LUCAMA, N.C. — Sammy Smith did not have the best car for the majority of Saturday night’s Southern National 200 presented by Solid Rock Carriers at Southern National Motorsports Park.
But when the 17-year-old did have the best car, as was the case for the last third or so of the race, he had the best machine in the field by far.
Smith’s Joe Gibbs Racing crew made an adjustment on the No. 18 Engine Ice Toyota during the second of two scheduled race breaks at Southern National, and the fix propelled him to an easy victory in the fifth ARCA Menards Series East race of the season.
Smith took the lead from Mason Diaz shortly after that break and led the final 68 laps of the race.
“We were loose the first two stages there and were kind of just saving,” said Smith. “(Crew chief) Mark (McFarland) made a good adjustment to tighten it up a little bit. Can’t thank this whole team enough; they did a good job all day.”
Smith, who entered the Southern National race with a 22-point lead in the East Series standings, extended his championship points lead to 30 with his third victory of the season.
Including Ty Gibbs’ triumph at Dover International Speedway last month, Joe Gibbs Racing now has four consecutive wins in the East Series. The team also has won the last seven races it has entered across the ARCA Menards platform.
Joey Iest, who was fastest in practice hours before Saturday’s race, set a new career high with his second-place finish at Southern National. The result propels the David Gilliland Racing driver to third in East Series points.
“We had a really good car tonight,” said Iest. “We could see (Smith) and kind of keep up with him, but those last 30 laps he just took off on us.”
A testament to how dominant Smith was on the final run Saturday: Iest was the only other driver who finished on the lead lap. Smith passed the cars running third through fifth with roughly 10 laps to go.
Rajah Caruth, the rookie competing in the ARCA Menards Series East this season as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, also set a new career-high at Southern National. He finished third and moved himself up one spot to sixth in championship points.
“It’s weird to get lapped there and still be third,” Caruth allowed. “But I’m really proud of this Rev Racing / Max Siegel Inc. race team. Just hate to get beat like that.
“I’m learning that I need to be more disciplined behind the steering wheel. Just not charging as hard through the run as the tires age. But, overall, a solid night.”
Daniel Dye, Diaz, Mason Mingus, Davey Callihan and Max Gutiérrez rounded out the top 10.
Diaz, who was racing at his home track Saturday and qualified on the General Tire Pole, led almost all of the first 13o laps of the race before Smith took over P1. Diaz struggled from that point forward and slowly slipped to his seventh-place finish.
Diaz remains second in East Series points.
Saturday’s Southern National 200 presented by Solid Rock Carriers, the first ARCA Menards race at the 4/10-mile paved oval, featured just one caution for an incident. Ross “Boo Boo” Dalton, who was making his debut on the ARCA Menards platform, spun in Turn 4 on Lap 53.
Saturday night’s event was the last standalone event of the season for the East Series, which returns to action July 24 at Iowa Speedway for a combination race with the ARCA Menards Series.
The Iowa race will broadcast live on MAVTV Motorsports Network with live streaming available on NBC Sports Gold’s Trackpass.
A replay of Saturday night’s Southern National 200 presented by Solid Rock Carriers will broadcast on NBCSN on Thursday, June 17, starting at 4 p.m. ET.
BY TADD HAISLOP / WWW.ARCARACING.COM