NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – There may be a new name on the door for the ARCA Menards Series East this season, but Monday night saw a familiar face open the year celebrating in victory lane.
Defending series champion Sam Mayer brought a trophy home to GMS Racing with an impressive performance late at New Smyrna Speedway, assuming command with 30 to go when polesitter and race-long leader Derek Griffith came down pit road for fresh General Tires and never looking back.
Mayer fended off determined charges from both Ty Gibbs and a resurgent Griffith in the closing laps en route to the win in the Skip’s Western Outfitters 175, marking his fifth career East Series victory in just 19 appearances.
A dominant Griffith paced all but one of the first 145 laps uncontested, staying out through two waves of pit stops as the rest of his competition took new tires in an attempt to unseat his powerhouse Chad Bryant Racing-prepared No. 2 Ford.
However, once Daniel Dye smacked the turn-three wall with his second right-front tire failure of the night on lap 144, Griffith bailed out to make his lone stop of the race – and encountered disaster.
Griffith was penalized by ARCA East officials for “pulling up to pit,” or coming up alongside the pace vehicle as he approached the pit entrance, and sent to the tail end of the lead lap as a result.
That buried him outside the top 10 for the sprint run to the finish, but before Griffith could really get moving, a violent crash off the fourth corner stalled the proceedings inside of 25 laps left.
A three-wide battle gone wrong with 22 to go created contact between Mason Diaz and Tanner Gray that sent Gray smashing into the outside wall on the frontstretch and up onto the wall briefly, before finally coming down onto all four wheels at the start/finish line.
After a red-flag period for cleanup and fence repairs, Mayer used the outside groove in hopes of powering past Gibbs on the final green of the night, but Gibbs was ready down low. He took his No. 18 Monster Energy Toyota to the front and led for four laps after the restart before Mayer countered.
By the time Mayer was back in command, Griffith was fourth and charging, and coming to 10 to go the New Englander was third on the race track and hunting the top two with his fresher tires.
Griffith dispatched Gibbs with eight laps left, but though he closed to within a car length and a half of Mayer coming to the white flag, he could get no closer and Mayer cruised home to victory.
After his initial celebration, told that Griffith was bearing down on him in the final laps, Mayer just smiled and offered a quick-witted – but honest – response.
“My spotter never told me (that Griffith was there)!” Mayer admitted. “So I dind’t know that at all. I was just focused on everything out front and making good laps. (It was) qualifying laps every single lap (at the end), and it got us to victory lane tonight.”
In regards to his patience while Griffith was out front dominating, Mayer added that he had a plan and stuck to it the whole way.
“I was riding behind (Griffith) saving tires, because I knew he hadn’t pitted yet, so I was just saving my stuff because we used our tires earlier than he did,” Mayer explained. “I was just waiting (to go). But I’m going to enjoy this one … because beating Ty (Gibbs) and all the people we did, their teams are amazing.
“Beating this field, there’s definitely something to be said for that.”
Griffith came home a happy runner-up in his ARCA East debut after leading the most laps.
While there was some disappointment at the pit-road mistake that cost him a better shot to fight for the win, the New Hampshire late model star and past PASS North champion was hard-pressed not to smile.
“Man, our car was hooked up tonight,” Griffith 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.”
Gibbs hung on to complete the podium, followed by Nick Sanchez and Gio Bromante.
Stephen Nasse, Corey Heim, Parker Retzlaff, Chase Cabre and Max McLaughlin, who rallied back from damage sustained in the lap-153 crash with Gray off the fourth corner, were the balance of the top 10.
Sam Mayer, Derek Griffith, Ty Gibbs, Nick Sanchez, Gio Bromante, Stephen Nasse, Corey Heim, Parker Retzlaff, Chase Cabre, Max McLaughlin, Tristan van Wieringen, Jesse Love, Gio Scelzi, Brian Finney, Holley Hollan, Gracie Trotter, Mason Diaz, Tanner Gray, Daniel Dye, Willie Mullins, Justin S. Carroll, Chuck Hiers, Robert Pawlowski.