By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires
Sonoma’s race, the General Tire 200, was something of a form of redemption for winner Ryan Preece. In 2019 he was leading the race, his first in the ARCA Menards West Series, when he was penalized and fell to 20th position, leaving the victory to Noah Gragson.
This year, he returned with his NASCAR Cup Series team, Stewart-Haas Racing, for seat time officially, but unofficially and above all to finish the job of five years ago. And it’s done! Preece largely dominated this race at the wheel of his No. 9 Ford Fusion.
The other highlight of this race was the first failure of the season for championship leader Landen Lewis. And yet, it wasn’t his fault. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when Todd Souza and Eric Nascimento, Jr. collided on Turn 8 of lap 46. Because Lewis was the only one who could challenge Preece’s dominance a little.
That said with the problems faced by many of the favorites for the 2023 title, Lewis retains his leadership in the championship. But his lead has halved over Sean Hingorani, sixth in Sonoma and who is now only 12-points behind.
Here is the race review of the race.
We take the same ones and we start again, one would have thought at the end of the hour of practice since Sammy Smith was ahead of Lewis and Cole Custer, the strong men of the previous race on the Portland road track. Ryan Preece already pointing to the fourth position. A practice seeing Tim Spurgeon stay in the garages following an engine problem.
We also witnessed the debut in the West Series of Stefan Rzesnowiecky, 31 and from Las Vegas, at the wheel of the No. 46 replacing Kyle Sieg. The latter ultimately not participating in the Xfinity Series race. For Stefan, a friend of Chris Lowden, the co-owner of Lowden-Jackson Motorsports, it was the first high-level race since his only race in the ARCA National Series in 2011 in Chicago.
The qualifying session was going to be an opportunity for Preece to show his speed as he obtained his first career pole with half a second ahead of Lewis. The second row being composed by Sammy Smith and Eric Nascimento, Jr.
For his return to West, the Colombian Sebastian Arias obtained the 10th fastest time. Three drivers did not participate in the session, Nick Joanides and Ryan Philpott to allow their team to finish preparing their car and Rzesnowiecky following the failure of his engine. Worse still for him, since he would have to give up taking the start of the race.
As soon as the green flag is waved, Preece easily maintains his first position ahead of Lewis. Behind Custer is very aggressive and joins the top three at the end of the second lap. He is followed like his shadow by Riley Herbst who will steal his position in the sixth lap in the hairpin.
Custer who is going to suffer a first setback since he has to go back to his pit box on the next lap to reattach his window net. It is even the stampede for High Point Racing since the other driver of the team, Trevor Huddleston, also has to go through his pit box following a mechanical problem. Even if he will return to the track, he will abandon a few laps later.
Note that Arias had already entered the pitlane on the fourth lap to solve a shifter problem.
The first yellow flag came on lap eight when Tanner Reif ran off the track on Turn 7 after his right front suspension broke. He is not the only one having problems since Kyle Keller, Takuma Koga and David Smith must also join their pit box.
At the restart on lap 12, Preece still leads ahead of Lewis and Smith. But Huddleston, back on track, was very slow and ended up stopping on lap 15… in the pitlane before he could even reach his pit box. This is the second yellow flag of the race.
The restart will be very brief since if Preece retains his leadership, Smith just has time to pass Lewis for second position before the yellow flag is waved again for…. Huddleston who this time is stopped in the esses. The teams opted for different strategies. Preece and Smith pit for fuel while Lewis stays on track and quite logically takes first position ahead of Bradley Erickson, Todd Souza and William Sawalich.
Erickson who made his tires slip at the restart of the 22nd lap, leaving Sawalich to take second position. Joanides goes around, but we stay green. Preece moved up the pack very quickly and on lap 24 overtook Sammy Smith and Tim Spurgeon for sixth position. Ethan Nascimento spins but without causing a caution.
As Lewis begins his 25th lap, Huddleston returns to the track for the umpteenth time. During the following laps we will witness the rise of Preece who overtakes Erickson on the 29th lap for fourth position and he will do the same on Souza on the 30th lap for third. In front of him Lewis and Sawalich are in shifted strategy. Note that Tanner Reif returned to the track in 26th position, but he is eight laps behind the leaders.
Midway race break
The ordeal for BMR continued at halfway with Eric Johnson, Jr. who was stopped in the esses, transmission broken. Nick Joanides receives the first free pass of the day. Lewis pretended to enter the pitlane but was confused and finally stayed on the track, losing five positions.
Restart on lap 36 with Preece leading ahead of Smith, Herbst, Custer and Parker Retzlaff. Ryan Philpott joined his pit box the next lap and had to retire, axle broken. 2023 not being his year..
Sean Hingorani, making no noise, was fifth on lap 38. Behind Lewis gets impatient and hits Kamisky in the hairpin, sending him to do a 360-spin. But Kamisky likes to show off and does another 360-spin while recovering! Miraculously, all the pilots were able to avoid it and we remain under the green flag!
Meanwhile mechanical problems claim other victims with Retzlaff and Koga.
The fifth caution came six laps later in the 42nd following a spun from Davey Magras on Turn 11. David Smith was the lucky dog. On lap 43, Lewis finally went through his pit box to refuel.
The restart is given on the 46th lap with Preece unstoppable leader. But behind it is the rat race! There is contact between the drivers in each corner… And this is the crash between Souza and Eric Nascimento, Jr. at the entrance to the esses. Souza cuts off a buzzer for lack of space and sends Nascimento violently hitting the wall of tires. Catastrophe also for Lewis who is a collateral victim. Magras gets the free pass.
There are 15 laps left when the green flag is waved. And we will stay like this until the end of the race. Preece widens the gap lap after lap on Sammy Smith who however offers a good resistance at the start. But only at the beginning. Behind Jack Wood continues his merry way and will integrate the top-five against Hingorani.
Preece easy leader, far behind him it’s war!
For Preece, with no mechanical problem, the race seems won. But behind him it’s very tough between the other drivers. Souza and Kamisky bicker in the esses. Miraculously, Kamisky’s car control is impeccable and we avoid the worst at this high speed. Magras does another spun and sees the rear of his Chevrolet damaged. Custer, back in fourth, lost speed and eventually broke his transmission on lap 56.
Tyler Reif, who was making a good comeback, clashed with Dale Quarterley for eighth position. Reif barely reached seventh position when his engine failed. He continues his momentum on the descent and will eventually stop just after Turn 5 but the officials believe that he is far enough from the track to leave the race under green flag.
Preece crossed the finish line as the winner and will not hide his joy as he will offer the spectators an impressive burn out to celebrate! Sammy Smith is second almost 10 seconds behind the winner ! The top-five is completed by Herbst, Wood and Sawalich. Then come Hingorani, Erickson, Souza, Johnny Borneman III and Ethan Nascimento. The latter snatching 10th position in the final meters against the road ringer Quarterley.
In the championship, it was important to score big points here because this fifth race was also the first offering a bonus of 50 points to all the drivers who made the first five races of the season. By scoring 88 points in Sonoma, Hingorani takes 12 points at once from Landen Lewis, only 19th here.
The top-five in the championship being the following: Landen Lewis (255 points), Sean Hingorani (243), Bradley Erickson (241), Tyler Reif (232) and Trevor Huddleston (217).
Next race, the NAPA Nightvision 150, on July 1st at Irwindale Speedway, for the second race of the season on the Californian half-mile.
See you on Wednesday for the full driver-by-driver analysis.