Nick Sanchez won the 2022 ARCA Menards Series driver’s championship with a sixth-place finish at Toledo Speedway after Daniel Dye went behind the wall with a mechanical failure. Out front, Jesse Love won the pole, led the most laps and dominated all day, but it was Sammy Smith who stole the race win with two laps to go after Smith, Love and Grant Enfinger all made contact while battling for the win in turn 1.
With Smith clear to the lead with six turns remaining, he held off Love on the final lap to score his sixth win of the season, his third win in a row and the ARCA owner’s championship for the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports entry.
“Nothing personal [with the bump], but there was a shot to take [the win] and I took it,” Smith said. “[Love] was struggling, and to be honest with you, we weren’t very good all race. We had a third-place car, and they probably had the best car there at the end and [Enfinger] did too. But it was a shot to win and owner’s points on the line.”
With Smith using the bump and run to score the win, Love was not happy as he was poised the clinch the owner’s championship for the No. 20 Venturini Motorsports car with a win of his own. He showed his displeasure to Smith before and after the No. 18 car’s celebratory burnout.
“First off, I want to apologize for my sponsors, my team for making any sort of negative impact on anything,” Love said. “But at the same time, I got to stick up for myself, and not only for myself, but for my team. The No. 18 got the No. 20 at Kansas Speedway, the No. 18 got the No. 20 at Pocono Raceway. Kansas might have been more a racing deal, but Pocono wasn’t, Pocono was us getting dumped.”
“Grant gave me a good shove, and I was able to cross him over and get him back and race side-by-side clean with him. And then the No. 18 cleaned both of us out.”
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) October 8, 2022
The talk heading into the weekend at Toledo was the battle for the driver’s championship between Sanchez and Dye. Sanchez entered the race with a two-point lead over Dye, but Dye looked to have the upper hand early after running as high as second while Sanchez was mired back in sixth.
Dye’s luck ran out in the second half of the race however, as he went behind the wall after the No. 43 suffered a ball joint failure. Dye finished 37 laps off the pace in 18th, while a sixth-place finish was enough to the clinch the driver’s championship for Sanchez in a 2022 season that saw him win three races.
“The first part [of the race] was hectic and pretty close,” Sanchez said. “We had to stay out and get a point in leading a lap, and once [Dye] had a problem it all got a lot easier. We just rode at the end of the race honestly; I didn’t want to get caught up in a racing incident. Obviously, my guys brought me a very fast car at the end with the way it came alive. Just happy to get it.
“It’s huge for me, but Max Siegel, Rev Racing and the people that got me here. 10 years ago, they won the K&N East title with Kyle Larson, so it’s cool to get this for them 10 years later.”
Sanchez cruised to the championship in sixth while Landon Pembelton finished right behind him in seventh. Matthew Gould scored his second top 10 in as many starts in eighth while Greg Van Alst and Amber Balcaen completed the top 10.
Sunday afternoon (Oct. 8) started with Love on the pole, and he easily cruised to the front to lead lap 1 over Dye, who started the race in second. Sanchez started the race in eighth, and he quickly made his way up to sixth in the opening laps before stalling out.
Love remained unchallenged for the lead until lap 38, when Dye began creeping closer to the back bumper of the No. 20 car. The battle was short lived however, as the caution came out on lap 39 for a spin by Amber Slagle.
Dye held even with Love on the lap 45 restart and was credited with leading one lap before Love reclaimed the lead a lap later. The lap out front was crucial for Dye, as it gave him extra point in the title fight. At this point, all Dye had to do to win the title was finish two spots in front of Sanchez.
But Dye’s car began to fall off just 10 laps later. After running in the top two for the first 50 laps, Dye was passed by Gray, Smith and Enfinger and dropped to fifth by lap 59.
The first race break of the afternoon came on lap 75, and while Love headed into pit stops with the lead, he lost the top spot after Sanchez and the No. 2 team rolled the dice by electing to stay out. The decision allowed Sanchez to lead laps for a bonus point, but he would now have to make it to the second race break on lap 125 with tires that were 75 laps older than the rest of the field.
Disaster also struck for Dye during the first race break, as his car briefly lost power. After pitting a second time, Dye restarted the race in 15th.
The race resumed on lap 80, and Love immediately took the lead back while Sanchez dropped like a rock with used tires. After a handful of laps, Sanchez was down to seventh while Dye began working his way toward the top 10. Two crashes involving Jeffrey MacZink, Alex Clubb and Greg Van Alst just past halfway brought the race to a brief crawl, but it was Love who retained the lead after the field returned to racing on lap 109.
Love had a comfortable lead when the second race break ensued on lap 125 while Sanchez gained one spot to enter the break in sixth. The No. 2 team had their hands full, however, as Dye roared from 12th to seventh in 15 laps and entered the break right behind Sanchez.
What remained was a 70-lap shootout, and Love once again held off all challenges when the field went back to green on lap 130. Dye got around Sanchez and set his sights on the top five, but on lap 135, Dye was passed by Sanchez and lost a handful of spots after his engine briefly lost power for a second time.
A timely caution followed, and Dye took the No. 43 car down pit road for an examination. What was initially thought to be a problem with shocks turned out to be a problem with a ball joint, and Dye was forced behind the wall with just under 60 laps remaining. He returned to the track for the final 20 laps, but his championship hopes were over as he was now guaranteed to finish behind Sanchez in the running order.
Knowing that Dye was behind the wall, Sanchez ran smooth, clean laps and avoided trouble for the final quarter of the race because the only possible way for him to lose was if he went behind the wall as well. Sanchez ultimately completed all 200 laps and brought home the first ARCA driver’s championship for himself and team owner Max Siegel.
Love looked poised to win the race and the owner’s championship after a dominating performance, but the battle for the lead picked up with 10 laps to go as Enfinger was right on Love’s back bumper after cutting what was once a one-second deficit.
Third-place Smith soon joined the pair in the battle for the lead, and Enfinger made his move with a bump-and-run on Love in turn 3 with four laps to go. Love fought back on the inside, and he beat Enfinger to the stripe by a nose with three laps to go.
With Love and Enfinger side-by-side heading into turn 1 with 2 laps to go, Smith gave a nudge to Love which moved both cars up the track. And with a clean racetrack in front of him, Smith held off all challenges to win a wild finale for the 2022 ARCA Menards Series season.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf joined Frontstretch in September 2021. He is a staff writer and the Friday news writer. Stephen also pens the weekly “4 Burning Questions” column and contributes to “Friday Faceoff” and “2-Headed Monster.” A Texas native, Stephen started following NASCAR at age 9.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.