By: Ashley McCubbin
Photo By: Russell Labounty | Nigel Kinrade Photography
There’s a lot of talent on the rise in stock car racing, and Friday night was a great showcase of some of those drivers.
The ARCA Menards Series return to Phoenix Raceway was brought with great excitement, as the drivers battled all the way around the 1-mile oval through the night. The race had a bit of everything for the race fan, resulting in a solid event overall.
If you like craziness, then just a single glance at any of the restarts would have delivered what you wanted. The wide track, including cutting the dog-leg down the backstretch, enabled drivers to go three, sometimes four-wide battling for positions without crashes happening as a result. Ty Gibbs going from 11th to third was certainly a great display of the possibilities.
Combined with that was the series rules surrounding how many General Tires they are allowed each event, and how they fell off over the course of a run. This enabled strategy with teams trying to decide the best opportunity to come down pit road, and brought passing opportunities through a run as drivers moved their way forward.
Although there was one quiet point during the night when Gibbs had left the field with drivers spread out throughout a little, you could say there was something to keep you interested 90% of the time.
The only draw back on the event was some of the officiating, as ARCA can certainly improve on that moving forward.
The pit road rules are strict in what you are allowed each time you come down. The first tirip you can change two tires and then add fuel, while the second occurrence allows you to service the rubber on the side. Drivers that did not pit move to the front of the field, with those who took two tires following, and the competitors who made two trips down behind – in the same order that you were running prior to coming down as you cannot, in theory, “lose positions” on pit road.
Drivers electing to go with all three different strategy decisions on a late caution resulted in confusion with how the field should be lined up, as they ran four-wide behind the pace car trying to sort out the confusion. The two laps wasted under the yellow flag would have been much better to watch under the green flag, and as some stated across social media made the series look foolish.
Certainly, the series will look back on this experience and find ways to improve as fans need to understand these are new procedures this season. But for now, it look amateurish.
Chandler Smith’s crew chief deserves all the credit in the world for electing to just take two tires and give his driver track position with the slew of late cautions. Though the Georgia native deserves just as much credit for getting a strong restart, and pulling away in the late stages to ensure the victory.
Michael Self is letting his experience shine through in not giving up through the team’s difficulties with the No. 25 SinClair Toyota shutting off through a run mid-race. His maturity to not panic within the situation and work with the team to fix the problem paid off with a runner-up finish.
Although he may be wondering what could have been without those issues, it was a DINO-mite rebound and could be beneficial points-wise through the season.
Ty Gibbs had the dominant car and looked to be headed towards victory lane, until the late-race strategy and an inability to get by Smith on the one-lap restart to close the event. Certainly any fan watching can understand being frustrated with how things played out, but putting on sunglasses for an interview at night is a little too far in showing your discontent.
He could have handled that better by taking the interview straight up, saying he was frustrated with how it played out, but crediting the team for a strong car. Though by following the attitude route that he chose on Friday night could ultimately cost him moving forward.