Sammy Smith cruised down Victory Lane in 2021 at Five Flags Speedway. Twelve months later, 17-year-old Iowan was to earn his place there.
Sweat poured down his brow and exhaustion punctuated every sentence as Smith celebrated his historic second straight Pensacola ARCA 200 victory on Saturday on the famous half-mile asphalt oval. While the result was the same, the race itself was very different from Smith’s dominating wire-to-wire victory a year ago.
The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver finally found some clean air on Lap 89 on Saturday night and survived restart after restart en route to hoisting the winner’s trophy. The Pensacola ARCA 200 officially kicked off the 2022 racing season at Five Flags after Mother Nature rained Friday night on the local division slate.
“I knew as the race went on, (the car) would come to life,” said Smith, frustrated with his qualifying efforts and the first half of the race. “I have to thank my team for improving the car. We struggled early.
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Fifteen cars took to the opening green, but only nine finished a race marked by attrition thanks to seven cautions. Clearly showing that the ARCA Menards Series East holds the future of the sport, 17-year-old Leland Honeyman finished second to Smith and 16-year-old Taylor Gray completed the podium. Gray, fresh off an ARCA win at Phoenix last week, led 61 laps on Saturday and posed the biggest threat to Smith. The pair had several side-to-side battles throughout the second half of the race. But when Gray skipped a late restart, ARCA officials penalized him at the end of the lead lap with just 11 laps remaining in the race.
“That one hurts,” Gray said crestfallen. “I felt like this one was stolen from us pretty badly. We were fast enough to follow (Smith). »
Lynn Haven’s Jake Finch ran in the top five for most of the night on his ARCA debut but saw his night end six laps from the checkered flag due to a flat front right .
Smith, who is the defending ARCA East champion, now has five career ARCA wins and continues to look more and more comfortable every time he runs on the high banks from Pensacola.
“I handled myself better this year than I did last year,” Smith said. “More siege time and turns at Five Flags really paid off.”
Vores Compact Touring Series: Jennings survives Kaelin, victorious in Pest Doctor 40
Chris Jennings and Dillon Kaelin engaged in a game of cat and mouse on Saturday afternoon as the Vores Compact Touring Series returned to Five Flags Speedway.
Jennings, who took the lead with 17 full laps, was able to protect his advantage against Kaelin and win the Pest Doctor 40. Jennings, a two-time VCTS season champion, was better on the Pensacola straights while Kaelin filled the gap. gap in the corners and the middle of the bends.
“I tried to run the middle grooves to save tires,” said Jennings, a native of Richmond, Indiana. “Finally, we win one of those things!” It was a long time ago. And it’s an honor to come and race at Five Flags, which is such a legendary short track.
Jennings arrived in the fresh air when then-leader Tom Gosser saw his scorching afternoon come to a screeching halt on lap 18. Gosser, the top qualifier who broke his own record at Five Flags earlier in the day, spun on the backstretch and failed. to finish the race.
“I don’t think we had anything for Tom,” admitted Jennings. “It’s quite difficult trying to catch it.”
Kaelin and Brent Shreffler finished second and third respectively.
“I started deep in the field due to problems in practice,” Kaelin explained. “By the time I got up there and kind of figured out the track, my tires were gone.
“Halfway we said, ‘Let’s give it all we got,’ but we didn’t have enough.”