top 10.
The green flag flew for the second segment on Lap 71. Though just 20 laps later, another yellow came out as Holmes got into the No. 20 of Smith after Smith slightly came down when Holmes was already there.
Smith’s night continued to go downhill on Lap 120 when he made contact with the No. 22 of Kris Wright, bringing out the fourth caution of the night.
Prior to the segment ending on Lap 150, Wright again would end up in trouble, as he got into Self’s No. 25 Toyota in Turn 3. After the contact, Self’s car was severely damaged when he hit the wall. Once the cars were brought down for pit road due to the break, Deegan, Mayer, Holmes, Gibbs, Gray, Self, Wright, Smith, Basham, and Dollar made up the top 10 running order.
The turning point of the race occurred after the Lap 156 restart after Mayer shot to the lead when Deegan didn’t get going well enough to keep her lead. Mayer had a better restart and continued to check out with the race lead.
By the time the checkered flag flew, it was all Mayer as he grabbed his third ARCA Menards Series victory of the year with Holmes coming in second and Taylor Gray third to round out the top three.
Even though Holmes closed the championship points gap to one point behind Michael Self, the Alabaman was frustrated with how his race went.
“It’s really frustrating when you have the best car and you don’t win the race,” Holmes said. “We really did all we could. The last 15 to 20 laps, I kind of lost my cool there, with being so frustrated with the car. You know, it just sucks. People can’t race clean. I know for some people it doesn’t matter (racing clean) just because of who they are, but for people like me, it’s a lot tougher to have a good reputation and keep that fan base behind you. Just the lack of respect overall. I’ve never had to race the car that way, but they’ve got it coming.”
Despite Holmes being frustrated with a second place finish, one rookie Taylor Gray, enjoyed a career best night of placing third.
“We finished third by just being there at the end and racing everyone clean as much as I possibly could,” Gray said. “It’s really hard to pass here and not the greatest racing side-by-side. We came out with a good finish tonight. I can’t thank everyone at DGR-Crosley and Ford enough. They gave me a good Ford Fusion tonight and we’ll go on to Toledo next weekend.”
Mayer led one time for 46 laps en route to victory.
There were five cautions for 28 laps and two lead changes among three different leaders.
Official Results following the Zinsser Smart Coat 200 at I-44 Speedway.
- Sam Mayer, led 46 laps
- Bret Holmes, led 69 laps
- Taylor Gray
- Ty Gibbs
- Hailie Deegan, led 85 laps
- Michael Self, 1 lap down
- Kris Wright, 2 laps down
- Chandler Smith, 2 laps down
- Drew Dollar, 6 laps down
- Mike Basham, 7 laps down
- Tim Richmond, 11 laps down
- Owen Smith, OUT, Brakes
- Brad Smith, OUT, Handling
- Tim Monroe, OUT, Brakes
Up Next: The ARCA Menards Series is scheduled to compete at Toledo Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 12.