By Vincent Delforge, special to KickinTheTires.net
Unstoppable! Jake Drew dominated from start to finish the sixth race of the season in ARCA Menards Series West on the half mile at Irwindale Speedway, CA. The NAPA AUTO PARTS 150 PRESENTED BY WEST COAST STOCK CAR HALL OF FAME also marked the mid-championship. For Drew, this is the third consecutive victory and his first on an oval.
Cole Moore will have tried everything during the last restarts but finished as in March in second position. The only difference for him was the pilot who preceded him at the finish. In March the race was dominated by rookie Tanner Reif, seventh today, the other Bruncati Racing driver.
Many yellow flags including a red flag of almost 15 minutes and an overtime, a common thing in Irwindale, nothing will have hindered the victorious march of the leader of the championship.
ARCA West Practice/Qualifying
Newcomer Bradley Erickson will have been at the top of the timesheet for a long time during the only practice / qualifying session, despite contact with the right rear against the wall in Turn 3. He will not be the only one to hit the wall since another beginner, Jake Finch, will do the same.
Landen Lewis also hit the wall with the right rear in Turn 4 but with more damage, forcing him to spend almost 30 minutes in the garages. The track was very slippery due to the high temperatures. Andrew Tuttle spun in Turn 4 where the wind was blowing hard from the infield to the outside wall.
Shortly before the end of the session, Sebastian Arias will take the first position. Were we going to witness the first pole position of a Colombian in the West Series? Well no, because everything was going to rush in the last five minutes with Cole Moore, P.J. Pedroncelli and finally Jake Drew who would successively take the first position.
Drew taking his second pole of the season after Sonoma and his fifth in his career, the first at Irwindale. Tanner Reif his teammate and poleman last March is sixth. As often Paul Pedroncelli did not make the slightest lap, announcing yet another start and park for the race. Also note the withdrawal of Jalen Mack, whose hauler never made it to Irwindale.
The start is given at nightfall with Drew resisting the attack of P.J. Pedroncelli. We will see but throughout the race Drew will use the outside line, his preferred line and will never let go!
Quickly the driver of the No. 6 digs a small gap while behind him there is a strong fight between P.J. Pedroncelli, Cole Moore, Trevor Huddleston, Sebastian Arias and Tanner Reif. Bradley Erickson, finally 11th in qualifying, only took two laps to enter the top-10. His car did not suffer from the contact.
Very quickly Moore and Huddleston will prove to be the only real threats to the leader. Behind the drivers are pounding their tires in epic battles, while sliding, like between P.J. and Reif and this lap after lap.
After a dozen laps, Drew is already catching up with the first laggards. Less than ten laps later, Bridget Burgess entered the top-15 while Landen Lewis entered the top-10.
Bad luck for Erickson because on the 20th lap, he had to enter the pitlane following a technical problem. A few laps later, Reif finally managed to take fourth position from P.J. Pedroncelli. Their fight will have lasted nearly 20 laps!
Approaching lap 30 Drew takes a lap from Amber Slagle, who is 14th. Ten laps later he did the same on Lewis who had just lost his tenth position against Jake Finch. At the same time Moore loses his second position against Huddleston.
Huddleston, who knows every millimeter of the track, gradually returns to Drew and makes the junction on the 55th lap, taking advantage of the traffic. Drew having lost some time behind Finch, who is tenth.
As often, yellow flag brings yellow flags
On the 58th lap, the yellow flag was waved for the first time. And it won’t be the last! Finch receives the free pass.
At the restart Drew resists attacks from Huddleston who is on the inside line. Moore and Reif are side by side. This will last until the next yellow. Drew perfectly manages the restart on his outside line until the next yellow flag.
The restart on lap 71 is once again a carbon copy of the previous one with Huddleston trying everything inside on Drew but in vain. Behind for fifth position the fight intensifies between P.J. Pedroncelli and Todd Souza. But after two laps, by dint of rolling against each other, they touch. P.J. is sent spun and comes to rest against the outside wall of Turn 3. This yellow flag will also serve as a midway break.
The top-10 for the restart is as follows with Drew leading ahead of Huddleston, Moore, Reif, Iest, Keller, Finch, Arias, Slagle, Joanides. Only the first eight are in the leader’s lap.
Huddleston is more threatening than ever but Drew is on track on the outside line and maintains his leadership.
Lowden causes the following yellow. This offers the free pass to Slagle, ninth.
On lap 100, Drew leads with a one-second over Huddleston. Moore, Reif and Keller complete the top-five.
Big crash on lap 121 with Takuma Koga, victim of an mechanical problem who spun off and was hit by Christian Rose between Turns 3 and 4. This happened in front of Moore and Reif, then third and fourth and Nick Joanides, 10th one lap behind. Joanides is on the outside line and has nowhere to go and, hits the wall first and then Rose. Rose’s car is badly damaged and the officials will stop the race at the red flag for nearly 15 minutes for cleanup.
Once back under yellow, Huddleston left his second position going through the pitlane to solve a problem with his right rear wheel. The order for the restart will be: Drew, Moore, Keller, Reif and Iest.
The green flag didn’t last long with Andrew Tuttle slowing down after a spun. Lewis, ninth, receives the free pass.
Moore took over the role previously held by Huddleston and put pressure on the leader at each restart by trying everything from the inside line. Contact between Iest and Reif in the backstretch, allowing Huddleston to retake fourth position.
Another yellow flag with Souza, one lap away, who clashes with sixth-placed Joey Iest. If Souza comes out of it without too much damage, it is not the same for Iest who hits the outside wall of Turn 1 from the back before being hit by Eric Rhead who goes in spun and comes to embed the rear of his Chevrolet on the nose of the Ford No. 54. Chris Lowden manages by a miracle to avoid aggravating the situation by brushing without touching Rhead’s car. Once again it is Slagle who receives the free pass.
This last yellow flag leads to the extension of the race by an overtime. At the restart, Drew seems to be surprised inside Turns 1 and 2 by Moore but finally manages to regain the advantage from the outside by entering turn 3.
The last lap is almost a formality for Drew who takes his first oval victory. It’s his fourth top-five finish in four races at Irwindale. At the same time, Drew is also the first Bruncati Racing driver to win three races in a row.
“Three in a row. It’s incredible. I feel on top of the world” said Drew.
It is also the first time that a driver has won three races in a row since Todd Gilliland in 2017. Gilliland who had even won four in a row. Will Drew do as well by winning at Evergreen next month?
As in March, Moore finished second. Huddleston managed to get ahead of Keller in overtime. Landen Lewis completes the top five. Jake Finch, Tanner Reif, Sebastian Arias and Amber Slagle are the only other drivers on the leader lap. Souza, finally 10th, is two laps behind. A “lively” discussion between Souza and members of the Iest and P.J. Pedroncelli teams took place in the garage after the race.
In the championship Drew with 318 points increases his lead to 45 points over Moore (273) who takes second position. Reif remains third with 269 points while Souza moves up from second to fourth with 268 points.
Race results : www.racing-reference.info/race-results/2022-06/AW/
Driver standings: www.racing-reference.info/standings/2022/AW/
Next race August 20, 2022 at Evergreen Speedway, Monroe, WA for the 1000th race in the West Series history.
And don’t miss the next article ‘Teams reactions and analysis’ which will be available this Wednesday.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Ethan Smith via Vincent Delforge.