NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – Sam Mayer may have won Monday night’s ARCA Menards Series East opener at New Smyrna Speedway, but Derek Griffith was unquestionably the star of the show.
Griffith, making his ARCA East debut after an 11th-hour call up by Chad Bryant Racing, promptly proved that CBR and crew chief Paul Andrews’ faith in him was well-placed by earning the pole in qualifying.
As if that wasn’t good enough, Griffith went on to dominate the race from there.
He led the first 145 laps of the Skip’s Western Outfitters 175 from that pole starting spot, putting on a master class in conserving his equipment while the rest of his foes pitted for fresh rubber in a desperate attempt to try and run down the No. 2 Ford.
Finally after a tire failure on Daniel Dye’s car brought out the third caution of the night with 31 to go, Griffith ducked down pit lane for his set of four tires and prepared for a rally back to the front.
Unfortunately, he didn’t count on a penalty for pulling up to pit – passing the pace car on entry to the service lane – which relegated him to the tail end of the field for the dash to the finish.
Coming to the final restart of the night with 16 to go, Griffith was outside the top 10, but carved his way up to the top five in less than six laps as those ahead of him bounced off one another while scrapping for space.
From there, he marched all the way back to second, passing Ty Gibbs for the runner-up spot with eight to go. However, Griffith admitted after the race he simply ran out of time to catch Mayer for the win.
“We started with a blistering pace, and I really didn’t even have to use that car up one bit,” he said. “We really, really had an excellent car tonight. That Chad Bryant Racing team worked their butts off these last few days. They got that thing dialed in perfect. I’ve learned so much the past two days.
“It definitely hurts a little,” Griffith added of finishing as the runner-up. “We’re gonna definitely look forward, hopefully get another shot in this car and get to race a little more. I hope someone sees it and thinks I deserve it, (because) we definitely need the help.
“This was just such a cool weekend; just didn’t have enough laps at the end.”
The strategy Griffith and company played was one that most didn’t think would have worked out, considering that New Smyrna traditionally features a good bit of tire wear over the course of long runs.
But the Chad Bryant Racing crew brought a bullet to the Florida half-mile, and Griffith knew it.
“Man, our car was hooked up tonight,” he grinned. “We didn’t take tires until like lap 140 or so; these General Tires held up really well. … We screwed up on a caution deal, but it is what it is.
“If I’d had five more laps, I think I could have raced with him pretty hard, but he did a good job.”
Monday night’s race was, for now, the only race in Griffith’s agreement with Bryant’s team.
But after the kind of performance that driver and crew put together, the 23-year-old from Hudson, N.H., is hopeful of more race days to come after opening plenty of eyes under the Florida floodlights.
“I hope there’s more to come,” Griffith noted. “These guys are awesome; they’re so good to work with. It’s definitely a possibility, I think. I think they’re happy … and I was really happy. We could run pretty well just about anywhere.
“My fingers are crossed. Hopefully we can get something going.”