By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
The ARCA Menards Series heads to Watkins Glen International for only the second time in its history. Friday’s race will feature a battle that has turned personal for the ARCA Menards Series championship.
Ty Gibbs tallied his seventh victory of 2021 Saturday at Winchester Speedway after turning Corey Heim late. The Heim and Gibbs rivalry has begun to brew and the stakes are heavy as the series heads to Watkins Glen. Gibbs left Winchester with a seven-point lead. Time is ticking as there are only eight races remaining in the 2021 campaign.
Friday’s Clean Harbor 100 at Watkins Glen marks the first time since 2001 that the Series visits the seven-turn road course in Watkins Glen, New York. John Finger earned the victory in that race, his first and only career victory in the ARCA Menards Series. Finger held off the late Blaise Alexander for the victory. The series was slated to make its return last year but the races at The Glen were canceled due to COVID-19.
Though the ARCA Menards Series hasn’t competed at Watkins Glen since 2001, the ARCA Menards Series East has competed there 26 previous times. Races were held from 1993 through 2004, 2008, 2009, and 2014 through 2019.
Previous winners at Watkins Glen in the ARCA East Series include Brett Moffitt, Will Rodgers, Austin Cindric, Ryan Truex, Ted Christopher, Ron Fellows, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Terry Labonte, and Bill Elliott just to name a few. Max McLaughlin earned the victory in the last ARCA East race at Watkins Glen in 2019.
There are 30 cars entered in Friday’s Clean Harbor 100 at Watkins Glen.
BREAKING IT DOWN:
Gibbs enters Watkins Glen with not just the points lead but as the most recent winner on a road course in the ARCA Menards Series. Gibbs earned the victory at Mid-Ohio back in June holding off NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Austin Hill. He also earned his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory earlier this year on the Daytona Road Course. Gibbs has won the last two races on the ARCA Menards Series schedule and will look to go three-in-a-row for the second time in his career.
Leading 175 laps on Saturday at Winchester, Corey Heim is working extra hard to keep his name in the hat. Heim was trending towards another victory but in the closing laps of the race, Heim was knocked out of the way for the lead and ultimately the victory. He was able to rebound and finish third, which will be something noteworthy as the championship battle continues. He’s finished fourth or better in all but one race this season including four victories. The last time Heim raced on a road course, he earned his worst finish of 2021 after two penalties knocked him out of contention at Mid-Ohio. Heim will look to continue pressing on the pressure as the clock inches closer to the end of the season.
Thad Moffitt is the closest driver within striking distance of the two contenders and is coming off a career-best tying third-place finish in the last Road Course race at Mid-Ohio. Since that race though, there haven’t been very many high notes including a power steering issue at Berlin that relegated him to a 12th place finish. Moffitt though is coming off a strong fourth-place finish at Winchester and will look for success at a place the Petty name has had experience at in the past. Lee, Richard, and Kyle Petty all have a combined 30 Cup Series starts at Watkins Glen. Kyle earned one of his victories at The Glen in 1992 and is the only member of the Petty family to have a victory in the Cup Series at the Glen. Adam Petty, Thad’s cousin, has one career start at The Glen in the Xfinity Series in 1997. Thad will be just another chapter in the Petty legacy at Watkins Glen by starting Friday’s race.
Taylor Gray will be making his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Watkins Glen on Saturday but before that, he’ll get some track time on the circuit of Watkins Glen International running the ARCA Menards Series race prior, and this weekend he’ll have some teammates. Gray has experience on road courses in the ARCA Menards Series and West Series. He’s raced at the Daytona Road Course and the Utah Motorsports Campus in his career with the best finish of fourth twice (4th at Daytona Road Course and 4th at Utah Motorsports Campus in 2020).
Austin Hill returns to the ARCA Menards Series for some track time before the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular-season finale on Saturday. Hill battled hard with Ty Gibbs at Mid-Ohio and earned his career-best second-place finish. Hill has a plethora of starts on road courses with starts in the Xfinity Series, Truck Series, ARCA East Series. He has three starts at Watkins Glen in the ARCA Menards Series East with the best finish of 6th in 2015.
Another driver looking for extra track time is Sam Mayer as if he wasn’t slated to run enough this weekend. Mayer will be pulling triple duty this weekend running the ARCA Menards Series, Camping World Truck Series, and NASCAR Xfinity Series. Mayer started the Daytona Road Course race last year but was unable to finish as Colin Braun jumped in as fill-in after Mayer was struggling with a hairline fracture on his right thumb. Despite not being able to finish that race, Mayer has two top-five finishes at Watkins Glen in the ARCA Menards Series East finishing third the last time The Glen was on the schedule. Mayer will be racing for Bret Holmes Racing who is coming off a 10th place finish at Iowa.
Chad Bryant Racing returns to the ARCA Menards Series this weekend with Chase Briscoe. The last time the two competed together was at Sonoma for the ARCA Menards Series West and they came home with a victory, his first in the ARCA West Series. Much like he did in June, Briscoe is looking for extra track time before Sunday’s race but unlike Sonoma, he’s raced at Watkins Glen before in the past. Briscoe finished 6th in his one and only Watkins Glen start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2019. Briscoe and crew chief John Klausmeier will have a chance to begin a notebook.
Another driver who raced the ARCA Menards Series race at Mid-Ohio earlier this year is Brandon Jones. Jones will pilot the No. 25 entry for Venturini Motorsports this weekend and will make his 25th ARCA Menards Series start. Unlike many of the other drivers though, Jones has a good chunk of starts at Watkins Glen in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with four but only one of those four finishes came within the top-10. With The Glen not being one of his better tracks, Jones will look to close the gap he has and continue making a push for his first victory of 2021 in the Xfinity Series.
The Clean Harbors 100 at Watkins Glen International goes live on FOX Sports 1 at 6 p.m. ET. The race will be available for delayed streaming on NBC Sports Gold: TrackPass following the event. MRN will have the call starting at 6 p.m. ET and will also be available on SiriusXM (XM channel 391, online channel 981).
Photo: ARCA Racing