By: Ashley McCubbin
While this event may be become the highlight of the season for the ARCA Menards Series East, there are a lot of wandering thoughts with what happened before the final restart.
The dash for the checkered is everything you want to see in motorsports – determination for the win, a little bump and banging without wrecking a guy, and coming down to mere inches. Oh, and the three-wide element of surprise is the sprinkles on the sundae this Monday night.
Sammy Smith and Taylor Gray were in a world of their own, with Smith hoping to perfect the bump and run to secure the checkered flag. He made the move, but it was Gray with the counter. The block was on target and should have sealed their fate, but both missed a critical element. They always say don’t get wrapped up in your own battle for position, because you leave the door open for someone else to close in and capitalize. Max Gutierrez put his name on the map in that fashion, sliding by both of them for the win.
The bummer is the rain delay as sitting around waiting for precipitation to go away is never a fun activity. It makes it worse when there’s only four laps to go, and some fans wondered why not just throw the checkered and be done. After all, the consensus was they would come back and destroy all the equipment. Well, you never would have gotten to witness the thrilling finish – and they actually used their heads for a change.
Those final two laps are why fans have fallen in love with short track racing across the country. They will probably be replayed and shared for days to come. There’s no taking away from that. However, this race fails to meet expectations due to how we got here.
Prior to the caution flag for rain, Sammy Smith had driven away from the field and looked to have sealed his first career victory. He was able to get the lead following pit strategy, that originally seemed to be a genius move. However instead, he had failed to follow the series’ proper protocols for halfway pit stops.
The process is for the lead lap cars to come on down and take two tires, followed by the lap cars on the following lap. Then if you want to get rubber for the other side, you may head down on the third lap. Smith and Mason Diaz pitted on the first trips around the speedway, while the rest of the field followed procedure. The officials did not catch on, putting Smith and Diaz at the front of the field.
Though with the rain delay, and a couple comments from Gray to boot, they looked over video and determined an error in judgment. When the race restarted, Smith was moved to fourth behind Diaz, Gray, and Joey Test.
If you are going to be a sanctioning body with a series of rules, you need to understand what you have in the book and follow it as the event takes place. However, to go back on a call later on is not the way to handle a missed call. After all, they never would have gotten the chance to do that without the rain delay anyway. Team owner Billy Venturini had the perfect explanation to why it was unfair.
It also makes the call even worse when you penalize one driver who committed the penalty (Smith), but not the other involved party (Diaz).
Hopefully, the officials can have a deep rooted discussion and work out all the corks so we do not repeat this again in 2021 as it’d suck to overshadow the young up-and-coming talent and great racing with rule issues.