Corey Heim won the 2020 ARCA Menards Series season finale and the 2021 ARCA season opener. Ty Gibbs won a season-high six ARCA races last year. Then, in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut on Saturday (February 20), Gibbs won at the Daytona International Speedway road course.
But there’s a third full-time ARCA driver this year, chasing both the championship and Rookie of the Year honors. Nick Sanchez and Rev Racing ascended from full-time ARCA Menards Series East competition to a full-time effort in the national ARCA series this year.
For Sanchez, the promotion to the main ARCA series is another rung in his climb up the racing ladder.
“I started racing [go] karts there [in the Miami, Florida area] when I was 12,” Sanchez told Frontstretch. “Raced in some of those leagues with some of the best competition in the world for three-and-a-half years. When I wanted to move up to the racecar world, I found out about Rev [Racing] and applied for their Legend car program. Through that, I eventually advanced to late models. I spent a few years in the late model ranks. We had great success. We had two wins, probably should’ve had 10, something like 20 top fives, a great success that year.”
“[I] made my debut in the [NASCAR] K&N [Pro] Series in 2019 at South Boston [Speedway]. Got a pole and led a couple of laps. Did a race at New Hampshire [Motor Speedway].”
Of those three now ARCA Menards Series East starts in 2019, Sanchez amassed two eighth-place finishes.
“Then last year was my first year in the ARCA series where I ran ARCA East and select Showdown races,” Sanchez said. “We got a couple of top fives. It wasn’t the best year with the whole pandemic, especially in my case! Then this year, we made the jump to big ARCA, made the move as a team progressing forward.”
Sanchez finished the 2020 ARCA East season with two top fives, with a season-best finish of fourth in the season opener at New Smyrna Speedway, and four top 10s. Overall, he finished third in the championship standings, behind Sam Mayer, who joined JR Motorsports for a part-time Xfinity campaign this year, and Gibbs.
Rev Racing also fielded Sanchez in four main ARCA races last year. He amassed two top 10s with a best finish of second in the series’ inaugural race at Phoenix Raceway. Although he finished all four races, he only finished on the lead lap twice. As a result, Rev Racing upgraded its equipment over the offseason in preparation for a full-season ARCA effort this year.
“Over the offseason, we switched to Chevy,” Sanchez said. “We upgraded our chassis, from the spec engine to the Ilmor engine for the big tracks. As a one-car operation, that puts more focus on my equipment. In return, I think it’ll make it go faster. All around, it has gotten better, and that’s the perfect storm for a driver.”
Nevertheless, Sanchez understands it’s a daunting task battling Heim and Gibbs for the title. Heim drives for Venturini Motorsports, which won the series championship in 2019 with Christian Eckes and finished second and fourth in the drivers standings last year with Michael Self and Drew Dollar, respectively. Gibbs drives for his grandfather and NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, whose ARCA organization won the owners championship last year.
“Anything is possible,” Sanchez said upon assessing his odds of winning both the championship and ROTY. “I’ve got to go out there and drive. Over the past year, they’ve been the favorites. Venturini and Gibbs are higher than Rev equipment-wise. Last year, our first year in ARCA, we were still learning the rules of the series. Coming from K&N, I don’t think we were necessarily prepared for what the ARCA competition entailed.
“This year, we have a pull-down rig. Little pieces like that have created something that’s perfect,” he said excitedly. “We weren’t necessarily off by a lot last year, but a lot of the big tracks we went to with our spec engine, we were leading the field of spec engines, so to say. In those areas, it was hard to compete with those guys. This year, we have all the pieces, and the rest is on me to go make it happen.”
Only 19 years old, Sanchez set high standards for himself this year.
“A couple of wins,” he said. “We have the speed and we have the cars now and I have the experience. We can contend for wins.
“Obviously, Daytona, many people didn’t see it but I think our car was very fast. Daytona has a lot of unknowns which made the race out of our control.”
In that season opener, he finished 31st due to his involvement in a wreck.
“Driver of the No. 2 @Max_Siegel @eibach_racing @chevrolet – “Really unfortunate. The car had a lot speed and we were making progress. Moving on to @phoenixraceway.” – @Nicksanchez080 @ARCA_Racing | #LucasOil200 pic.twitter.com/2uCowtTaaM
— Rev Racing (@RevRacin) February 13, 2021
The DNF was an immediate blow to his championship hopes. Heim won the race and Gibbs finished fourth. Sanchez already is behind in the championship battle.
“Starting with Phoenix and the rest of the schedule, I’ve never been more confident going into a year,” Sanchez said. “Seeing what my team has done and what Max Siegel has invested, it’s heartwarming, impressive, and a big confidence booster.”
Indeed, Sanchez scored his career-best finish, thus far, at Phoenix last year. He started 12th and finished sixth, beating last year’s ARCA ROTY and current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Hailie Deegan by one spot.
Frustrating end to what was going to be a good day. I guess that’s just plate racing. Can’t thank @RevRacin enough for the great car. Phoenix will be our time!
— Nicholas Sanchez (@Nicksanchez080) February 13, 2021
Sanchez expects to best that career finish on March 12.
“We had a good run last year and we’ll be better,” he said. “I know what I lacked as a driver, I know what my car lacked, and I’ve never been so excited for a race.”
Overall though, Sanchez is eager to go race.
“I’m excited to get to the 1.5-mile tracks, those are fast,” he said. “I have the most experience in my go-kart on road courses. I’ve never raced a big car on a road course. I have Mid-Ohio [Sports Car Course], Watkins Glen [International], Pocono [Raceway] circled. Dirt tracks too, I love dirt. This schedule is so diverse it adapts to my driving style well. ARCA schedule offers a wide variety of tracks and experiences and those will help me as a driver.”
Moreover, Sanchez is grateful for the opportunity to wheel his No. 2 full-time for Rev Racing in ARCA.
“It gives you the introduction into actual NASCAR stock-car racing,” Sanchez said. “It puts you in a NASCAR-style car. The ARCA cars aren’t easy to drive nor hard to drive. There’s a lot in those cars which relates to the higher series. You check all the boxes in ARCA to make a quick transition into Xfinity or Trucks – you saw Gibbs. At the same time, it’s different cars but it’s the perfect stepping stone to move up to a higher series. It could get very expensive and competitive at times, equivalent to almost Xfinity or Trucks – which is scary as a developmental series. It’s not like late models where you can put together a winning car out of your garage.”
Yes, Sanchez watched Gibbs win the Daytona road course Xfinity Series race, launching himself into NASCAR fans’ minds beyond ARCA. The victory, Sanchez believes, is beneficial for ARCA and him both.
“That creates more spotlight on myself and the ARCA series. Someone who has only raced ARCA cars hopped into an Xfinity Series car and beat those regulars,” Sanchez said. “That lets people know ARCA drivers aren’t just kids racing on some money. We might be in a lower series but we’re not lower drivers. It creates pressure for me. I like pressure; at the end of the day, I have to go win. It brings more limelight to our series and me as a driver as well.”
“When Charles makes a mistake, he admits it, he doesn’t sugarcoat it,” Sanchez explained. “He accepts it, builds on it, and moves on. It’s relatable for me. That helped me develop from an average driver to a driver I’m proud to be. As far as Verstappen, I like the way he attacks the weekend. No excuses, no bs, just stay focused and drive. I can relate to a lot of that.”
Not only has Sanchez grown as a driver, but Rev Racing has also grown as an organization as well. In addition to upgrading its equipment over the offseason, it fields Sanchez full-time without any manufacturer support.
“We switched to Chevy to hopefully get something started there,” Sanchez commented on the team’s decision. “We do not have any manufacturer support which I think is impressive. Although we don’t have it right now, I’m hoping our performance gets eyes on our operation and hopefully me as a driver. Some manufacturer support goes a long way.”
FOX Sports reporter Bob Pockrass listed Sanchez as his 18th-best prospect in NASCAR. Sanchez obviously wants to make a living as a racecar driver, but he knows it’s no guarantee. Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, Sanchez took advantage of the racing hiatus.
“I’m a mortgage broker,” he told Frontstretch. “My mom has been in the business for about 25 years. During the whole pandemic, it was the best time to go check off another box in my life. It’s good to have. Racing is my goal in life, especially at the highest level. If I can’t make a living off of it, it’s good to have a backup plan. This could be it. It could also be a play to get sponsorship. Sponsorship drives this sport. If I could partner with a company, it could secure my spot in the sport for some years.”
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