By: Ashley McCubbin
While a lot of focus was on the NASCAR National tours crowning their champions, there was also one crowned in the ARCA Menards West division on Saturday. However, while the glory has been shined on the titlist, that wasn’t quite the case when the checkered flag fell here. It wasn’t for a bad reason, either, as fans got entertained to some of the best racing in 2020.
Instead, the spotlight focused on a veteran in David Gilliland scoring his first victory since 2012 after driving his way through the field and out-battling some of the best budding talent in the sport.
Truth be told, it should have been a straight forward journey after capturing the top spot, but a mistake shortly after the break in going down below the yellow line resulted in an unscheduled trip down pit road for a penalty. As Gilliland said post-race. he was simply too aggressive, but understandably so.
With how crazy the restarts are at Phoenix Raceway, it’s actually surprising to see this not happen more often with the front row wanting to block those behind them from getting a run through the dog leg in trying to go as low as possible to cut as much time.
Thankfully, some timely cautions with a series of mistakes in the final laps and a quick No. 4 Ford got to shine through, as Gilliland gained at least five spots on each restart, enabling him to make the late race pass and secure the win ahead of Ty Gibbs.
While Gilliland was the dominant force, Gibbs proved why he will to watch moving forward, as with Sam Mayer, as both were able to run with the veteran from the drop of the green to the checkered.
Mayer could’ve possibly got the jump on Gibbs when Gilliland got the penalty initially, but slowed – as if he thought the black flag was for himself. He also was close to getting the restart of the day in the late stages, but ultimately became a pinball at the hands of Gibbs blocking and Todd Gilliland making contact with left rear to flatten the tire. While a wrecked car was certainly not what he wanted on Saturday, Mayer has nothing to hang his head about after securing the East Championship and a win in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series at Bristol.
On top of everything stated, there was also a champion crowned, but you would not have known so if following the main storylines.
Jesse Love was a non-factor throughout, falling a lap down in the first half en route to finishing outside the top-10, while Blaine Perkins went around on Lap 1 before heading into the garage early with motor issues. While the top-two in the West division struggled, the front of the filed was graced with a veteran (D. Gilliland), a pair of Truck Series stars (T. Gilliland and Zane Smith) and ARCA Menards East heavyweights Mayer, Gibbs, and Taylor Gray.
There has also been a distance between the divisions, something everybody hoped would close in seeing ARCA and NASCAR align together this year. However, it seemed more apparent than anything that if you want to really prove yourself, the East is where you do that.
Notably – for second week in a row, officials wasted possible green flag laps and great competition by circulating around under the pacecar. Isn’t this what the red flag was invented for?