BRISTOL, Tenn. – After Thursday night, it’s pretty safe to say that Sam Mayer has Bristol Motor Speedway figured out.
Just hours after conquering The Last Great Coliseum for his first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series victory, Mayer added an ARCA Menards Series win at the concrete high banks to his resume, completing a sweep of the night in dominating fashion.
Mayer rallied back from a mid-race miscue – following Ty Gibbs down pit road with 85 to go – to take the lead from Max McLaughlin just after a restart with 61 laps left in the Bush’s Beans 200.
Once Mayer put his No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet back out front, he was unchallenged to the finish, driving away from Sioux Chief Showdown rival Ty Gibbs to eventually win by 2.572 seconds.
It’s the first time in history that one driver has won an ARCA Menards Series race and a NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at the same venue on the same day.
“Today has been awesome. Tonight has been awesome; heck, we didn’t start until like 6 ‘o clock,” a beaming Mayer said in victory lane. “Man, this GMS crew was amazing. We were fast when we unloaded; we didn’t hardly do anything to this race car all night, a lot like our truck. It put us in victory lane, obviously, and that’s a big deal.”
The Bush’s Beans 200 paid points toward the national ARCA Menards Series standings, as well as the Sioux Chief Showdown and the ARCA Menards Series East.
Thursday marked Mayer’s fifth ARCA Menards Series win in his last seven starts, as well as his fourth ARCA Menards Series East win in five races for that division as he moves closer to back-to-back East championships.
Mayer noted after the race that ducking down pit road was “100 percent on me,” but that “it all worked out” in the long run.
“I don’t know what went through my mind, but I was like, ‘Oh, they’re probably coming down pit road to stop us, because they’re cleaning the race track,’” Mayer recalled. “It was all a mess. So I came down pit road, followed him (Gibbs) because I thought they were going to park us on pit road, and everyone on my team started yelling at me, going ‘no, no, no!’ At that point I said, ‘oh no, I messed up here.’
“We used it, though. We made an adjustment on the car and passed like 12 cars in four laps. That was pretty fun,” Mayer added with a laugh. “It was like something you’d do in NASCAR Heat. That was awesome. Mistakes happen, but we made the best of it, that’s for sure.”
The night’s final caution waved with 42 laps left, shortly after the second and final competition break, when Gus Dean looped his No. 32 in the second turn.
That set up a restart with 37 to go, with Mayer and Holmes on the front row, and once Mayer shot out to the lead from the outside lane he never looked back – while Holmes quickly faded on older tires.
Gibbs eventually worked his way back to second, after restarting 12th due to a flat left-rear tire that necessitated his unscheduled pit stop, but couldn’t run down Mayer in the closing laps.
The grandson of NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Joe Gibbs felt he had a faster car in the late stages of Thursday’s race; traffic and aerodynamics didn’t play in his favor, however.
“I feel like we were all around better than him (Mayer), but we just couldn’t get around him because these cars are high downforce and it’s hard to pass,” lamented Gibbs. “You run behind people and you can’t really pass in dirty air. … It’s just frustrating to have the car to win and not be able to do it.
“The left rear hurt us; we got back in traffic and that was it. We had a good shot and it just wasn’t our night. We almost had it. I’m built to win, not built to lose.”
Max McLaughlin was “best of the rest,” coming in third behind the dominant duo of Mayer and Gibbs. Mason Diaz and Michael Self filled out the top five.
With Bret Holmes coming in eighth, Self reclaimed the ARCA national point lead by a single marker.
Mayer’s two wins came on the heels of an announcement this week that he’ll head to JR Motorsports to race part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021, once he turns 18.
Crew chief Mardy Lindley radioed to Mayer after the race that he’s “become a great race car driver,” something that the Wisconsin teenager admitted caught him off guard.
“That hit me like a brick wall. I wasn’t expecting him to say that,” Mayer noted. “These wins coming after our JRM announcement are huge, and I think that may have been why he said that, because he knows I’m finally ready (to make the step up to the Xfinity Series). Everyone believed in me, and we proved this weekend that we can do it.
“We have a lot of momentum and we’re just going to hopefully keep it going.”
The ARCA Menards Series season continues Saturday night, Sept. 19, at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway.
1. Sam Mayer, 2. Ty Gibbs, 3. Max McLaughlin, 4. Mason Diaz, 5. Michael Self, 6. Hailie Deegan, 7. Taylor Gray, 8. Bret Holmes, 9. Derek Griffith, 10. Justin S. Carroll, 11. Nick Sanchez, 12. Gus Dean, 13. Jason Kitzmiller, 14. Max Gutierrez, 15. Kris Wright, 16. Con Nicolopoulos, 17. Kyle Sieg, 18. Drew Dollar, 19. Parker Retzlaff, 20. Dave Mader III, 21. Chase Cabre, 22. Owen Smith, 23. Chandler Smith, 24. Mike Basham, 25. Brad Smith, 26. Wayne Peterson.