By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires
Sean Hingorani takes his second straight ARCA Menards West Series victory after overcoming losing a lap following a penalty for beating pole sitter Landen Lewis at the start of the race. It allowed Venturini Motorsports to be the first team to win two ARCA races on the same day. Indeed Jesse Love having triumphed earlier on the Talladega Superspeedway, AL in the ARCA National Series.
This third race of the season was held at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Calif. A track on which Hingorani had been able to test earlier in the season. He thus had a very effective setup for the 150 laps of the NAPA Auto Parts BlueDEF 150. The driver of No. 15 was helped by his new crew chief, Monon Rahman, who also became the first crew chief to win a race with roots that can be traced back to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity internship program.
For a long time it was believed that pole sitter Landen Lewis was going to win the race but for the third time in a row he finished in second position. A heartbreak for the driver of the No. 17 but he nevertheless seizes the championship leadership.
Winner here last year, Landen Lewis was the fastest during practice and also during the qualifying session. Earning his first career pole position. He is ahead of Hingorani by 89 thousandths of a second. The second row is occupied by Tanner Reif and Todd Souza. Following brake and suspension problems on the front axle, Bobby Hillis, Jr. brought up the rear in 16th and last position without ever having been able to go below the 20-second mark per lap.
Green Flag and … Penalty!
Following a miss judgment, Takuma Koga was unable to start its engine. The Japanese driver sees his 15 fellow drivers follow the pace car as they approach the green flag. Koga will take the track two laps down.
In front Hingorani does not respect the starting procedure by passing the nose of his car in front of that of pole sitter Lewis on the line. The cleaver falls immediately, Hingorani is penalized for jumping the restart and must serve his sentence by making a pass-through in the pit lane. He loses a lap on the whole pack…
In front, Lewis, who had been able to keep the lead despite Hingorani’s attempt to overtake, occupied the first position, once the latter passed through the pitlane, with a good lead over Tanner Reif. Todd Souza quickly took third position followed by Trevor Huddleston. Tyler Reif and Bradley Erickson will quickly gain positions. Behind them, Ethan Nascimento made a solid start ahead of his older brother Eric.
The race is going to be very fluid, despite some tough battles between some drivers, like Tyler Reif on Huddleston for fourth position or on lap 41 the contact between Eric Nascimento and Souza in turn 3 while the leader Lewis comes back on them .
Note that just behind Lewis, we find Hingorani, 10th, who is about to come back in the leader’s lap. What he will do shortly after the 50th lap.
Fluid race until Kyle Keller, sixth, caused the first yellow flag on lap 68 following the puncture of his right front tire. At that time, Lewis was 2.65 seconds ahead of Tanner Reif and 9.11 over Tyler Reif. Erickson, 4th, being more than 14 seconds behind the leader. Huddleston, Keller and Hingorani, last driver on the lap at 16.58 seconds.
This gives Hingorani the opportunity to catch up with the leading group for the first restart of the race on the 75th lap. Lewis retained the lead ahead of the Reif brothers who engaged in a side-by-side battle for second position. Hingorani takes fifth position from Erickson. It will then be the turn of Huddleston and Tyler Reif to be overtaken by the Venturini Motorsports driver
Hingorani Hits the Turbo!
Lewis controls the race, well helped by Tanner Reif who offers a good resistance against Hingorani for second position but he finally has to give in on the 89th lap when the driver of the No. 15 dives inside Turn 1. Jake Bollman, seventh is the first driver one lap behind. Nick Joanides closing in the top-10. Koga, faster than Bobby Hillis, Jr. and David Smith continued his comeback, not without having been able to take advantage of the problems of RJ Smotherman and Keller.
With 60 laps remaining, Hingorani was about 1.5 seconds behind the leader and lap after lap reduced the gap to make the junction 42 laps from the end. Will follow a good battle between the two drivers during the next two laps. Finally Hingorani will manage to take the first position with 39 laps to go by taking the best by the inside line.
If Hingorani is now the leader, he has just behind him Lewis and Tanner Reif who also made the connection with the leading duo.
With 31 laps to go, while the leading trio, who were riding in less than half a second, took an extra lap from Nick Joanides and David Smith, the latter spun off on Turn 2, causing the second caution of the race. The Canadian veteran manages not to touch the inside wall and resumes the track. Bollman receives the free pass.
The restart is given 26 laps from the end. Hingorani manages to contain Lewis while behind them the battle is fierce between Tanner Reif and Huddleston. Lewis who narrowly manages to keep control of the Chevrolet whose tires are beginning to show signs of weakness.
Smith in the wall!
There are 10 laps left when David Smith loses control of his Toyota a second time and hits the inside wall violently in the backstretch. He was unscathed, which was not the case with his car, the engine compartment of which caught fire. Ethan Nascimento, eighth, receives the free pass.
The last restart of the race with three laps remaining and Huddleston will do everything to take first position, even coming into contact with the leader on Turn 2. Hingorani will keep control and take advantage of Huddleston’s aggressiveness on Lewis to take three steps ahead. Tanner Reif will join the fight for third position against Huddleston.
Sean Hingorani earned his second consecutive victory, and just the second in his career. Lewis finished second for the third time in as many races. Huddleston finally retained his third position. Tanner Reif and Bradley Erickson complete the top-five. Tyler Reif, Jake Bollman, Ethan Nascimento, Todd Souza and Nick Joanides for the top10.
Hingorani, very calm, after climbing the fence to celebrate his victory, declaring: “Yeah, we went a lap down early on. I knew it was gonna be tough to get back through the field, but we did it. They gave me a rocket ship today.”
Lewis sounded a bit frustrated during the post-race interview:
“We had a really good racecar. Bruce Cook, Richie (Mason, the crew chief), all the guys prepared me a really good racecar. We just come up a little bit short. Not many words to say. It just sucks to lead that many laps and can’t seal the deal. Our third second in a row but we’re going to stay positive on the team.
“We’re going to keep banging them out. If we can keep getting seconds for the rest of the year, obviously the car’s in one piece so I think we keep trying to bang them out and get a little bit better as we can. It just makes us want to go win harder. Just want to push as a team to make one spot better. Fastest in practice, fastest in qualifying, led the most laps so I mean all positives out of today. Come up a little short on the win but nothing to hang our head about.”
In the championship Lewis takes command with 5 points ahead of Tyler Reif and eight over Hingorani. The West Series will take a month-long hiatus before returning in early June for the two road races on the 2023 schedule in Portland, OR on June 2 and Sonoma, CA on June 9.
See you on Wednesday for the full driver-by-driver analysis.