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Max Gutierrez Edges Out Sammy Smith, Taylor Gray for Shocking Triumph in ARCA East Season Opener

PC: Luis Torres Photography

In one of the most fantastic – and confusing — finishes in recent memory, 18-year-old Max Gutierrez has claimed his first career victory in the ARCA Menards Series East, edging out Sammy Smith and Taylor Gray in a three-wide photo finish in the Jeep Beach 175 at New Smyrna Speedway.

In a last-ditch effort to claim his first win on debut, Sammy Smith lunged into the final corner in an attempt to move Taylor Gray up the racetrack. After making contact, both Smith and Gray washed up the racetrack, allowing Gutierrez to slide by on the inside, edging out Sammy Smith by 0.046 seconds.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sammy Smith – who will run five of the series’ eight events this season — finished in second place, with Taylor Gray, Mason Diaz and Joey Iest rounding out the top-five. Daniel Dye, Colt Hensley and Brandon Oakley rounded out the eight lead lap finishers in Monday’s event.

However, Gutierrez’s shocking triumph somewhat overshadows the controversy that surrounded the finish, as ARCA Menards Series officials assessed a penalty to Sammy Smith and the No. 18 team, for an infraction that occurred approximately 85 laps before the penalty was handed out. Smith was forced to give up the lead because of what officials say was an error in the driver’s pit procedure.

Many – including Short Track Scene’s Matt Weaver — were confused by the penalty to Smith, especially when there was no penalty assessed to Mason Diaz, who pitted on the same lap as the No. 18.

 

Sammy Smith, Colt Hensley, Rajah Caruth and Carson Kvapil all made their debut in an ARCA-sanctioned race, with Smith finishing in the runner-up position, Hensley scoring a solid seventh-place finish, and Caruth and Kvapil finishing 11th and 14th, respectively, after mechanical issues caused both teams to visit the pits unexpectedly.

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