Max Gutierrez (30) drives under Sammy Smith and Taylor Gray (17) coming to the checkered flag in the season-opener for the ARCA Menards Series East at New Smyrna Speedway Feb. 8. (ARCA Photo)

Gutierrez Carrying Momentum Into Five Flags

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Max Gutierrez was in the right place in the right time on the last lap during the season-opening ARCA Menards Series East race at New Smyrna Speedway February 8. When leader Taylor Gray and second-place Sammy Smith made contact going into turn three, the defending NASCAR Mexico Challenge Series champion capitalized, making it three wide. All three cars made contact and Gutierrez carried his momentum for his first victory in dramatic fashion.

“I can’t believe it,” Gutierrez said in victory lane. “I thought we were in a good place (third) on the last lap for the season championship. Then they started bumping for first and I decided to take it. I am very happy and proud of my team. That is a great way to start off this championship.”

Now, the driver who lives in Mexico and commutes to the United States to race, is hoping to make it two in a row Saturday when the series visits Five Flags Speedway. Gutierrez is driving the No. 30 Ford Fusion for the 2009 ARCA Menards Series championship-winning crew chief Mark Rette.

It will be the fourth time the ARCA Menards Series East has raced at the half-mile oval that is the host of the prestigious Snowball Derby every December. Current series team owner Ben Kennedy, who owns the No. 43 car driven by Daniel Dye, won in 2013 while Ben Rhodes, who recently won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway, won in 2014. Two-time champion Sam Mayer put an exclamation point on his 2020 championship season with his fifth win of the season in last year’s race.