18-year-old Max Gutierrez won Monday night’s Jeep Beach 175 from New Smyrna Speedway after passing both Sammy Smith and Taylor Gray on the final straightaway to open up the 2021 ARCA Menards Series East season.
The race was dominated by Smith who led 78 of the 187 laps contested from New Smyrna Beach, Florida on Monday. However, a controversial late race penalty sidelined him from the top spot and put him on the offensive line in the final moments.
During the halftime competition caution, Smith and Mason Diaz pitted when the pit road was closed, however, neither received penalties initially.
A caution flew with 12 laps remaining for debris in the fourth turn as a small rain shower swooped in briefly over the half-mile. The rain forced a rain delay that lasted well over an hour. When the caution was again displayed, ARCA Menards Series officials black-flagged Smith for pitting during that specific lap, however, Diaz claimed the top spot despite committing the same infraction.
After the track drying was complete, ARCA officials threw the green flag for a Green-White-Checkered finish despite several drivers still citing the surface as damp. As the field roared into the opening turn, Taylor Gray slid up into Diaz’s No. 74 Toyota in the middle of the track, spinning Diaz around immediately. Another caution flew.
On the next restart, which turned out to be the final, Gray drove away in his David Gilliland Racing Fusion. On the final lap, Smith’s Joe Gibbs Racing Camry was able to run down Gray. Smith nudged Gray up the track in the fourth turn and kept making contact as the two raced towards the finish line. Max Gutierrez was able to hold his lane on the bottom and skim by both of his competitors and won in a three-wide photo finish.
The win for Gutierrez is his first in ARCA Menards Series East competition in his third series start. The Mexico City born driver leads the championship after the opening race of the season with the victory. Gutierrez won the 2020 NASCAR FedEx Challenge in Mexico.
The margin of victory for Gutierrez was 0.046-seconds over Smith and 0.087-seconds over Gray.
Jack Wood and Carson Kvapil made their debuts in new teams on Monday and started their seasons on the wrong feet. Wood, driving for the two-time reigning championship team of GMS Racing, blew a tire in the second turn on lap 127. The tire was cut following contact between him and Daniel Dye on the front straight. Kvapil, son of 2003 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion Travis Kvapil, was driving for Cook-Finley Racing in their No. 41 Chevrolet. Kvapil had an ignition issue that lurked all day. The team retired the car after 120 laps.
The series races into Pensacola, FL. for the Pensacola 200 at Five Flags Speedway on February 27. The race will be streamed through TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.
2021 Jeep Beach 175 Results (New Smyrna Speedway):
Fin.: Driver (No.) – Laps – Points
1: Max Gutierrez (30) – 187 – 47
2: Sammy Smith (18) – 187 – 44
3: Taylor Gray (17) – 187 – 43
4: Mason Diaz (74) – 187 – 41
5: Joey Iest (54) – 187 – 39
6: Daniel Dye (43) – 187 – 38
7: Colt Hensley (09) – 187 – 37
8: Brandon Oakley (22) – 187 – 36
9: Parker Retzlaff (42) – 185 – 36
10: Willie Mullins (3) – 183 – 34
11: Rajah Caruth (6) – 177 – 33
12: Richard Garvie (11) – 176 – 32
13: Jack Wood (21) – 127 – 31
14: Carson Kvapil (41) – 120 – 30
15: Dick Doheny (10) – 4 – 29