From Adam Fenwick / arcaracing.com
TOLEDO, Ohio — Championship drama, hot tempers and a thrilling finish were all part of the equation that made up Saturday’s Shore Lunch 200 at Toledo Speedway, the 2022 ARCA Menards Series season finale.
When it all was said and done, Nick Sanchez and Sammy Smith were the drivers left smiling.
Sanchez, the driver of the No. 2 Rev Racing Chevrolet, finished sixth to claim the ARCA Menards Series driver championship over of GMS Racing’s Daniel Dye.
Meanwhile, Smith won the race after a three-wide pass on pole-sitter Jesse Love and Grant Enfinger with two laps left to give the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports team the ARCA Menards Series owner’s championship.
The day started off rough for Sanchez, who didn’t get to turn any practice laps in his car after his team discovered a problem with the engine in the No. 2. His team went to work and put in a backup motor, which allowed him to turn the eighth fastest lap in qualifying.
However, Dye, who entered the race just two points behind Sanchez in the battle for the ARCA Menards Series championship, qualified second and trimmed Sanchez’s advantage by leading the opening lap to gain a bonus point.
Things remained tight throughout the first portion of the race, but they began to take a turn following the first of two race breaks on Lap 75. Sanchez stayed out to gain a bonus point for leading a lap while Dye’s No. 43 didn’t get up to speed during the restart, which dropped him to the tail of the lead lap.
Despite the setback, Dye marched back through the field and was right behind Sanchez when the caution flag waved for the second race break on Lap 126. Things were setting up for a tense showdown between Sanchez and Dye, but it wasn’t to be.
Shortly after the restart following the second race break, Dye’s car suddenly slowed, and he limped to pit road with a broken right-front ball joint. The mechanical issue dropped Dye more than 30 laps down, which all but guaranteed Sanchez would claim the ARCA Menards Series championship.
“The first part was pretty hectic. It was pretty close,” said Sanchez. “We had to stay out to get a point by leading a lap. Once the 43 (Dye) had a problem, it all got a lot easier. We just rode to the end of the race, honestly.”
The championship is the first for Sanchez and the second for Rev Racing and team owner Max Siegel, who claimed the 2012 East Series championship with reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson.
“It’s huge for me, but Max Siegel and Rev Racing, (are) the people that got me here,” Sanchez said. “Ten years ago, they won the [ARCA East] title with Kyle Larson, so it’s cool to get them this 10 years later.”
The drama surrounding the battle for the ARCA Menards Series championship turned out to be the opening act for the battle for the victory in Shore Lunch 200, which came down to the final four laps.
Love started from the pole and dominated the race in the No. 20 Venturini Motorsports Toyota as the team looked to secure the ARCA Menards Series owner’s championship.
However, in the closing laps of the race, 2015 ARCA Menards Series champion Grant Enfinger began to close the gap on Love and challenged him for the race lead with four laps left.
Enfinger initially cleared Love for the lead, but Love crossed over and drove back under the veteran driver as the two battled for the race lead and the victory.
That’s when Smith, who was running in third, made his presence known. Entering Turn 1 with two laps left, Smith used the front bumper of his No. 18 Toyota to move Love out of the way. That opened the door for Smith to dive under both Love and Enfinger to take the race lead and steal the victory.
The triumph by Smith, his series-best sixth of the year, was enough to secure the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports team the ARCA Menards Series owner’s championship.
“There was a shot to take it, and I took it,” Smith said of his move on Love. “[Love] was struggling. To be honest with you, we weren’t very good all race. We had a third-place car, and they probably had the best car there at the end, and [Enfinger] did, too. It was a shot to win and owner’s points on the line.”
Love was not pleased with how Smith won the race, and the Venturini Motorsports driver attempted to show his displeasure immediately after the race but was escorted away by series officials.
“I felt like we had a great race and had a great car,” Love said. “I think Grant gave me a good shove, and I was able to cross him over and get him back and then race side-by-side but clean with him, and then [Smith] cleaned us both out.”
While the ARCA Menards Series season may have come to a close, the ARCA Menards Series West season is set to continue next Friday, Oct. 14, with the running of the Star Nursery 150 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Fans will be able to watch live at 8:30 p.m. PT exclusively on FloRacing.
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Shore Lunch 200 at Toledo Speedway Race Results:
Photo: Rev Racing / ARCA / Nick Sanchez