He didn’t lead until lap 152 and he had to hold off a late model ringer to do it, but Sam Mayer earned a trip to victory lane in Monday night’s ARCA Menards East Series season opener.
As the defending tour champion, it was reasonable to believe that Mayer would put on a strong performance at New Smyrna Speedway, though it was improbable on the way it came about.
ARCA: Sam Mayer wins East Series Opener at New Smyrna
Mayer started the 175-lap race from the sixth position and would have to fight his way to the front of the pack.
After a pair of cautions, Mayer found himself in second place by lap 100, trying to chase down Derek Griffith for the lead.
Griffith was racing for Chad Bryant Racing in a one-off for the team, since he was already planning on racing in the World Series of Asphalt at the short track this week.
Oh boy, was the No. 2 car fast.
Griffith paced the field for a vast majority of the race.
Mayer attempted to get by on a variety of occasions, but could only make it to about where the steering wheel sits on Griffith’s car.
Fortunately for Mayer, Griffith and his team decided to run a strategy that would have them pit later on in the race for tires.
They didn’t get the chance to do it under caution until lap 152, which would give Mayer the lead, but keep Griffith within striking distance.
Griffith – being a late model driver – made a mistake.
In ARCA, drivers are not allowed to pass the pace car on the way to pit road – something that is normal in late model racing – and Griffith did so on his pit stop.
That meant he would go to the tail-end of the longest line of the field with just over 20 laps left to race.
A handful of laps later, Tanner Gray spun his tires while being three-wide coming out of turn four, and going up into the fence to bring out a red flag and a caution.
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) February 11, 2020
It would take away a couple of laps for Griffith to try and gain all of his ground back, but the late model ringer would try.
Griffith found himself in third place with less than 10 to go before passing Ty Gibbs for P2. He’d make the pass around the No. 18 easily and go on to working on Mayer.
Mayer had worked up a bit of a gap, however, and was able to hold on by a car length.
Had the race went a lap or two further, Griffith could have made the move to win, and he thought so too.
“Absolutely,” Griffith told the NBC Sports Gold broadcast team after the race.
Fortunately for Mayer, though, he never got his shot.
The victory is Mayer’s fifth regional series win and second in a row going back to the tour’s season finale at Dover a year ago.
Mayer and the rest of the series will return to the track on March 14 to compete in the tour’s second event of the season at 5 Flags Speedway.
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