By Vincent Delforge, special to KickinTheTires.net
16-year-old driver Landen Lewis wins the SALUTE TO THE OIL INDUSTRY NAPA AUTO PARTS 150, the third race of the 2022 ARCA Menards West Series season at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, CA.
On his West Series debut, Lewis put in a top-notch performance, like his win last year in the ARCA Menards National Series at the DuQuoin dirt oval in Illinois.
He was able to take the measure of championship leader Jake Drew, shortly after the halfway point, to give Bruce Cook and his Cook Racing Technologies team their first victory in the West series.
The only hour and a half session ended with pole position obtained by P.J. Pedroncelli, his second in career. He “stole” first place in the final minutes against veteran Todd Souza by two thousandths of a second. It is, however, the slowest pole in West history on the KCRP. It must be said that the track was “green” and that the wind had brought sand, making the conditions difficult.
Todd Souza almost achieved a rare performance, namely to take pole position in his 100th race. He came close to joining Jack McCoy (1970) and Ray Elder (1971) in this closed club.
For his first race, Landen Lewis is third just ahead of Jake Drew and his teammate Amber Slagle. Indeed the latter drives a car entered by Steve McGowan in partnership with Cook Racing Technologies.
Note that Chris Lowden did not participate in the session and was replaced for the race by Nick Joanides at the wheel of the Chevrolet No. 11.
With the withdrawals of Eric Rhead (car not ready) and David Racing’s No. 86 (no driver with budget), 18 drivers will start the race.
It is at nightfall that the race start is given. Pedroncelli took advantage of his pole position to take command ahead of Souza. Very quickly Lewis puts pressure on Souza and finds the opening.
While the son is in the lead, Paul Pedroncelli, the father, enters the pitlane for his traditional “start and park” at the end of the second lap.
Lewis quickly closes the gap with P.J. and begins to challenge him for the lead around lap 10. Souza’s No. 13 Ford seemed tricky to drive, slipping a lot, which allowed Drew to challenge him for third position. Slagle remains in the top-five.
After disappointing qualifying, the drivers from Bill McAnally Racing moved up a bit in the pack. Cole Moore is sixth and Austin Herzog 10th.
The leaders had already started to take laps from the early laggards when the first yellow flag was raised on lap 36 for debris. Joanides, who started dead last without having done the slightest lap in the Toyota No. 77 of Performance P-1 Motorsports, benefits from the free pass.
At the restart Pedroncelli retains his first position. Moore enters the top-five thanks to a nice passing on the outside on Tanner Reif, the winner of Irwindale. Joey Iest will also gain a position against Slagle who was gradually losing pace.
Drew will put a lot of pressure on Lewis and finally manage to take second position after a contact at the exit of turn 4 at the start of the 63rd lap. This was enough to cause the driver of Chevrolet No 42 to lose some speed. Drew dipped inside turn 1 and from then, lap after lap closed the gap to the leader. Moore enters the top five.
Drew will make the decisive attack on lap 71 to take contro of the racel by pushing the No. 33 Toyota out of the right way. He will keep this position until the second yellow flag, that of the halfway point.
The standings are as follows: Drew, Pedroncelli, Lewis, Souza, Moore, Reif, Iest, Slagle, Herzog and Trevor Huddleston who completes the top-10. The foreign pilots form the next group with Takuma Koga (Japan), Sebastian Arias (Colombia) and Bridget Burgess (Australia). Kyle Keller and Joanides being the last drivers in the leader lap. The beginner Tripp Gaylord benefits from the free pass but two laps behind. Andrew Tuttle, 17th, three laps down, is last. Only Paul Pedroncelli is out of the race.
All drivers join the pitlane for the regulatory five-minute break. Fuel, adjustments and maximum two new tires for the whole pack.
At the restart, Drew and Lewis seemed a little faster than their opponents and took a small lead over P.J. Pedroncelli, Souza and Moore. At the door of the top-five Iest and Reif touch without consequence. Arias loses speed and finds himself last in the lap. It’s worse for Gaylord who has to struggle with an unwieldy car and will quickly lose a third lap to the…new leader.
The Decisive Pass
Indeed Lewis relentlessly attacks leader Drew and ends up overtaking him at the end of the 85th lap with the help of a beautiful little bump and run! This overtaking is crucial for the rest of the race.
On lap 104, the engine of Ford No. 54 of Iest broke in a huge plume of smoke entering turn 4. The young driver came to a stop at the end of the frontstretch, causing the third and last yellow flag of the evening. Hard blow for Naake-Klauer Motorsports. This is the second disappointment of the season after the problems encountered in Irwindale. Gaylord once again benefits from the free pass but this will not change much in his difficult race due to an error in the choice of setup.
At the restart with 42 laps to go, Lewis retained the lead but was followed like his shadow by Drew. The gap between the two drivers fluctuating between one and a maximum of three tenths of a second for nearly 20 laps. Keller, who had a good race in the top 10, is starting to lose a bit of speed. Quite the opposite of Arias, who like at Irwindale, is more efficient at the end of the race. But too late to aim for the top 10. He was never able to make up for the time lost following a flat tire in the middle of the race.
Pedroncelli no longer had the same speed and fell back to fifth position in about fifteen laps. Moore and Reif overtaking him with ease. Huddleston continues his ascent. At the last restart, he was 12th, now he is in seventh position.
15 laps from the finish, the leaders joined a group of laggards. Lewis will do better in trafic and widen a gap of half a second, enough to take cover from an attack by Drew.
Three laps from the end, while he was still ninth, Keller had to leave the track following an ignition problem. “The distributor rotor fried causing the motor to shut down” says Steve Bohanon, the team’s co-owner.
Landen Lewis takes the checkered flag almost nine tenths ahead of Drew. Cole Moore, Reif and Pedroncelli complete the top-five. The top-10 is completed by Souza, Huddleston, Herzog, Koga and Slagle.
Lewis earns his first victory for his first career start. He is the 199th winner since the creation of the West Series in 1954. Reason enough to receive a big kiss from Ron Hornaday, Jr. on Victory Lane!
“I was confident yesterday when we walked in the gate,” Lewis said. “Bruce Cook and the guys brought me a fast piece, and when we unloaded, I knew we had a car for the race. This wouldn’t be possible without Bruce Cook and the guys. They make this whole deal possible.”
Note that Bruce Cook was Hornaday’s crew chief in NCWTS in 2011 and 2013.
In the championship, Drew does the right operation by increasing his lead to five points against his teammate Reif. Moore is third at six points.
Race results : www.racing-reference.info/race-results/2022-03/AW/
Driver standings: www.racing-reference.info/standings/2022/AW/
Next race June 4, 2022 on the first road race of the season at Portland International Raceway (1.967-mile) in Portland, Oregon.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Sal Sigala Jr. via Vincent Delforge.