IRWINDALE, Calif. — Jesse Love spent the majority of Saturday night’s ARCA Menards Series West race at Irwindale Speedway trying and failing to catch pole-sitter Dean Thompson. The 2020 Late Model track champion at the half-mile oval outside of Los Angeles was the driver to beat.
All Love needed, it turned out, was the chance to muscle past Thompson on a short run. The defending West Series champ received that opportunity when a late caution catalyzed a restart with four laps to go, and he took advantage.
At the end of those four laps, the 16-year-old from Menlo Park, California, emerged as the winner of the NAPA Auto Parts 150 presented by the West Coast Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame.
“My dad always told me the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result,” joked an elated Love after the race, referring to his repeated attempts to pass Thompson on the inside of Irwindale’s progressively banked corners before successfully doing so in the closing laps. “I’m so happy; it’s so awesome.
“I want to say thank you to everybody at Toyota, NAPA, all of my family and friends. I have a happy team owner. Thank you everybody.”
Love, the Bill McAnally Racing driver who last year became the youngest NASCAR touring series champion when he won the West Series at just 15, reached Victory Lane at Irwindale on the heels of a disappointing, 19th-place finish at Sonoma Raceway that pushed him to seventh in points.
His win in the third of nine West Series races this season moves him to fourth in the standings, just two points back from the lead.
Thompson dominated Saturday night’s race, leading 144 of 150 laps after earning his first General Tire Pole Award.
“I’m just gutted for my guys,” said Thompson, who is running for his High Point Racing team in the West Series this season with the support of Bob Bruncati’s Sunrise Ford Racing. “We were killing this race. We had an amazing car. Our car was the fastest all race.
“It was just that our short runs were not good. We were just loose, tight; the car was just not in place to be able to do a five-lap shootout. We had an amazing long-run car. Without that last caution, I’m sure we could have won. But we’ll be back.”
Thompson entered the Irwindale race fourth in West Series points and left in a tie with Todd Souza for the lead.
Joey Iest ran toward the front all night Saturday and finished third ahead of Jake Drew in fourth and Cole Moore in fifth.
Trevor Huddleston, Souza, Johnny Borneman III, Nick Joanides and Bobby Hillis Jr. rounded out the top 10.
Saturday night’s race at Irwindale featured five cautions, three of which involved one of the three drivers who made their West Series debuts in the NAPA Auto Parts 150.
Amber Balcaen, the 29-year-old Canadian who ran for Bill McAnally Racing at Irwindale, spun in Turns 3-4 on Lap 119 and collected Takuma Koga.
“The faster guys were coming. I got a little but to high up in the wall,” said Balcaen, who finished 15th in her debut. “It’s unfortunate, because we had a good top-10 run going.”
Amber Slagle and Hiroyuki Ueno, the other two drivers who made their West Series debuts Saturday night, were involved in single car incidents themselves. Ueno finished 12th. Slagle finished 14th.
The ARCA Menards Series West will return to action on July 31 for another 150-lap race, this time at Colorado National Speedway in Decono, Colorado. After that, the series will return to Irwindale for another event on the half-mile oval on Aug. 21. Both events will be shown live on NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass.
A replay of Saturday’s NAPA Auto Parts 150 presented by the West Coast Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame will air on NBCSN on Thursday, July 8, starting at 4 p.m. ET.
BY TADD HAISLOP / WWW.ARCARACING.COM