Story By: TADD HAISLOP / ARCA – NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL – Having entered Tuesday night’s Race to Stop Suicide 200 presented by Place of Hope at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway as the defending ARCA Menards Series East champion, Sammy Smith had little to prove on the half-mile paved oval.
But the 17-year-old from Johnston, Iowa, did want a crack at redemption given how last year’s East Series season-opener played out at the same venue.
Smith, who finished second last year after Max Gutiérrez stole the victory on the final stretch, won Tuesday at New Smyrna on the strength of a strong final run having battled with rival Taylor Gray for the majority of the 200-lap event.
Smith started on the General Tire Pole on Tuesday after pacing the field in the afternoon’s combined practice/qualifying session. He and Gray traded the lead multiple times throughout the race thanks in part to a series of cautions, some of which were prompted by passing light rain showers.
On the final restart of the race, though, with six laps to go, Gray got a sluggish launch on the inside. That was all Smith needed to be able to cruise to the checkered flag with relative ease.
“(Gray) was jumping the restarts every time,” Smith said. “But we were able to get out of that one and get the win.”
Smith and Gray exchanged the lead six times Tuesday night. Smith ended up leading 167 laps with Gray leading the other 33.
Gray finished second ahead of Gutiérrez in third, Leland Honeyman in fourth and Donald Theetge in fifth. Both Honeyman and Theetge made their ARCA Menards debuts Tuesday at New Smyrna.
Mason Diaz, Logan Misuraca, Willie Mullins, Stephanie Moyer and Ed Pompa rounded out the top 10. Misuraca also was making her debut on the ARCA Menards platform.
Smith’s triumph Tuesday at New Smyrna marked his fourth East Series win after he picked up three victories during his championship run last season. His No. 18 TMC Transportation Toyota is now owned by Kyle Busch and Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Tuesday night’s Race to Stop Suicide 200 presented by Place of Hope played out as part of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna, a nine-night motorsports extravaganza. The East Series race fell on Night 5 of the World Series.
The ARCA Menards Series East will return to action Saturday, March 19 for the Pensacola 200 at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway. The second of seven East Series races in 2022 will be shown live on FloRacing with a delayed broadcast scheduled to air on USA Network.
A replay of the Race to Stop Suicide 200 presented by Place of Hope will air on USA Network on Friday, Feb. 25, at 1 p.m. ET.