The two most recent ARCA Menards Series victors arguably were the two most deserving drivers from each event.
Ryan Unzicker became the first driver to win an ARCA event, at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, after starting outside the top 10 since Christian Eckes accomplished that feat in the 2019 season finale at Kansas Speedway. Unzicker led 63 of the 78 laps at the weather-affected event at the 1-mile dirt track.
Corey Heim followed suit by leading 101 of the 105 laps en route to winning the second ARCA event of the season at Kansas. Heim bookended his part-time ARCA campaign with victories in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and his last ARCA start of the season at Kansas.
ARCA finishes off its season with three different short tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway, Salem Speedway and Toledo Speedway. The championship battle has firmly become a two-driver contest. Nick Sanchez leads Daniel Dye by 12 points. Sanchez’s teammate Rajah Caruth wound up with back-to-back DNFs at DuQuoin and Kansas, so he fell to 38 points behind. Greg Van Alst and Toni Breidinger continue to hold down the top five in the standings in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
As the ARCA season nears its end, which drivers are still hot in these power rankings?
1. Nick Sanchez
Sanchez finished second at Kansas, extending his top 10 streak to eight with one win and seven top fives among those.
With his runner-up finish, Sanchez captured the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge championship for his Rev Racing team owner Max Siegel. The General Tire Superspeedway Challenge features races on the ARCA Menards Series schedule at paved ovals greater than 1.5 miles in length.
“To get Max Siegel that, that’s awesome and a testament to my team and all they do on these big tracks,” Sanchez said about the accomplishment.
Sanchez bested his championship contenders at Kansas, and he will need to continue that trend with three short tracks, which have not been his best ARCA circuits, to win the title.
— Rev Racing (@RevRacin) September 11, 2022
2. Sammy Smith
After finishing eighth, including accruing 10 stage points, in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Kansas, Sammy Smith finished third in the ARCA event there. Yet he was not too pleased with the outcome.
“We kind of sucked all day,” Smith told MAVTV Motorsports Network post-race. Just didn’t make any gains, didn’t make it any worse but we just struggled … we’ll move on to next week. It [the final restart] was about my only shot. We struggled to do anything with the speed, handling, so I was trying to do anything and go for it. If I lost, it didn’t matter at that point.”
Smith keeps his second-place position in these rankings because he still leads the series in top-five finishes, pole awards and laps led. It is a testament to his talent behind the wheel of the No. 18.
3. Daniel Dye
Despite battling some mechanical gremlins during the Kansas race, Dye piloted his No. 43 to a fourth-place finish. It is his third straight top five and 11th straight top-10 finish.
— GMS Racing (@GMSRacingLLC) September 11, 2022
“We had a really fast GMS Racing Chevy today, and I was able to move around and learn a lot all day,” Dye said in a post-race press release. “We obviously wanted more, but we’ll take another fourth-place finish and move on to Bristol here in a few days. Thank you to everyone at GMS and all our partners for the support and hard work.”
Yet Dye lost two points to Sanchez. Sanchez leads Dye due to three wins and zero DNFs for the Rev Racing driver compared to Dye’s zero wins and two DNFs. It is a small difference, but it is the margin for the 12-point gap between the two Chevrolet drivers.
4. Taylor Gray
Kansas was the last event on the ARCA schedule where a driver must be at least 18 years old, so the 17-year-old Gray could not race at the 1.5-mile track.
His three wins, seven top fives and nine top 10s speak for themselves though. Gray has been outright good in 2022. He has five wins in ARCA competition; three in the main series and one apiece in the ARCA Menards Series East and West.
Gray has delivered a successful ARCA campaign to his David Gilliland Racing team, and the team will double its chances at Bristol. Gray will have NASCAR FedEx Challenge competitor, and series points leader, Andres Perez de Lara as his teammate in the No. 51.
5. Corey Heim
With his last ARCA start of the season ending with a victory, let’s take a moment to appreciate Corey Heim’s ARCA career.
Heim finished 10th in his debut season of 2019 despite only competing in 13 of the 20 events. In his three starts the following year, Heim won at Kansas and scored that one win, two top fives and three top 10s. Clearly, that lack of seat time did not affect him.
Last year, Heim enjoyed arguably one of the greatest seasons in ARCA history yet ended up runner-up to uber-talented Ty Gibbs. Heim picked up six wins, 16 top fives and 20 top 10s — a top 10 in every race — and battled the Joe Gibbs Racing driver for the championship right until the season’s end.
Overall, Heim is 17th on the all-time ARCA wins list even though he only has made 43 starts.
That winning feeling 🏁 pic.twitter.com/BvppSSaP4s
— VenturiniMotorsports (@VenturiniMotor) September 11, 2022
Astonishingly, Heim has only finished outside the top 10 twice in his ARCA career. In his third-ever start, Heim finished 11th at the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. His career-worst ARCA result was a 16th place finish at Kansas earlier in 2022. In that event, after leading a race-high 56 laps, as he battled for the lead, Heim crashed out of the race.
Venturini Motorsports has produced many NASCAR stars and Heim, already a two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner, is on the fast track to joining that famed list.
Bristol hosts the ARCA field for a combination race featuring the main and East series. The Bush’s Beans 200 will take place at 6:30 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.
About the author
Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.
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