All three driver champions on the ARCA Menards platform in 2021 realize the same truth: Their triumphant seasons would not have been possible without the car owners who gave them opportunities to win titles.
In 2021, two men split the three car owner championships. The cars Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Ty Gibbs and Sammy Smith wheeled to ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East titles, respectively, were owned by Coy Gibbs, Ty’s father and Joe Gibbs’ son.
In the ARCA Menards Series West, Bill McAnally, the owner of series powerhouse Bill McAnally Racing, picked up the car owner championship with driver Jesse Love.
Below are the stories of how these titles came to be.
ARCA Menards Series car owner champion: Coy Gibbs (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)
For the second consecutive season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota ruled the road in the ARCA Menards Series, handily finishing atop the year-end owner’s point standings. And this time around, No. 18 car owner Coy Gibbs was able celebrate another championship in conjunction, as his son Ty became the ARCA Menards Series champion as the sole driver of the potent JGR Toyota.
In 2020, Ty Gibbs was not able to compete at most of the superspeedways on the schedule because of his age, so he was forced to share the No. 18 car with Riley Herbst. Though that duo delivered Coy Gibbs an owner’s title, JGR expected more in 2021.
Ty Gibbs delivered just that.
The No. 18 had a record-breaking season, as Gibbs led the ARCA Menards Series in wins, top fives, laps led, poles, lead-lap finishes and, most importantly, points. And as Gibbs held off an impressive Corey Heim to win the driver’s championship, Coy Gibbs held off Heim’s No. 20 car owner, Billy Venturini, to win the owner’s championship.
The tale of the tape shows that Ty Gibbs and the JGR group hung numbers on the scoreboard that had not been seen in the series for many years. No driver had won 10 races since Frank Kimmel pulled it off in back-to-back seasons in 2001-02. Kimmel was also the last driver to collect 19 top fives (2003). Most impressive was Gibbs’ new modern era high mark of 1,689 laps led in 2021.
Gibbs may have been making history and setting new records seemingly every time out in 2021, but there was one small area where Coy Gibbs and the No. 18 group fared better last year. This time around, Ty Gibbs actually had to take the green flag in the season finale at Kansas Speedway for his father to clinch the owner’s title.
Last year, the team simply needed to push the car through technical inspection.
ARCA Menards Series East car owner champion: Coy Gibbs (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)
Not content with chasing a championship in just one series on the ARCA Menards platform, Joe Gibbs Racing also fielded a full-time entry in the ARCA Menards Series East in 2021 with Johnston, Iowa, native Sammy Smith behind the wheel of the Coy Gibbs-owned No. 18 Toyota.
But with three of the eight East Series races in 2021 also counting for points toward the ARCA Menards Series championship — and a fourth race at Dover being held the same weekend as a NASCAR Xfinity Series race — JGR was faced with a new prospect: racing with two full-time ARCA Menards entries in the same races.
JGR had high expectations for Smith at Gibbs’ teammate despite the fact that the late model standout entered 2021 with no experience in the bigger, heavier ARCA Menards cars. And Smith’s ARCA Menards career certainly got off to an interesting start.
In the East Series season-opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway, Smith had worked his way from ninth to the lead before a caution flew with 10 laps to go. During a rain delay as part of that caution, series officials discovered that Smith and the No. 18 team had committed a penalty on pit road earlier in the event that had otherwise gone unnoticed and unpunished. Smith was dropped down the order when the race restarted, but he was aided by another quick caution.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Smith mounted a last-corner charge on new leader Taylor Gray and made significant contact with Gray, opening the door for Max Gutiérrez to enter the picture and steal the checkered flag in a narrow, grinding, three-wide finish.
A couple weeks later, Smith found redemption at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, for his first win. He then overcame another significant penalty (jumping the start of the race) at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for his second win. Those races led into the General Tire 125 at Dover International Speedway, where Ty Gibbs took over the No. 18 and Smith slid to a second Coy Gibbs-owned machine, the No. 81 Toyota.
Smith had been working with crew chief Mark McFarland up to that point in the season, but McFarland’s primary obligation was to Ty Gibbs. JGR brought in Jacob Canter, who impressively guided Smith to a fourth-place finish at Dover after a flat tire cost him two laps on pit road under green flag conditions.
In the next East Series event, Smith got back to his winning ways, using a long green flag run at Southern National Motorsports Park to lap the entire field, save for runner-up Joey Iest.
The first of the three ARCA Menards Series/East Series combination events took place in Smith’s backyard at Iowa Speedway, but the homecoming success was not meant to be. Smith cut a tire and hit the wall shortly after an early restart, and though he limped the car back to pit road, he dealt with tire and suspension issues until he threw in the towel after 97 laps.
Undeterred by the setback of an 18th-place finish, Smith took fifth at the historic Milwaukee Mile and made the highlight reel at Bristol Motor Speedway when he finished second to Ty Gibbs, clinching the East Series driver’s championship for himself and the owner’s championship for Coy Gibbs.
The team’s celebration, which included a nose-to-nose burnout executed perfectly by Smith and Ty Gibbs, was a memorable moment. And it was a precursor to Ty and Coy taking the same honors in the ARCA Menards Series finale at Kansas the following month.
ARCA Menards Series West car owner champion: Bill McAnally (No. 16 Bill McAnally Racing Toyota)
Once again, Bill McAnally is a car owner champion in the ARCA Menards Series West.
Even though McAnally was listed as the car owner for defending series champion Jesse Love in the latter’s quest to repeat, this result was far from an inevitability.
For Love and the crew of the No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, 2021 was a trying season that ultimately ended with a championship. Yes, Love won two races, both at California’s Irwindale Speedway, but he also finished 12th or worse in four of nine events.
Which is why the team, led by crew chief Travis Sharpe, had to rely on resiliency.
“This year was different,” said the 16-year-old Love, who with last year’s West Series title became the youngest NASCAR champion ever at age 15. “More highs, but also more lows. “Everyone did a good job of not giving up. The only way you can guarantee failure is if you give up. There were times in the season we were sixth in points; we’ve never been that low. But we never gave up.”
Love also noted McAnally’s influence on the title: “He did a great job of getting me a great opportunity with a lot of great guys.”
Which is what McAnally has done in the West Series for years.
Love’s 2021 championship marked Bill McAnally Racing’s 11th West Series title overall, extending the organization’s record. Bill McAnally himself now has eight car owner championships. He won his first three with Sean Woodside (1999) and Brendan Gaughan (2000-01) as his drivers. His next two came with Eric Holmes in 2008 and 2010. He won again with Chris Eggleston driving in 2015 and Todd Gilliland driving in 2016.
However, none of those titles came with the drama Love’s title run produced. That drama climaxed in the West Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
The Arizona Lottery 100 was sure to produce drama as seven drivers entered with chances to leave as the West Series champion, the top five of whom were separated by just six points in the standings. Sure enough, in the closing laps, just two championship points separated the top three drivers in the running order.
And when the checkered flag waved, it appeared as though Love’s season had ended with the lowest of lows, a championship loss by one position on track. Instead, a sneaky pass on the final lap led to the highest of highs.
With Jake Drew seemingly cruising to the title running 11th, four spots ahead of Love, Drew’s Sunrise Ford Racing teammate Trevor Huddleston made a crucial error. Running 14th, Huddleston lifted at the start of his white-flag lap, thinking the race had ended. Love easily passed Huddleston in Turn 1 of their final lap, and his 14th-place finish placed him and Drew in a tie atop the standings.
Love earned the championship by virtue of a tiebreaker — his two West Series wins in 2021 compared to zero for Drew.
McAnally earned his car owner championship by virtue of the same tiebreaker over Bob Bruncati, the owner of Drew’s No. 9 Ford.
Contributing: Ryan Musialowski