By Tadd Haislop, ARCA Racing
LEXINGTON, Ohio — For the vast majority of Friday evening’s Dawn 150 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Taylor Gray was not in contention for the victory.
Then late-race chaos changed everything about the ninth ARCA Menards Series event of the season.
Driving the No. 17 Ford Performance Ford for David Gilliland Racing, Gray moved Kris Wright out of the lead coming to two laps to go at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course. Armed with fresh tires, the 17-year-old Gray after that pass for the lead coasted to his second ARCA Menards Series victory.
“First of all I want to say sorry to Kris,” Gray said. “I didn’t want to race him like that; I wanted to race him clean. He bobbled getting into [Turn] 12, and I took the bottom, and it’s just so slick down there I lost the front and doored him.
“But we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
Gray led only the last two laps of what was a wild race at Mid-Ohio. The event began with rain falling all over the track, forcing teams to begin on General Tire SC wet radial tires. Wet conditions defined the first half of the race, as cars struggled to remain on track.
John Hunter Nemechek, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular who competed in the Dawn 150 for Venturini Motorsports as he prepares for Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 150 at the same track, dominated that portion of the race on wet tires after starting on the General Tire Pole.
Nemechek was in command after the mid-race break, too, until Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Sammy Smith tracked him down and took the lead with 14 laps to go. Nemechek, though, battled back to the top spot with 13 laps to go.
That’s when the madness turned up a notch.
During the race break, Nick Sanchez had acquired slick tires designed for dry track conditions, a strategy call for Rev Racing that initially hurt the No. 2 Chevrolet’s speed. But as the track continued to dry, Sanchez’s tires gave him more and more of an advantage.
That change in conditions culminated in Sanchez taking the lead with nine laps to go.
But caution with seven laps to go — and the mistake Sanchez’s team made during that caution — once again changed everything.
Both Sanchez and his Rev Racing teammate Rajah Caruth pitted for fresh tires. The problem was both had already changed from wet to dry tires during the race break, and ARCA Menards Series rules prohibit teams from changing slicks to more slicks.
“At the end of the day, it’s my bad and my screw-up on it,” said Matt Bucher, Sanchez’s crew chief.
Being one of the drivers whose team passed on slicks during the race break before taking them during the last caution, Gray was able to use his fresh rubber and solid track position to get the win.
Parker Chase finished second despite a late incident with Nemechek, his Venturini Motorsports teammate.
“I didn’t intentionally dump him or anything, just hard racing.” Nemechek said of Chase. “But he completely dumped me. Part of it, I guess.”
Chase said he meant to give Nemechek “a little nudge” but did not mean to spin his teammate.
Added Nemechek on his run ahead of his Truck Series start at Mid-Ohio: “Learned a lot today. Hopefully we can take it on to tomorrow.”
Smith finished third ahead of Nemechek in fourth. Jesse Love completed the top five.
Wright, Stanton Barrett, Daniel Dye, Caruth, and Dale Quarterley rounded out the top 10. Sanchez finished 11th after his late penalty and a spin on the final lap.
Not including the race break, Friday’s Dawn 150 featured just a pair of cautions despite difficult conditions early in the event. The first occurred on the first lap when Casey Carden’s No. 3 Ford experienced a mechanical issue while multiple cars spun on a wet track. The second was for Colby Howard’s stalled No. 91 Toyota with just a few laps to go.
Friday’s race also marked Round 5 of the Sioux Chief Showdown. Smith entered the Dawn 150 as the points leader in the 10-race series within the ARCA Menards Series.
The ARCA Menards Series season will continue Friday, July 22, with the General Tire Delivers 200 at Pocono Raceway. That race is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET and will be shown live on FS1 and the Fox Sports App with radio coverage on MRN/SiriusXM.