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Jesse Love Leads From Start To Finish To Win ARCA Menards Series Atlas 200 And Series Championship

From Tadd Haislop | ARCA

Jesse Love caps his championship night with a flag-to-flag victory at Salem Speedway

SALEM, Ind. — Jesse Love began Saturday night clinching the 2023 ARCA Menards Series championship. He simply needed to start the penultimate race of the season to solidify the title.

He ended the night in Victory Lane at Indiana’s Salem Speedway after leading every lap of the Atlas 200 for the 10th win of his championship season.

Talk about a banner evening for the 18-year-old Venturini Motorsports driver from Menlo Park, California.

“Obviously it feels great,” Love said standing next to his No. 20 JBL Toyota in Victory Lane at the 0.555-mile oval. “I love Salem. It’s my favorite asphalt short track for sure. It’s always cool to come here, a place that I’ve really come to know really well and respect.”

Love, the 2020 and 2021 ARCA Menards Series West champion, entered Race 19 of 20 on the ARCA Menards Series schedule with a 131-point lead over second-place Andres Perez in the championship standings. His title was an inevitability by the time the green flag flew for Saturday night’s race.

The beginning of the Atlas 200, at least, appeared as though it would be a tough night for the champ. Throughout the beginning third of the event, Joe Gibbs Racing’s William Sawalich hounded Love as the leader failed to put space between himself and the second-place driver.

Then, on a restart on Lap 71, everything changed.

Battling for the top spot going into Turns 3-4, Love, racing below Sawalich, attempted to slide in front of his rival.

That worked, but the move left Sawalich no space to battle back. Sawalich hit the wall and almost immediately suffered a flat tire.

Sawalich was forced to pit, which put him several laps down and knocked him out of contention.

The second of two key moments as they related to Love’s win was Will Kimmel’s mechanical failure just past the race’s halfway point.

One of the only drivers who seemingly was able to keep pace with Love, Kimmel, a track champion at Salem, dropped out of the race shortly after pitting.

Fellow ARCA Menards Series rookie Andres Perez finished second behind Love at Salem. Christian Rose, another rookie in the series, finished third and earned himself a new career-high mark.

Toni Breidinger and Conner Popplewell, the latter of whom was making his ARCA Menards Series debut Saturday, finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Sawalich, Jon Garrett, Ed Pompa, Brayton Laster and Frankie Muniz finished sixth through 10th, respectively.

The ARCA Menards Series will race again next week, when it heads to Toledo Speedway for the season finale.

An event that now will be an extension of the Love championship celebration, the Shore Lunch 200 presented by CGS Imaging on Saturday, Oct. 7 will start at 4 p.m. ET. The race will be shown live on FS2 with a live stream available on FloRacing.

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