Gracie Trotter leads Daytona then hits trouble in ARCA season opener
Unfortunate collisions cost Gracie Trotter a top5 result at Daytona in the ARCA season opener, as Toni Breidinger recovered from the back and grabbed a solid P18. It was an unlucky start for Brittney Zamora, forced to retire right at the start of the race.
Last weekend marked the start of the ARCA Menards Series 2021 championship, with the traditional Lucas Oil 200 event at Daytona International Speedway.
To continue the trend of very competitive female racers that has lately characterized ARCA's grids, Brittney Zamora, Gracie Trotter and Toni Breidinger took the start of the Daytona opening round in 2021, as the three ladies were announced to partial campaigns in the series.
Gracie Trotter immediately showed impressive pace with a powerful performance in qualifying, which allowed her to climb as high as second just behind the polesitter Drew Dollar.
In a challenging field of 34 entries, Zamora took the green flag from P19 while Breidinger was P31.
The two frontrunners and Venturini Motorsports teammate maintained their respective positions at the start and worked together in the initial phases of the 200-lap race.
On lap 2, a very unlucky Brittney Zamora was forced to retire with an overheating engine in her Reet Jones Racing #30 car.
"Not the race we wanted here at Daytona", said Zamora.
"The inside line stacked up hard and we got the worst end of it. It's a part of racing but it sucks when something out of your control takes you out of the race." she added on her social media feeds.
Meanwhile, Toni Breidinger - the first Arab American to enter a NASCAR sanctioned race - moved up several positions and fought well in the midfield.
On Lap 10, the first caution of the night was called out when Thad Moffit spun and also involving other drivers in the incident.
After seven laps behind the pace car, the action resumed and Trotter found her way to the lead overtaking Dollar on lap 20. In doing so, the 19-year old from Denver, NC, wrote her name among the elite female racing drivers to have led in the ARCA series: Hailie Deegan, Natalie Decker, Erin Crocker and Shawna Robinson were the others.
Trotter led the field until lap 27, when Derek Griffith move past her and climbed to first; two laps later, they would make contact, causing the first big crash of the racing season.
Griffith was spun around and collected by several other cars, triggering the yellow flag. Trotter pitted, allowing Tanner Gray to advance to P1, followed by Corey Heim and Ty Gibbs.
Toni Breidinger continued her solid race, avoided the collisions and ran steadily in the top-20.
Rejoined in P13, Gracie Trotter was nevertheless able to come back and hold a place within the top six until 20 laps to go.
Breidinger was also briefly in the top-10, before dropping down in 15th.
Just when the driver of the #25 Ventutini Motorsports Toyota seemed in contention for a remarkable finish, she collided with Chuck Hiers when the driver of the #01 car suffered a blown tyre and went up towards the wall, collecting Trotter.
Hiers retired, while Trotter came back to the pits with significant damages to the front-ed of her car. When she rejoined, she had accumulated a 4-lap gap from the rest of the field and had further troubles when she was handed a penalty for receiving assistance from too many crew members at the pit stop. At this point, Gracie's day was already compromised.
In the final 10 laps, Drew Dollar and Corey Heim led in a Venturini 1-2, followed by Holmes, Lancaster and Gibbs in the podium battle - but a caution with four laps to go caused by a Scott Revens's crash into the wall, brought the race to overtime.
The extra lap gave the win to 18-year old Corey Heims, who reached victory lane ahead teammate Drew Drollar, while Bret Holmes completed the top three.
Toni Breidinger fought for the top 15 until the restart, but ended a positive P18.
"Daytona debut. My team and I set two goals, to finish the race and stay out of trouble.
Excited for the rest of the season" - wrote Young Motorsports' Toni Breidinger.
Gracie Trotter was P23 after a promising first race of the season, mostly spent among the front runners.
"My first experience at Daytona is definitely indescribable but absolutely amazing!", she commented.
"We led laps, learned a lot, made good moves, made bad moves and realized a lot.
You don't realize how fast things actually happen at a track like that, it's crazy! It is all a learning experience for me, for my future... and I cannot wait to come back and race here again!"
"Even though the day didn't end how we wanted to, I still had a blast and had the most amazing experience."she wrote on her social media feeds.
Phoenix Raceway will host the next ARCA Menards series event on 12 March.