TADD HISLOP | ARCA RACING
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For a few laps Saturday night, after Sammy Smith had been black flagged for crossing the start line before the leader when the Crosley Record Pressing 200 presented by T-Mobile at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway took the green flag, it seemed the ARCA Menards Series East points leader would be in for a rough race.
Yet Smith, who went a lap down when he was issued a pass-through penalty, quickly earned his lap back by passing the leader in a show of race-winning speed.
Sure enough, 190 laps later, the No. 18 Engine Ice Toyota was in Victory Lane for the second consecutive time in the ARCA Menards Series East.
RELATED: Complete Results from Nashville
The 16-year-old Smith had worked his way back into the top 10 when the first of two race breaks arrived on Lap 76. Just before the midway point of the race, on Lap 98, he took the lead from Mason Diaz and never looked back, leading each of the last 103 laps.
“I guess I jumped the start,” said Smith. “I felt like we had a good enough car to come back through the field. We got our lap back, then came through the field. I can’t thank the Engine Ice guys enough; the whole Joe Gibbs Racing team. They brought me a super fast car.”
Smith, 16, picked up his second win in his first season running in the ARCA Menards Series East. With the victory, he extended his lead in the championship standings to 15 points over second-place Mason Diaz.
Diaz, who finished second to Smith in February at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, finished second to Smith again Saturday night at Nashville.
Diaz now has a seven-point edge on third-place Max Gutiérrez in the East Series championship standings.
“Just shows what this team is able to do,” Diaz said of his consecutive runner-up finishes. “It’s hard to compete against Joe Gibbs. It’s in the name. They win in the (NASCAR) Cup Series; they’re definitely going to win in ARCA.
“But for our small team, and what we put into it, to come out here and finish second (ahead of) all these other teams, that means the world to our team.”
Mason Mingus finished third at Nashville after qualifying on the General Tire Pole. Mingus, the 26-year-old local driver who competes in Late Models regularly at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, was making his first start on the ARCA Menards platform since 2017.
Mingus finished second to Frank Kimmel in the 2013 ARCA Menards Series championship standings and entered Saturday with 37 ARCA starts on his resume, but he had never raced in what’s now the ARCA Menards Series East.
“We fired off a little too free,” said Mingus, who led 56 laps Saturday night at his home track driving for Jeff McClure and Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing team. “The track really cooled down on us; we didn’t really anticipate that.
“We were able to make a run for it there at the end. Maybe a little more time, we would have had something for (Diaz), but they were pretty quick. The 18 was really fast. I don’t think anybody had anything for him.”
Both Smith and Mingus ran the North/South Super Late Challenge race that took place prior to the Crosley Record Pressing 200 at Nashville. Carson Kvapil won the first leg of the track’s doubleheader before finishing 11th in the East Series race.
Smith said that experience helped him “quite a bit” Saturday night.
Conner Jones finished fourth at Nashville in his ARCA Menards debut. The CARS Late Model Stock Tour regular was running a one-off for GMS Racing in the car Sam Mayer drove to five East Series wins last season en route to his second consecutive championship.
Joey Iest, the ARCA Menards Series East rookie driving for David Gilliland Racing this season, finished fifth.
Rajah Caruth, Parker Retzlaff, Daniel Dye, Max Gutiérrez and Stephanie Moyer rounded out the top 10.
Moyer now has two top-10 finishes in two East Series starts after she finished eighth in her debut at 5 Flags.
Retzlaff brought out the race’s only caution (beyond the pair of scheduled race breaks) when he spun in Turn 2 on Lap 180.
The ARCA Menards Series East will return to action next week. The General Tire 125 at Dover International Speedway on Friday, May 14, is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. ET. The race will be shown live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.
A replay of Saturday night’s race at Nashville will air on NBCSN on Thursday, May 13, at 6:30 p.m. ET.