Race Weekend Central

ARCA Racing Series Breakdown: Fans with Benefits 150 at Iowa

It took numerous aggressive restarts and a tense final 10 laps of mirror driving, but Sheldon Creed rebounded from an extremely tight first run to hold off Chandler Smith at Iowa Speedway Saturday night, scoring his third win of the 2018 ARCA Racing Series season and extending his series points lead. Smith, Chase Purdy, Zane Smith and Joe Graf Jr. rounded out the top-five finishers. 

Creed, who earlier in the afternoon won the pole (and ended Chandler Smith’s run of four poles in four career starts), struggled through a nearly 60 lap green flag run to open the race, dropping down to seventh by the time the first caution flag flew for Gus Dean’s backstretch crash. Creed, however, capitalized on strong work by his pit crew and extreme aggression on the restart to retake the race lead around lap 76. A fixture at the front from then on, Creed took the lead for good around lap 101 and never relinquished it again, though Chandler Smith made up considerable ground in the closing laps. 

Creed extended his points lead over teammate Zane Smith and also put considerable distance on third-place Riley Herbst, who saw a strong practice and qualifying performance derailed on a wreck following a restart around lap 67. Creed leads by nearly a full race on Smith with eight races left on the 2018 calendar.

The Good

MDM Motorsports continued stormtroopin’ through the ARCA Racing Series at Iowa, taking three of the top four positions while placing all five of their entries in the top 10. Creed’s team showed mettle in adjusting their car after a disastrous opening 60 laps that saw them drop from first to seventh, and perhaps more importantly Creed as a driver showed consistent mettle on restarts that will put the No. 28 at a great advantage through the rest of the season. Chase Purdy was on the offensive late in Saturday’s race and finished third, his fourth consecutive top 5 finish, Zane Smith scored his second consecutive top 5 since his wreck at Gateway, and Harrison Burton came home sixth, marking five top 10s in five starts with MDM this season. Lastly, Sam Mayer scored a top 10 finish in his ARCA Racing Series debut in the No. 40, though it wasn’t without incident…more on that later.

Chandler Smith’s stranglehold on the General Tire pole award finally came to an end at Iowa, where he qualified a career-worst seventh (hard-knock life, huh?) after winning the pole in each of his first four ARCA starts. Despite this, and despite being unable to run down Sheldon Creed in the final laps, this performance might have been Smith’s most important to date. Not starting up front, and struggling with a car that was “not loose anywhere” after qualifying, Smith and the No. 20 team were able to adjust on their car in the right direction, and proved extremely stout on the long run. Add in the fact that this was done at Iowa, a short track long enough to bring in some of the aero considerations of a superspeedway into play, and Smith coming home runner-up in his debut here was just the latest feather in the 15-year-old’s cap. This kid’s gonna rack up a lot of trophies waiting to turn old enough to race the big tracks.

Joe Graf Jr. and the No. 77 team again played the tire strategy game, staying out on old tires for a restart around lap 100, and this time it paid off; when the caution flag flew later in the event, the No. 77’s fresh tires allowed Graf to climb back through the field to finish fifth, his first top 5 since Michigan.

A move into Ken Schrader Racing’s No. 52 appears to be just what the doctor ordered for Bret Holmes, who finished on the lead lap in eighth in his debut with the team after sitting out last week’s race at Chicagoland. For Holmes, while the finish wasn’t a huge jump over his recent results with the No. 23 team, it did seem to demonstrate better performing race cars, as Holmes made it through 150 laps Saturday night without brake rotors glowing hotter than the rest of the field, as was visible at both Gateway and Madison. 

Being home bound started rough but ended up OK for West Des Moines native and former ARCA champion Mason Mitchell, who finished sixth in his first start of 2018. Mitchell struggled through practice to a point the team changed the drivetrain, transmission and rear end gear prior to qualifying. That proved futile, however, as Mitchell aborted his first qualifying lap after suffering an audible mechanical failure. The team rushed to change engines, and Mitchell started in the rear, making steady progress back through the field for the rest of the night.

Lastly, and most welcome, was Darrell Basham and his weekend warriors going the distance in the No. 34 Saturday night. After making his series return only to start-and-park at Madison, to see the longtime ARCA veteran see the checkers was a sight for sore eyes.

The Bad

Riley Herbst’s hot streak carried into Iowa, with the No. 18 team near the top of both the practice and qualifying charts. What’s more, the No. 18 had steam on the long run, with Herbst challenging for the lead up until the first yellow around lap 60. The No. 18 team proceeded to win the battle off pit road…and then disaster struck. Struggling on the ensuing restart, Herbst dropped to fourth when around lap 69, he cut off Michael Self’s No. 55 on the backstretch; though he visibly tried to avoid it, Self had no chance and turned Herbst’s No. 18 hard into the backstretch wall, damaging both cars enough to take them out of contention for the evening. Herbst leaves Iowa now nearly two full races out of the points lead.

Speaking of Michael Self, the glory of last week’s win at Chicagoland proved shortlived, as despite leading laps early Saturday and proving a contender on the long run, was essentially parked after the contact with Herbst; the No. 55 team did repair the car and keep Self on the track, but it wasn’t 25 laps later before Self spun his damaged machine into the infield grass. Self’s eventual DNF was his first on a short track since his ARCA debut in Mobile back in 2014.

The driver that brought out the first yellow was none other than Gus Dean, who was as ready as any driver to get out of Iowa. Dean qualified outside the top 10 with an effort that he apologized for and that his team called “too loose” over the radio before the driver even had a chance to respond, and it didn’t get better once the green flag dropped, ending around lap 60 when Dean spun unassisted exiting turn 2 and pounded in the inside backstretch wall. The 20th place finish was Dean’s worst since Toledo back in May.

Though the Venturini cars of Smith and Self showed speed, one driver who proved surprisingly paralyzed on Saturday night was that of Christian Eckes. Despite the momentum of several strong runs in the Truck Series of late, Eckes struggled with a loose car to his worst qualifying result since Nashville back in April, and made little progress through traffic in the early stages of the race even as teammate Self led laps, exclaiming “thank God” over the radio once the first yellow flew 60 laps in. Though the team took swings at the car, the No. 15 was back in for more adjustments less than 15 laps later under the next yellow flag. Eckes would then scrape the wall around lap 74 (Eckes claimed he was dumped over the radio around lap 81, but it wasn’t clear from this writer’s vantage point who got into him). The final hit came on lap 105, when it was very obvious that Mayer’s No. 40 slid high through turn 4 and smacked Eckes’ No. 15 in the rear, turning the No. 15 into the infield. Eckes finished 11th, one lap down.

The Ugly

It’s never a good thing to see an underfunded race team tear up a car, as was the case when David Sear spun unassisted in turn 3 around lap 94 and backed into the wall, crushing the rear end of the Kimmel Racing No. 69. What was uglier though, was to hear the Kimmel team over the radio completely disregard Sear’s “I’m alright” statements over the radio immediately following the wreck. Sear told the team three or four times after hitting the wall that he was alright, only to have the team callously remark “that’s nice” and “our race car is torn up.” Such statements are fine and dandy, and even appropriate, in a development series…once the wreck is back behind the wall. But to hear the team jump directly to the race car literally seconds after the crash was something that made this writer look a lot less sympathetically at an operation that’s literally limping through 2018.

Final Notes

* It took until 12 races into the season, but finally a driver gave Natalie Decker a run for her money in crowd noise during driver intros…welcome home Mason Mitchell.

  • In case readers didn’t catch the theme, Tud Nugent played a post-race concert at the Iowa Speedway last night…and judging from pre-race ceremonies, his biggest fan in Newton is none other than the mayor (who spent more time plugging the concert than the race track). The crowd at Iowa was healthy by 2018 standards last night…wonder how much that played into it?
  • Though it wasn’t as thin as Madison, the car count of 23 for Saturday’s race once again highlights just how hard it’s going to be for the rest of the field to catch Sheldon Creed in points…the highest car count races this year have been on superspeedways, and only two of those remain on the calendar in 2018. Add in the start-and-park Wayne Peterson Racing entries at the bottom of the running order, and it’s to a point where even a wreck or early engine failure for Creed can still result in a top 20 finish. There’s just not enough points spread the way things are going for Zane Smith, or anyone for that matter, to realistically capitalize without scoring wins, poles (ARCA still awards bonus qualifying points to the top 3)…and the No. 28 suddenly misfiring.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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