Race Weekend Central

ARCA Racing Series Breakdown: ModSpace 150 at Pocono

The rain was coming, and both Zane Smith and Sheldon Creed knew it. Waging a ferocious battle one lap from the halfway point, ARCA points leader Creed charged to the front and was underneath teammate Smith through Turn 1, making contact and nearly spinning him out. Creed, however, backed out of the gas, scraping the wall and falling back to second while allowing Smith to gather his car and maintain the race lead. Three laps later, the rain was too much, and the race was called, giving Smith his fourth win of the season. Creed finished second, Chase Purdy third and Harrison Burton fourth, giving MDM Motorsports a sweep of the top 4 positions. Riley Herbst rounded out the top 5.

Todd Gilliland dominated the early portions of Friday’s race, but as tire strategies cycled out, Creed and  Smith found themselves out front to wage their final battle to the rain. Noticeably missing from the top of the running order was polesitter Gus Dean, who saw all his momentum from his win at Elko gone inside of 20 laps after spinning on his own entering Turn 1 inside the first 10 laps, and suffering a blown tire a few laps later. 

With his victory, Smith closed the gap to points leader Creed to 160 points. Despite struggling with axle issues early in the race, Natalie Decker’s struggles were less than those of Dean, allowing her to jump Dean back into sixth in the points.

The Good

Taking the top four positions is about as good as it gets for any race team in any form of racing, and MDM Motorsports did just that on Friday. The organization has three of the top four drivers in the point standings and has won nine of the 14 races contested this year. As for today, the final battle between Smith and Creed was noteworthy for several reasons. For one, their battle on lap 29 for what turned out to be the race win was, as Smith put it in his post-race interview, “badass.” Also important to note though, on Creed’s side, was just how mature a performance it was. Creed got a tremendous run on Smith entering Turn 1 and could have easily put the “eight wheels are better than four” strategy into practice to score what would have been his fifth win of the season. Instead, Creed backed off, saved both his and his teammate’s race cars and minimized any gains in points Smith could have made by winning the race. They’re the powerhouse to beat in the ARCA Racing Series.

The West Virginia brigade enjoyed their trip to the Poconos. Codie Rohrbaugh scored a career-best seventh place finish and was the top-finishing driver not driving a Toyota, while Travis Braden finished ninth, his fifth consecutive top 10 finish.

Gilliland’s sixth-place finish makes five career starts for him in the ARCA ranks without finishing outside the top 10. Will Rodgers scored his fourth consecutive top 10 finish driving for Ken Schrader’s No. 52 team. LB Skaggs scored his second consecutive lead lap finish at Pocono. 

Lastly, a big welcome back to Bret Holmes’ No. 23 team, that entered its own car for the first time since Madison back in June. Holmes moved up from 17th to 10th in the 33 laps run on Friday, his first top-10 finish in four starts at Pocono. 

The Bad

Decker’s first race carrying the colors of Shoney’s was quickly derailed with what the FOX commentary team labeled an axle issue. Decker, who started in the top 10 after missing the June Pocono race recovering from hernia surgery, quickly dropped out before being forced to pit road with mechanical woes. The No. 25 team was able to get back on the track and ended up finishing 15th, the last car on the lead lap.

It wasn’t readily clear from the TV broadcast what happened to Joe Graf Jr. (FOX pulled its camera crews from elevated positions with lightning bearing down on the Pocono Raceway), but the end result was Graf’s No. 77 slapping the Turn 3 wall hard enough to bring out the yellow inside the first 15 laps. The 26th place finish marked Graf’s first DNF of the season. 

Quin Houff’s 21st place finish was the worst posted by the Mason Mitchell Motorsports’ No. 78 team in any race this season, and their worst since Trevor Noles retired early with electrical issues at IRP last summer.

The Ugly

Gus Dean and Win-Tron Racing were riding high off their win at Elko two weeks ago with a pole-winning qualifying run Friday afternoon. But as mentioned in the intro to this piece, Dean’s day ended with all that momentum washed away in Pocono rain. Suffering both an unassisted spin and a blown tire in a span of 11 laps resulted in the fourth DNF of the year for Dean and the No. 32 team, his worst finish since the 2017 season opener at Daytona.

The Final Word

  • Rain-shortened races will always leave a sour taste in fans’ mouths, but it seemed very wrong to have a race at this level declared official after 33 laps (or approximately 47 minutes if my DVR is accurate). The ARCA race was the only competitive event at Pocono this Friday, which begs the question why a 200-miler couldn’t be run.
  • Something else that may need to be looked at for future races at Pocono is attempting to find covered elevated locations for camera workers, as the FOX crew had to pull their camera crews under green flag conditions due to impending lightning, which rendered the broadcast unable to cover the race as a whole. Joe Graf’s wreck could not be replayed or analyzed, and much of the race was limited to in-car shots that were largely inconsequential to the race; Leilani Munter finished in 20th, off the lead lap, and Natalie Decker was towards the back of the lead lap pack thanks to mechanical issues. I’m not in any way criticizing FOX for pulling their crews off the roof; having been at the 2012 Pocono race that saw a fan struck by lightning in the stands, it’s completely reasonable to see both the facility and crews working at it being proactive in dealing with thunderstorms. The next step in such proactivity is updating the facility to allow said crews to work as long as possible even in the face of impending weather. Pocono always has been vulnerable to storms on race weekends and will continue to be. It’s also a track that given its size is heavily dependent on camera coverage, both for those watching on TV and in the stands (speaking from experience working in the Pocono press box, replays AND binoculars are needed to cover a race at the Tricky Triangle). Here’s hoping some lessons are learned after this Friday’s broadcast.
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