By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
For the 21st time, the ARCA Menards Series heads to Berlin, Michigan’s Berlin Raceway.
The ARCA Menards Series returns to Berlin for the first time since 2018 after a brief hiatus. Berlin was on the ARCA Menards Series East schedule last season up until its cancellation due to COVID-19 on August 25th, 2020. When the green flag flies on Saturday, it will have been 1057 days since Berlin hosted an ARCA Menards Series race.
Corey Heim has managed to shut the doubters up the last two races, managing to defeat Ty Gibbs at both Pocono and now Elko Speedway. Heim moved Gibbs out of the way on the final lap to earn his fourth victory of 2021 and head into this weekend’s race with a seven-point lead over Gibbs.
The lack of experience in Saturday’s field is evident as only four drivers inside the top-20 in ARCA Menards Series points have experience at Berlin. Brad Smith, who is currently ninth in points, has the most at 15 with the best finish of 13th in 2016. Bret Holmes has two career starts while Eric Caudell and Scott Melton have one apiece. None of the top-five in points have ever competed at Berlin which will level the playing field big time.
Since 2011, there have been six different winners in seven races. Grant Enfinger is the only driver to repeat and go back-to-back in 2014 and 2015. Current full-time Cup Series competitors Chris Buescher and Erik Jones have won at Berlin coming in 2012 and 2013. Current Xfinity Series driver Joe Graf Jr. earned his first and only victory in the last race in 2018.
BREAKING IT DOWN:
After the early season domination by Gibbs, many had written off Heim by this point of the season. That clearly wasn’t the case as Heim has actually given a hefty fight winning the last two races on the ARCA schedule. As noted above though, both Heim and Gibbs have never raced at Berlin. Venturini Motorsports though has a large notebook at Berlin including victories in 2016 with Dalton Sargeant and 2013 with Erik Jones. Despite finishing seventh at Mid-Ohio due to back-to-back penalties, Heim has finished first or second in seven of the nine races run so far this season. He finished third at Kansas. For those that have written off Heim, he’s working on ruining your odds in Las Vegas.
Despite having a thicker notebook, Joe Gibbs Racing has a notebook in Berlin also. Riley Herbst raced in the last event at Berlin in 2018 finishing ninth after starting third. Neither the driver nor crew chief remained in the program meaning there’s little room to go in reverse. One of the things that have separated the two is the consistency that Gibbs has been missing this season. If he hasn’t won, he’s finished outside the front row with Pocono being the sole exception. He finished fourth at Daytona and Elko and finished 27th at Talladega. Gibbs hasn’t won since early June at Mid-Ohio. Can Gibbs finally take the points lead this weekend at Berlin?
Despite being kind of off at Elko, Thad Moffitt still secured another top-10 finish and remained third in ARCA Menards Series points standings. Jesse Love spun the No. 46 early in the race but the team still rebounded to earn top-10 number eight on the season, tying his previous most top-10’s in a single season. The Petty name hasn’t raced at Berlin Raceway since 1998 when the late Adam Petty, Moffitt’s cousin, raced two ASA National Tour events in 1998 finishing a best of sixth in his first race. Moffitt is 65 points back in the points standings but still has a solid amount of races to finish his career-best season on a high note.
Nick Sanchez was another driver who just seemed a bit off Saturday at Elko. Sanchez wasn’t in the picture very much during the race, but when it came to the wild finish, he was in the right place at the right time finishing sixth. The finish Saturday marks Sanchez’s first outside-the-top-five-finish since Kansas on May 1st. Sanchez is now 88-points outside of the points lead and will just look to finish his stellar rookie season in the ARCA Menards Series.
Taylor Gray will make his 15th start in the ARCA Menards Series on Saturday and looked like he hadn’t even skipped a beat competing with Gibbs, Love, and Heim for the victory. His history on short tracks is something that for sure will make him a favorite to earn his first career ARCA Menards Series victory Saturday at Berlin, now that the dust has been shaken off.
To say Daniel Dye outperformed in his ARCA Menards Series debut is an understatement. The current full-time ARCA Menards Serie East driver showed up in his debut and he meant business early battling many of the aforementioned names. His finishing position was no indication of how he ran Saturday but he did finish all 250 laps, on the lead lap. Race number two might be an even bigger breakout with a little bit more notebook.
Gracie Trotter is seemingly finally finding her groove earning her career-best finish Saturday at Elko. Trotter even battled for the lead on occasion and was able to come back to the front after falling to the low top-10’s a couple of times. After the amount of bad luck, she has had this season, it’s good to see things finally adding up for her. Notably, she spent a lot of time on the West coast and is racing at some tracks she has never seen before. These races this season clearly are meant to get her prepared for something and the way she’s been improving a win is surely just around the corner. Trotter became the first female driver to win an ARCA sanctioned race last season and will look to add to that with a victory this weekend at Berlin.
Coming off a victory at Irwindale Speedway in the West, Jesse Love has been on a heavy roll as of late earning his career-best finish of second Saturday at Elko. Love wanted one more shot at Gibbs late but his teammate Heim got to him first. In just two starts this season, Love has bettered his statistics from last season by one more top-10 finish and has tied the amount of top-five finishes earned last year. Much like it did in the West Series, it has taken a slight bit of time for Love to come out of his shell.
The Zinsser Smart Coat 200 at Berlin Raceway goes live on MAVTV at 8 p.m. ET and can also be streamed via NBC Sports Gold: TrackPass. ARCA’s website will also have a radio broadcasted version along with the timing and scoring of the race available. Tickets for the Zinsser Smart Coat start at $30 and can be purchased by clicking here. Tickets can also be purchased at the gate on Saturday.
Photo: ARCA Photo by Jay Alley