By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
The ARCA Menards Series East debuts at a new track this weekend. The Southern National Motorsports Park will see ARCA for the first time ever. The Southern National 200 presented by Solid Rock Carriers will kick off the second half of the 2021 ARCA Menards Series East season. Saturday’s race will also mark the final stand-alone event for the East in 2021.
Ty Gibbs dominated the last time the East Series raced last month at Dover. Gibbs held off Josh Berry to earn his first East Series victory of 2021. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith managed to rebound from a blown tire to finish fourth. He holds a 22-point lead over Mason Diaz.
As noted above, Saturday’s race at Southern National Motorsports Park will be the first for the East Series. The old NASCAR Southeast Series and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour have raced at SNMP in the past, most recently in 2014. The CARS Super Late Model Tour and CARS Late Model Stock Tour have made SNMP one of their home holding events from 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2020.
Southern National Motorsports Park is the latest track to join the ARCA Menards Series family.
BREAKING IT DOWN:
Sammy Smith managed to rebound from losing a tire at Dover to finish fourth, his worst finish so far in this 2021 campaign. Dover was also the first race so far this season that he failed to lead a lap in but there was no going against his teammate Ty Gibbs. While holding down the points lead, Smith has led 326 laps so far this season and has two victories at Five Flags Speedway and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Smith has one career start at Southern National in the CARS Super Late Model Tour last year where he finished 12th. He’s one of the very few drivers in the field with experience at SNMP, it could very well benefit him as it has many times this season.
Mason Diaz has spent a good chunk of his life at Southern National Motorsports Park. Living just under 250-miles away from SNMP, Diaz’s father Michael owns the race track. Diaz raced in the CARS Super Late Model Tour race last season finishing 13th and also has two CARS Late Model Stock Tour starts in 2016 finishing a high of eighth. Diaz has competed in all five races of the season in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour tying his career-best finish of eighth last month at Caraway Speedway. Diaz will look to translate his success outside of ARCA into Saturday’s race as he looks to take the points lead.
New Smyrna winner Max Gutierrez has kind of gone through a learning curve since his victory. While the off-period for the East Series, Gutierrez made his 2021 ARCA Menards Series debut at Charlotte finishing 15th. He’s tallied top-10 finishes in every race this season including a fifth-place finish in the last race at Dover. He’s inched back into the championship picture with that solid finish, now 23 points off points leader Smith.
Engine trouble derailed his solid run at Sonoma in the ARCA Menards Series West race but Joey Iest will look to continue his solid season Saturday at SNMP. Iest currently sits fourth in ARCA Menards Series East points and is one of only four drivers to finish top-10 in every race so far this year. Against some of the big guns including David Gilliland, Ty Gibbs, and others, he looked like a seasoned veteran. Visiting another track that he’s never visited, Iest will look to capitalize and look to break down the barrier before the East is invaded again.
Daniel Dye and GMS Racing roll into their first race together this weekend. The duo announced the partnership earlier this week and will continue through the remainder of the ARCA Menards Series East season. Dye will also run three ARCA Menards Series races and one ARCA Menards Series West race. Dye has put some solid performances up but hasn’t been able to seal the deal with bad luck falling on his side. A radiator issue at Five Flags Speedway and a spin at Nashville have been the speed bumps in his season so far but Dye looks to step it up in his first race with GMS.
Rajah Caruth was running third at Dover when his race went south as he hit the wall at the exit of turn two with less than 50 laps remaining. Caruth has been rebounding since a disappointing showing in the season-opener at New Smyrna and did so by finishing a career-high fourth in Pensacola. Caruth, someone we could see in the series for a few more years, has shown progress and just needs the track position to show what he’s got. This weekend at SNMP is a great opportunity for him to earn his second top-five finish of 2021.
Davey Callihan will make his ARCA Menards Series East debut this weekend with Mullins Racing. The Fredericksburg, Virginia native was a standout at Old Dominion Speedway in the late model stock car series. Callihan makes his name known at Dominion Raceway in Woodford, Virginia racing in the Virginia Racer class. During the campaign last year, he earned two victories and finished third in points. Callihan tested with Mullins Racing at Daytona in February and was an impressive 27th fastest of 49 drivers.
Empire Racing will enter Saturday’s ARCA East race at SNMP. Ross Dalton will pilot the No. 8 for the organization in his ARCA East Series debut. Dalton has one career start in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour coming last season at Greenville-Pickens Speedway where he finished 27th. Dalton has multiple wins to his credit in late models including a win in 2017 at Franklin County after the protest. Empire Racing Group was last seen at Daytona earlier this year with Sean Corr. Corr finished 10th.
Brentwood, Tennessee native Mason Mingus will drive for Fast Track Racing again this weekend at SNMP. Mingus returned to the ARCA Menards Series East last month at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway where he earned his first pole award, led 56 laps, and finished third. Despite only competing in one race this season, Mingus currently sits 15th in points. He’s the second-highest driver in the standings with just one start behind Ty Gibbs. A strong performance Saturday could very well put him into the top-10.
Justin Carroll returns to action this weekend after his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad day at Dover last month. Carroll will make his 18th career ARCA Menards Series East start on Saturday. In his last start, Carroll struggled to get off his feet and ultimately went up in flames hitting the outside wall hard and finishing 17th. In 17 previous starts, Carroll has the best finish of second in 2018 at South Boston. His experience racing on the short tracks will for sure be beneficial.
The Southern National 200 presented by Solid Rock Carriers will go live on the NBC Sports Gold – Track Pass at 8 p.m ET. A tape-delayed broadcast of the race will be shown on NBCSN at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 17th. Tickets for the race weekend are available by clicking here. Advanced tickets start at $25 for adults, $5 for kids (6-12). Kids five and under get free admission with the purchase of an adult ticket. There are also deals for active students, military, and seniors.