Toyota Racing Development’s (TRD) Chandler Smith, 17, celebrated his fifth ARCA Menards Series victory of the season in Saturday night’s rain-shortened Herr’s Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Smith, from Talking Rock, GA, driving his now familiar No.20 Craftsman/828 Logistics/Quick Tie Toyota took the lead from his Venturini Motorsports teammate Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota) on lap 161. The next lap, a heavy sprinkle turned into a rain shower necessitating a caution flag. The field led by Smith circulated behind the pace car for five more circuits before ARCA officials put out the red flag. The rains persisted and the race was deemed official, ending 33 laps before its scheduled conclusion.
Smith’s victory delivered VMS the team’s 13th win out of 19 races so far in 2019. The win also propelled the No.20 team one step closer to winning the ARCA Owner Points Championship which now comes down to simply starting the final race at Kansas Speedway in two weeks to secure the title.
“It’s just been an unbelievable season.” Smith said in a makeshift victory lane celebration. “I’m so proud of this team and everything we’ve been able to accomplish. And tonight was special – it was just meant to be. We couldn’t have timed that pass out any better than we did.”
Smith’s crew chief and team owner Billy Venturini shared his feelings in a late night tweet saying, “Great night for Venturini Motorsports and especially the twenty-car. By winning tonight we should be able to clinch the owners’ championship by starting race in Kansas. Thanks to everybody at VMS that have all helped in this great accomplishment. Now my two drivers (Christian Eckes and Michael Self) can go duke out the drivers’ championship.”
Meanwhile despite being disappointed with his second place finish at Lucas Oil Raceway, Eckes held his head high giving praise to his team and showing excitement after learning he’d retaken the ARCA Menards Series championship (Driver) lead by 20-points over teammate Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) who finished sixth. Eckes who was an early season favorite topped the point standings early in the season after Pensacola but relinquished the position after missing out at Salem Speedway due to illness.
“We’re obviously disappointed with second,” Eckes said. “We’d have liked to have had that caution for rain a few laps earlier but it didn’t happen. I’m just really proud of this team. Nobody ever quit. It’s our sixth top-two finish in a row and more importantly we’re taking the points lead into the Kansas finale. We really have things turned around after a tough early summer stretch.”
Also, by virtue of his Indianapolis finish, Eckes took home the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge Championship. The award designed to create a championship within a championship for drivers not competing the entire 20-race schedule was given to the driver with the best average finish on the designated short tracks.
Self, who ran a solid race but came up a few spots short of Eckes in the end at Indianapolis was direct when asked about the shift in points going into Kansas.
“Just a disappointing night,” said Self. “It’s just feel like this is kinda how our year has gone most of the season. It’s always something making it a hard night. Unfortunately, we had a really rough pit stop there at the end and took our four tires and restarted fifth instead of fourth. On that last restart the top lane got going really well and the bottom lane got completely crowded up and we got put in the middle three wide and bounced around. I don’t know. We just struggled a bit – didn’t have good balance on the car all night, really tight for the most part.”
Asked about entering the final race at Kansas as one of the race favorites Self was quick to respond. “I don’t have anything to loose. Doesn’t matter what happens at this point, we’re going to Kansas to win.”
Hailie Deegan (No.55 TRD’s 40th Anniversary Toyota) making her fifth ARCA start of the season turned in her career best performance by challenging for the lead late before settling for fifth place after series’ officials called the race due to rain.
“My goal was to finish top five and keep a clean car for Kansas so I’m pretty excited,” said Deegan. “I think our car was fighting some tightness and it took a while to get out of it. And we’d have a good restart and the car felt pretty neutral and then the car would get tighter and tighter as the race went on. We had some great restarts and made it up to second and then we’d fall back as the car tightened up. Overall just a great night.”
Referencing Kansas, Deegan will end the season driving in the season finale on an intermediate track.
“I’m excited. I’ve never raced on a mile and a half track before so I think it’s going to take a little use to. I’ll go back and do some simulator work and hopefully we’ll have a good finish there to.”
During Saturday night’s race there were three lead changes among four drivers. Ty Gibbs led a race-high 143 laps, Joe Graf Jr. led seven laps from laps 144 to 150, Eckes led from lap 151 through lap 160 and Smith led from lap 161 to 167 when the race concluded. With those seven laps led, Smith, who only made 11 starts throughout the season, also locked up the 2019 Valvoline Lap Leader Award.
The ARCA Kansas 150 and the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway will close the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season on Friday, October 18. Practice opens the day at 1 pm ET/12 n CT followed by General Tire Pole Qualifying at 6 pm ET/5 pm CT. The 100-lap/150-mile feature event will go green at 8:30 pm ET/7:30 pm CT and will be shown live on FS2 with an immediate replay on FS1.