Story By: TADD HAISLOP / ARCA – KANSAS CITY, KS – Saturday at Kansas Speedway is almost sure to be Ty Gibbs’ night.
As long as the 19-year-old driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota takes the green flag to start the Reese’s 150, he will win the 2021 ARCA Menards Series championship.
Such a scenario is fitting given how dominant the Huntersville, North Carolina, native has been this season.
Gibbs, who also won both the 2021 Sioux Chief Showdown championship and the CGS Imaging Four Crown in the ARCA Menards Series, will end the year as the runaway Valvoline Lap Leader award winner, as he enters the season-finale with a mind-boggling 1,590 laps led through 19 events. That’s 1,185 more laps led than second-place Corey Heim’s 405.
With 100 Kansas Speedway laps remaining this season, Gibbs has already broken the modern-era record for laps led in a single ARCA Menards Series season. Tim Steele previously held the record with 1,514 laps led in 1996, and he did that in 25 races to Gibbs’ 19 (soon to be 20).
Steele in 1997 also set the modern-era record for wins in a season when he scored 12 checkered flags. Gibbs with his 10 wins this year can’t reach Steele’s record, but if Gibbs wins at Kansas, his 11th victory of the season would place him in a tie with Steele’s 1996 total.
And considering what Gibbs did in the ARCA Menards Series’ first of two visits to Kansas this season, he will be a favorite to earn that 11th win.
Gibbs in May qualified on the General Tire Pole and proceeded to lead every lap of the Dutch Boy 150 on the 1.5-mile paved oval. It was arguably his most dominating performance in a season full of controlling victories.
That Kansas spring race is one of Gibbs’ three flag-to-flag wins in the ARCA Menards Series this season. He also led every lap at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May and at the Milwaukee Mile in August. He led all but one lap in two more races, at Iowa Speedway in July and at Michigan International Speedway in August. He also led all but three laps in his Bristol Motor Speedway victory last month.
Gibbs at Kansas will attempt to accomplish what he did at Charlotte, when he led every lap of the ARCA Menards Series race just a few hours after he won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the same track. As was the case in May in North Carolina, Saturday’s Kansas schedule features the Xfinity Series race ahead of the ARCA Menards Series finale as a doubleheader.
So Gibbs on Saturday has a chance to win another Xfinity Series race, close the ARCA Menards Series season with another victory and take the ARCA Menards Series championship trophy all in a day’s work.
Regardless of whether he accomplished the first two feats, the third, which is all but guaranteed, will be well earned.
Bounty Rookie Challenge title still up for grabs
Yes, Gibbs technically is a rookie in the ARCA Menards Series. And no, he does not have the season’s Bounty Rookie Challenge (rookie of the year) title locked up in a way that’s similar to his hold on the overall championship entering the season-finale.
Heim, who until a few races ago was neck-and-neck with Gibbs in overall points, is just a couple points back from Gibbs for the rookie award.
This is because rookie points in the ARCA Menards Series are awarded strictly on a driver’s finishing position in each race. The oodles of bonus points Gibbs has collected over the course of the season through pole awards and laps led do not count toward the rookie standings.
Heim’s standing in rookie points is a testament to his consistency in 2021. And, frankly, that impressive consistency is why Gibbs has not already clinched the overall ARCA Menards Series championship.
Heim has six wins and 15 top-five finishes in 2021. But perhaps more impressive is the fact that he has not finished outside of the top 10 all year. His average finish is 3.1, tied with Gibbs for the best mark among ARCA Menards Series regulars.
Heim also enters the Kansas race having clinched the S&S Volvo Laps Completed award for the year with 2,520 points.
As for the Bounty Rookie Challenge, Heim needs to finish two or more positions better than Gibbs at Kansas to steal the title. Should Heim finish just one position ahead of Gibbs, the latter would take the points tiebreaker by virtue of his win total.
Just like Gibbs taking the overall championship, Heim ending the season with an award of his own would be a fitting conclusion to such a remarkable season for the 19-year-old Venturini Motorsports driver.
General Tire Superspeedway Challenge finale
Heim may not win the overall ARCA Menards Series championship, but his team is sure to leave Kansas with at least one title.
Billy Venturini, the owner of Heim’s No. 20 Venturini Motorsports Toyota, is a comfortable 22 points ahead of his father Bill (owner of the No. 15 Venturini Motorsports Toyota) in General Tire Superspeedway Challenge points entering a Kansas race that will serve as the finale for that series, too.
The General Tire Superspeedway Challenge is comprised of races on the ARCA Menards Series schedule at paved ovals greater than 1.5 miles in length. Race points only count toward a team’s yearlong tally with bonus points disregarded. The challenge is contested among car owners, rather than drivers, so that a team using multiple drivers has the same chances of winning as a team with a single, full-time driver.
This year’s events in the challenge included Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Kansas, Charlotte, Pocono Raceway, Michigan and Saturday’s finale at Kansas.
Below are the challenge standings entering Saturday’s Reese’s 150.
Car No. Owner Points
20 Billy Venturini 254
15 Bill Venturini 232
18 Coy Gibbs 228
28 Rod Sieg 220
46 Johnny Gray 211
If Gibbs wins the Reese’s 150, he will become the first repeat winner at the track in the ARCA Menards Series since Alex Bowman won back-to-back events in 2011-12.
Heim’s first ARCA Menards Series victory came last season in the 2020 season-finale at Kansas. He led 82 of 100 laps in what was his 16th series start.
Dean Thompson, who has a top five and two top 10s in six ARCA Menards Series West races this season, will make his first standalone ARCA Menards Series start at Kansas driving the No. 50 Thompson Pipeline Group Chevrolet for Cody Efaw. Thompson finished 15th in the AMS-West Series combination event at Phoenix Raceway in March.
Both Nick Sanchez and Rajah Caruth will represent Rev Racing in the Reese’s 150. Sanchez is third in ARCA Menards Series points, and Caruth finished the ARCA Menards Series East season third in points. The two are expected to run full schedules in the ARCA Menards Series for Rev Racing next season, and both Sanchez and Caruth will compete part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, as well.
Both Venturini Motorsports and Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing will field a race-high four cars at Kansas. Drew Dollar, Parker Chase and Toni Breidinger will join Heim in VMS cars for the Reese’s 150. Arnout Kok, Ron Vandermeir Jr., Tony Cosentino and D.L. Wilson will drive Hillenburg’s cars.