Gibbs eyeing ARCA championship Saturday in Kansas

Ty Gibbs is the 2021 ARCA Menards champion. Well, almost. It’s more of a formality. See, all the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has to do on Saturday evening at the Kansas Speedway is to take the green flag in the Reese’s 150 (7 p.m. ET, MAVTV, MRN) and the title is his.

He can park it afterwards if he wanted to but that’s not in his nature for the 19-year old North Carolina native. He has other titles to fight for.

See, while Gibbs is a rookie and with a series championship to be won this weekend, you’d think he would have Rookie of the Year honors too. Instead, nope. Gibbs, leads Corey Heim by just one point for that distinction heading into the weekend.

How you may be asking?

Well, because the rookie points in ARCA are awarded only via finishing positions. That’s it. No bonus points are included.

So, when looking at their finishes, well it’s close. Gibbs has 10 wins but Heim was was second in four of them. He was also third in two more and fourth in another. That plus Heim having six wins of his own with 15 top five’s in 19 tries, well that’s why Gibbs hasn’t been able to break away from him in the rookie standings.

If Gibbs wasn’t in this series, Heim, 19, would be champion rather easily. The thing is, Heim has slipped in his finishes lately with one top five in his last four starts. Gibbs, has a top two in all those same races including six straight top two’s entering the weekend.

That’s the difference maker.

Still, Heim only needs to finish two spots ahead of Gibbs to win the Rookie of the Year Honors. That’s likely going to take a win though as Gibbs has 16 straight top four finishes and 18 in 19 tries this season. 14 of those 16 were in the top two. Heim only has three top two finishes in his last 10 starts and was third to Gibbs’ win earlier this season in Kansas.

Heim’s did finish up front in May and earned his first ARCA victory here last season in the same 2020 season-finale. He led 82 of 100 laps that night.

The other thing is, Heim may get another championship too – General Tire Superspeedway Challenge. He leads his Venturini Motorsports team car (No. 15 Toyota) by 22 points for those honors. The team owner on the 20 car is Billy Venturini with his father Bill owning the 15 car.

This likely comes down to them as the JGR car (No. 18 Toyota) driven by Gibbs is 26 points out. That is due to Gibbs’ worst finish coming at Talladega where he came home 27th. Heim, won that race as well as Daytona and Pocono to go along with being third in Kansas as well as second in Charlotte and Michigan. Gibbs was fourth (Daytona), 27th (Talladega), 1st (Kansas), 1st (Charlotte), 2nd (Pocono) and 1st (Michigan) in the same races.

This challenge is for races on tracks 1.5-miles or longer. Like the rookie challenge, bonus points aren’t included.

This year’s events in the challenge included Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Kansas, Charlotte, Pocono Raceway, Michigan and Saturday’s finale at Kansas.

That’s why Gibbs may win the series championship but has a path where Rookie of the Year and the Superspeedway Challenge he might not.

That’s why Gibbs wants to go out in style and celebrate a trip to victory lane in his No. 18 Toyota for the 11th time too. By doing so, he’s entering Tim Steele category. A win this weekend would put him one-shy of Tim Steele’s 1997 mark in which he won 12 times. Steele, also won 11 times in 1996 too.

Gibbs, 19, did pass Steele on the laps led for a single season with 1,590 compared to Steele’s 1,514 led in ’96. That record stood for 24 years before Gibbs came on the scene. The thing is, Steele had 25 races to win 12 times and lead 1,514 laps in 1996. Gibbs, will make only his 20th start this weekend, so having five fewer tries.

Unlike Steele though, Gibbs likely won’t be back a second straight year. See, Gibbs is all but destined to one of the open seats at JGR in the NASCAR Xfinity Series next year. But, first things first, a title in a record breaking season. 

He’s the easy favorite to take another trip to victory lane with him winning the pole and the race here this past May including leading all 100 laps in the process. That’s the third time he led every lap of the race joining Charlotte and Milwaukee.

Can he do it again?

History is on his side. He’s racing the NXS race just prior to the ARCA one and when he did that in Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend, he swept both races that day.

He led all but one lap at Iowa (July) and Michigan (August) too.

If Gibbs does win Saturday’s race, then he will become the first repeat winner at the track in the ARCA Menards Series since Alex Bowman won back-to-back events in 2011-12.

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