By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
After a wild race at Pocono Raceway, the ARCA Menards Series returns to short track racing.
Elko, Minnesota will be the scene of round number nine of the ARCA Menards Series season. After missing out on racing in 2020 due to the pandemic, Elko will host its seventh ARCA Menards Series race on Saturday with the Menards 250.
In case you missed the last ARCA Menards Series race, you missed out on an instant classic. Ty Gibbs, Chandler Smith, and Corey Heim battled hard throughout the race at Pocono with Heim coming out on top with his third victory of 2021. Heim took the lead after the final restart when Gibbs and Smith made contact and was able to hold off Gibbs for the victory and left the Pocono mountains with the points lead.
Despite having a tire rub, Gibbs finished the race in second while Drew Dollar, Nick Sanchez, and Thad Moffitt rounded out the top-five.
The last time that the ARCA Menards Series raced at Elko, Smith earned the victory holding off Gibbs and Sam Mayer for the victory. Gus Dean, Austin Theriault, Grant Enfinger, Frank Kimmel, and Brennan Poole also have victories at Elko in the past. None of the previous winners at Elko are entered this weekend meaning a new driver will be in Elko’s victory lane on Saturday.
In the six previous races, a driver has never won from the pole. Enfinger started second in his winning race in 2014.
BREAKING IT DOWN:
As noted above, Heim will enter Saturday’s race at Elko with the points lead. Heim earned his fourth career victory at Pocono. This weekend, Heim enters Elko for the second time of his career as he competed in the most recent race in 2019. Heim qualified third in that race and finished fifth. At that time, it was his fourth top-five finish and on Saturday he will be chasing top-five number 18.
Speaking of the number 18, Gibbs enters this weekend with a three-point deficit off of Heim. Gibbs also raced in the last race at Elko in 2019 where he finished second after starting second. He won the most recent short track ARCA Menards Series race at Toledo back in May and looks to kick off a new streak of victories. Gibbs has finished first or second in six of the eight races this season and only has one DNF coming at Talladega. Could Saturday’s race be where Gibbs takes the points lead for the first time in 2021?
Thad Moffitt enters a race track that he has never raced at in his ARCA Menards Series career but that hasn’t stopped him so far in his career especially this year. Moffitt is running on his career-best season so far finishing top-10 in all but one race this season. Since his accident at Daytona, he hasn’t finished worse than 7th and has tied his career-best finish of third twice (Phoenix and Mid-Ohio). He enters Elko with a 53-point gap between him and points leader Heim.
Nick Sanchez has worked towards a solid showing on the short tracks in the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East. He’s competed at Toledo, Bristol, Dover, New Smyrna, and Pensacola in his career and this weekend, Sanchez will mark off Elko Speedway. Sanchez has turned into one of four ARCA Menards Series championship contenders. He’s only finished outside the top-five once since his stellar run at Talladega. In ARCA’s last short track race, at Toledo, Sanchez tied his career-best finish of third. Sanchez is 79-points behind points leader Heim and will look to put himself in the right place Saturday at Elko.
For the first time since his non-racing-related car accident in April, Taylor Gray will return to action this weekend at Elko Speedway. The younger brother of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Tanner Gray will make his 14th ARCA Menards Series start Saturday and first start this season since March 12th. Gray was a contender for the ARCA Menards Series East championship before the car accident sidelined him. In 13 previous starts, Gray has tallied eight top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. He has a career-best third-place finish twice at Toledo and I-44 Speedway last season.
ARCA Menards Series East driver Daniel Dye will make his ARCA Menards Series debut this weekend at Elko Speedway. He will pilot the No. 21 for GMS Racing in his second start with the organization. In seven starts in the ARCA Menards Series East, Dye has the career-best finish of sixth three times including in the most recent East race at Southern National Motorsports Park. Dye will be the ninth driver to drive for GMS Racing in the ARCA Menards Series and will look to tally the organization its 15th career victory.
Gracie Trotter will make her eighth ARCA Menards Series start on Saturday. Trotter has had a season to forget so far finishing outside the top-20 in her first three starts of the season. She was able to earn her first top-10 finish of 2021 in her last start at Toledo and will look to use that finish as a momentum builder. Despite the No. 25 not running with a full-time driver, there still is a championship to chase. The No. 25 currently sits sixth in ARCA Menards Series owners points, 99-points behind the No. 20 entry.
Coming off of his first ARCA Menards Series West victory of 2021, Jesse Love will pilot the No. 15 for Venturini Motorsports this weekend. Love made his season debut with Venturini at Toledo and finished a career-best tying fourth, with a broken exhaust part. In six career ARCA Menards Series starts, Love has earned three top-fives and four top-10s. Drew Dollar finished third at Pocono behind the wheel of the No. 15 so Love will look to continue the impressive season in the car he’s sharing.
For a new team, Richmond Clubb Motorsports has been rather impressive so far in 2021. Alex Clubb returns to the car this weekend for his 14th career start. Clubb has led the way in the organization finishing top-10 in both races he’s competed in so far this season and earning his career-best finish of 8th in the last short track race at Toledo. The No. 27 entry currently sits eighth in ARCA Menards Series owners points and isn’t too far behind Andy Hillenburg’s No. 10 entry.
Willie Mullins will return to the ARCA Menards Series for the first time since the accident at Daytona derailed his season. An early incident knocked the radiator out of the car and caused some major damage to the engine. This resulted in Mullins missing Talladega. Davey Callahan made his ARCA Menards Series East debut with Mullins Racing at Southern National finishing ninth. This weekend though, “Big” Willie will return to the ARCA Menards Series with the help of Andy Hillenburg. He will pilot the No. 10 in his 21st career start and third at Elko.
The Menards 250 at Elko Speedway will go live on MAVTV at 10 p.m. ET and will also be live on NBC Sports Gold: TrackPass. ARCA’s website will also have a radio broadcasted version of the race available. Tickets for the Menards 250 start at $25 and can be purchased by clicking here.
Photo: Jay Alley/ARCA Racing