After qualifying on the pole, Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Sammy Smith, in his second season with the team, scored his first ARCA Menards East Series victory at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. Smith battled with Taylor Gray and then dominated the final segment by leading most of the laps.
“I can’t thank the team enough, they did a really good job,” Smith told NBC Sports. “The first part of the race, we weren’t very good. We fought back and made some good adjustments. Can’t thank Mark McFarland (Crew Chief) and the whole Engine ice team enough for a great Toyota Camry.”
The ARCA Menards East Series headed to Pensacola, Florida for the second race of the 2021 season. A total of 13 cars took the green flag, including Smith who qualified on the pole with a time of 17.49 seconds and 102.898 mph. There were two segment breaks, one at Lap 75 and another at Lap 150.
Segment 1: Lap 1 – Lap 75
There was plenty of action in the first segment, mainly between Taylor Gray and Smith. Smith and Gray swapped the lead multiple times before Smith had the advantage. The first caution of the race was on Lap 55 when the No. 12 of Stephanie Moyer, who was making her ARCA debut for Andy Hillenburg, was stalled in Turn(s) 3 and 4.
The restart came on Lap 69, just six laps shy of the first halfway break. Gray, the Denver, North Carolina native, passed Smith for the lead and would remain the leader at the first segment break. Daniel Dye, Sammy Smith, Rajah Caruth, Mason Diaz, Parker Retzlaff, Joey Iest, Carson Kvapil, Max Gutierrez and Stephanie Moyer rounded out the Top 10.
Second Segment: Lap 78 – Lap 150
As the second segment got underway, there was a new leader in town as Daniel Dye, in the No. 43, took over the lead from Gray. Dye led for a brief while, but the lead ultimately went back to Gray. Shortly before halfway, Smith started to reel in race leader Gray and eventually passed Gray for the lead once again. Despite the back and forth between the two, Gray fought off Smith to be the leader once more at the second segment break. Smith, Dye, Caruth, Iest, Diaz, Retzlaff, Kvapil, Gutierrez and Moyer were the Top 10 when the red flag fell.
Third segment: Lap 154 – Lap 200
Just one caution slowed the final segment with 19 to go. The No. 12 of Moyer once again came to a stop in Turn 1, setting up a late-race restart with under 15 to go.
The action got a little intense upfront as the leaders were jockeying for position and both Sammy Smith and Mason Diaz were looking for their first-ever wins in ARCA competition. However, when the checkered flag flew, Sammy Smith scored the victory by .044 seconds over Diaz.
Unfortunately for Diaz, the Manassas, Virginia native, will have to wait for another race if he wants to have a shot at the victory.
“(It) was actually a good night for us,” Diaz said to NBC Sports after his runner-up finish. “We restarted there in fifth in the last segment and worked our way through. On the last restart, I actually thought we had a chance for them, but I had nothing for them. Second place, that’s a good finish for us here. So far this year, nothing but top five’s and I hope we can carry that on.”
There were four cautions for 15 laps and six lead changes among three different leaders.
Official Results following the Pensacola 200 at Five Flags Speedway
- Sammy Smith, led 145 laps
- Mason Diaz
- Taylor Gray, led 53 laps
- Rajah Caruth
- Joey Iest
- Parker Retzlaff
- Max Gutierrez
- Stephanie Moyer
- Daniel Dye, led two laps, OUT, Radiator
- Richard Garvie
- Carson Kvapil, OUT, Vibration
- Dick Doheny, OUT, Electrical
- Wayne Peterson, OUT, Electrical
Up Next: The ARCA Menards East Series’ next race is scheduled for Saturday, May 8 at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, live on NBC Sports Trackpass. A start time is yet to be announced for the event.