By Tadd Haislop/ARCA Menards Series
DUQUOIN, Ill. — Everybody now understands why Landen Lewis, at just 15, was pinned to run the pair of 2021 ARCA Menards Series dirt races for Rette Jones Racing Development and Austin Theriault Racing Development.
Lewis, the Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, native who finished seventh in his ARCA debut a couple of weeks ago on the Springfield Mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, won Sunday’s Southern Illinois 100 presented by Lucas Oil at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
The rookie’s first win came in just his second ARCA Menards Series start, and it arrived in dominating fashion. Lewis qualified on the General Tire Pole early Sunday evening and proceeded to lead every lap of the race on the one-mile clay oval.
“Right now I’m speechless,” Lewis said in Victory Lane standing next to his No. 2 19th Green Chevrolet owned by Max Siegel. “This wouldn’t be possible without any of my guys. (Crew chief) Mark Rette, (team co-owner) Larry Jones, Austin Theriault — everyone who’s made this possible for me. It’s a dream come true.”
Rette Jones Racing Development and Austin Theriault Racing Development jointly announced last month that Lewis would make his ARCA debut at Springfield, where he finished seventh after qualifying fifth. His opportunity came on the strength of a successful career in Legends Cars, Super Trucks, and Dirt Modified competition.
In the Legend Car competition, Lewis has roared to 22 wins and 51 top-five finishes. In Dirt Modifieds driving for four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr., Lewis has six wins, eight second-place runs, and 27 top-fives.
Lewis banked on his experience in Dirt Modifieds to help ease his transition to stock cars with advice not only from Hornaday but also from racing icon Ken Schrader, the 66-year-old veteran who was in the field Sunday at DuQuoin and finished third.
“I was trying to get to the checkered as fast as I could,” Lewis said of the closing laps Sunday before an overtime restart that was prompted by a Taylor Gray spin on the final lap of regulation. “My spotter told me there was a wreck in Turn 3, and I just automatically started thinking (about) what Ron Hornaday’s taught me.”
Schrader finished behind Ty Gibbs, the ARCA Menards Series championship leader who stretched his lead in the standings to 16 points over Corey Heim with his second-place run at DuQuoin.
Heim finished nine laps down in seventh place, a tie for his worst result of the season (seventh at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in June). He spent several laps Sunday on pit road as his team worked to fix front-end damage on his No. 20 Craftsman Toyota.
Already bent out of shape, the front end of Heim’s car caught the DuQuoin dirt on Lap 33 and catapulted the rest of the machine into the air. Heim kept the car from spinning, but he was forced to bring it to pit road.
Gibbs failed to lead a lap in a race for the second time this season (Springfield), but the 18-year-old driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota did clinch the 2021 CGS Imaging Four Crown.
The Four Crown is a four-race series within the ARCA Menards Series that celebrates a diverse schedule with events on a superspeedway (Kansas Speedway), a road course (Mid-Ohio), a short track (Indiana’s Winchester Speedway), and a dirt track (DuQuoin).
“I’m just glad I walked out of here with a working race car,” said Gibbs, who won the first three Four-Crown races of the season. “It was a really difficult race not trying to tear stuff up.
“Tonight was more of a character-building night for me. We had a good points day. Championship racing is a little bit different to me; I want to go win the race. But sometimes you can’t.”
Dirt track ringer Ryan Unzicker, who spent much of Sunday’s race in second place chasing Lewis, finished fourth after a slip on the overtime restart.
Gray rounded out the top five at DuQuoin, a finish that extends his streak of top-five finishes to nine this season.
The ARCA Menards Series will take a week off before it returns to action Thursday, Sept. 16 for the Bush’s Beans 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the 18th of 20 races on the 2021 schedule.
The Bristol race, which also serves as the ARCA Menards Series East season finale and Round 9 of the 10-race Sioux Chief Showdown, will broadcast live on FS1 with a start time of 6:30 p.m. ET.
Photo: Jeff Curry/ARCA Racing