Story By: ADAM FENWICK / ARCA – AVONDALE, AZ – Racing with a heavy heart after the loss of David Gilliland Racing hauler driver Steven Stotts in traffic accident on Tuesday, Taylor Gray earned his first ARCA Menards Series victory Friday night during the General Tire 150 at Phoenix Raceway.
The 16-year-old Gray had to survive multiple challenges throughout Friday’s race. He first battled with defending ARCA Menards Series East champion Sammy Smith and later battled his way past GMS Racing’s Daniel Dye during a restart on lap 138 to take the lead for the final time.
Gray retained the lead during two more restarts, including a green-white-checkered restart, in the final portion of the race to claim the victory at the one-mile tri-oval.
The General Tire 150 served as the second race of the ARCA Menards Series season as well as the first race of the ARCA Menards Series West and Sioux Chief Showdown seasons.
“It felt like they didn’t want me to win tonight,” said Gray, who led a race-high 76 laps. “All those guys are really tough to beat. We just had a really good race car tonight.”
Gray paid tribute to Stotts as well as two other crew members who were injured in the crash, John Zaverl and Michael Mizzelle, following his victory.
Dye finished second after taking the lead during the second half of the race and, at one point, leading by more than four seconds. He blamed the decision to restart in the top lane on lap 138 for costing him a shot at the victory.
“We had a great car. GMS brought a really good Chevrolet,” Dye said. “Led a lot of laps. Just came down to a decision that I’ll never make again to pick the top at Phoenix on the money restart.”
Smith, driving the No. 18 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, finished third after leading most of the first half of the race.
“We had a really good car the first 75 and then probably 25 laps after that and then it just went really, really tight,” Smith said. “I’m not sure what quite happened. Just really frustrated to end it like that.”
Rajah Caruth finished fourth after running as high as second in the final laps. Jake Drew was the highest finishing ARCA Menards Series West regular in the field in fifth.
Jesse Love, Nick Sanchez, Josh Berry, Derek Kraus and Connor Mosack completed the top-10.
The ARCA Menards Series season continues on Saturday, April 23 with the running of the General Tire 200 at Talladega Superspeedway. The race is scheduled to begin at Noon CT / 1 p.m. ET.
The ARCA Menards Series West season resumes Saturday, March 26 with the running of the NAPA Auto Parts 150 presented by the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame at California’s Irwindale Speedway. Racing is slated to begin at 7:05 p.m. PT / 10:05 p.m. ET.