By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires
Thirty races. Trevor Huddleston had not visited Victory Lane in the ARCA Menards West Series for 30 races. His last victory dates back to 2019 when he won the race at Evergreen. This Saturday, July 1, 2023, he led the last 63 laps of the NAPA Auto Parts BlueDEF 150 presented by West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame to claim his third career victory and the second on the Irwindale Speedway, his hometrack.
Poleditter here on April 1, he lost efficiency in the second part of the race to finally finish fourth. Three months later, he did just the opposite. Starting the race in fourth position, he was more and more efficient as the laps went by to take the checkered flag first.
At the end of this sixth race out of the twelve that make up the 2023 championship, one thing is certain, the championship is completely relaunched. Because The first three in the driver standings, Landen Lewis, Sean Hingorani and Bradley Erickson all experienced problems on the Californian half-mile. This allows their pursuers to reduce their points deficit.
Here is the race review of the race.
After Jalen Mack’s withdrawal, a few days before the race, there were finally 15 present in Irwindale following a second withdrawal, that of RJ Smotherman. Driver No. 46 Lowden-Jackson Motorsports no longer having a new engine available. The team having suffered the breakage of three of their engines during the last two races. The team taking the decision to focus on a single car, that of Tyler Reif here. But rest assured No. 46 will be back in Shasta at the end of the month.
On the track he knows best in the world, Huddleston was the fastest on the only practice. Ahead of Lewis, Erickson and Ethan Nascimento. Rookie Robbie Kennealy being 13th for his first time in a West Series car.
During the qualifying session, Sean Hingorani took pole position with only 110 thousandths ahead of Braldey Erickson. For
Hingorani, this is the first career pole. Three months after getting his first career win here. Lewis and Huddleston occupying the second row. Note that Erickson had already made the second best time during the first visit to Irwindale this year. Kennealy being 13th just behind his teammate Kyle Keller.
When the pace car releases the 15 pilots, Hingorani is the fastest to set off. He directly takes three lengths ahead of Erickson who has somewhat missed his takeoff. Lewis and Huddleston immediately took advantage of this to put themselves at his height and take second position from him.
At the start of the second lap Lewis dives on the inside line and goes side-by-side with the Venturni Motorsports driver. He completes the overtake by taking a very inside trajectory in turns 3 and 4. The top-five is next on lap three with Lewis ahead of Hingorani, Huddleston Erickson and Tanner Reif.
Kyle Keller definitely enters the pitlane on the 6th lap. Sway bar broken. He will be followed five laps later by Ethan Nascimento following the failure of his engine.
Huddleston who will be threatening for a few laps before gradually losing contact with the leading duo. The side-by-sdie battle between Landen Lewis on the outside line and Sean Hingorani on the inside line will last around thirty laps! Neither of them wanting to let go of the slightest millimeter!
The classification at the 35th lap being the following: Lewis, Hingorani, Huddleston, Tanner Reif, Erickson, Eric Nascimento, Jr., Todd Souza, Tyler Reif, Jake Bollman and Nick Joanides for the top 10. Robbie Kennealy is last in the lead lap in 11th position. Takuma Koga (-1), David Smith (-2), Ethan Nascimento (out) and Kyle Keller (out).
While he was back in third position, Bradley Erickson’s engine broke on the 43rd lap. First retirement of the season for the Naake-Klauer Motorsports driver who was the only one to have always finished in the top 10 since the start of the season.
Hingorani manages to put his front bumper in front of Lewis on the finish line on the 53rd and 54th lap. But Lewis manages to get out of the corners better by being on the outside line the following laps.
This intense battle between the first two will allow Huddleston to reduce the gap which had reached 2.5 seconds on the 35th lap. The driver of the Ford No. 50 of High Point Racing almost making the junction approaching the 64th lap since he is 8 tenths from the leader. Between Lewis and Hingorani the gap oscillating between 1 and 2 tenths for now about sixty laps!
On lap 64 Hingorani finally manages to push Lewis far enough off his preferred line in Turns 1 and 2 to take command of the race.
Hingorani in the wall!
At the halfway mark Hingorani leads in front of Lewis and Huddleston who follow him closely. Tanner Reif, Eric Nascimento, Jr., Souza, Tyler Reif, Bollman, Joanides and Kennealy round out the top 10. Kennealy is 17.83 seconds off the leader by almost a lap. Koga (-1), Smith (-3) are still in the race. Erickson, Ethan Nascimento and Keller having given up.
Catastrophe for the leader on the 87th lap when he hit the wall at Turn 3. His left front tire punctured. Hingorani’s flat tire provoked the first (and only) caution of the evening. He returned to his pit box, leaving the command to Huddleston who managed to get the upper hand on Lewis shortly before. Hingaroni crew chief Kevin Reed, Jr. can only see the damage. The right front suspension broke in the impact. It’s abandonment.. Kennealy receives the free pass.
The restart is given on the 95th lap with Lewis taking the best of Huddleston for the leadership. Huddleston who has a lot to do with Eric Nascimento, Jr., Souza and Tanner Reif.
But the driver of the No. 17 of Cook-McGowan Motorsports is penalized for a jumping restart. Even if he slowed down a little before the start line to avoid the penalty, the officials will be intransigent. Lewis served his penalty on lap 98 and managed to stay on the leader’s lap.
In front, Huddleston will gradually widen the gap on Eric Nascimento, Jr. who is finally spared by bad luck, he who has only known disappointments since the start of the season.
Tanner Reif struggles with a tight car but manages to take third position from Souza on lap 117. The rookie Kennealy is surprising at the end of the race and he overtakes Joanides, Bollman and Tyler Reif in the last thirty laps. The youngest Reif also plagued by a very tight car in the turns like his older brother.
Triumph for Trevor, tears of joy for his father Tim
Trevor Huddleston crosses the finish line as the winner, It has been four years since he last won a race in the West Series. This is his first victory with his crew chief Jeff Schrader and also the first victory for High Point Racing. His father Tim, team owner of HPR and promoter of the Irwindale Speedway joins his son on Victory Lane to interview him. The emotion is intense for the Huddleston family.
“I’m so excited, man… I do this for all of you guys (his family)… I’ve never been this out of breath just from excitement,” Trevor Huddleston said.
The top-five was completed by Eric Nascimento, Jr., Tanner Reif, Souza and Kennealy. All achieving their best result of the year. The rest of the top 10 being made up of Tyler Reif, Bollman, Joanides, Lewis and Koga. The latter finished three laps behind the winner and was also the last to take the checkered flag. The Canadian David Smith 11th having given up on the 115th lap (rear end).
In the championship, everything is tightening. Lewis remains the leader with 291 points. Hingorani (-14), Erickson (-19), Tyler Reif (-21), Huddleston (-26) complete the top-five.
Next race on July 29 at Shasta Speedway, Anderson, CA.
See you on Wednesday for the full driver-by-driver analysis.