By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
The ARCA Menards Series West returns to action this weekend at Irwindale Speedway for the NAPA Auto Parts 150.
After spending a few weekends off, the ARCA Menards Series West will help celebrate the July 4th weekend. The last time the West series was in action came at Sonoma Raceway earlier this month with Chase Briscoe earning his first career West Series victory. Todd Souza left Sonoma with the points lead by just one point over Paul Pedroncelli Jr.. Cole Moore, Dean Thompson, and Trevor Huddleston round out the top five.
Saturday’s race at Irwindale Speedway will be the 29th ARCA West Series race. Jesse Love earned his second career ARCA Menards Series West victory at Irwindale last season and used the victory to fuel his run for the championship. Love took the lead from Huddleston on the final restart and was able to hold off the No. 6 to secure that victory. Huddleston earned the victory in 2019 holding off current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Tanner Gray.
In 28 previous ARCA Menards Series West races at Irwindale, repeat winners have been kind of common. Todd Gilliland won three straight from 2016 through 2017, Jason Bowles won three straight from 2008 through 2009, and Brendan Gaughan swept all three races in 2001. Austin Cameron, Bobby Dotter, and Steve Portenga also have multiple victories at Irwindale with Cameron earning the most at five victories.
For the first time in 2021, there will be an ARCA Menards Series West regular in victory lane.
BREAKING IT DOWN:
Current points leader Todd Souza has seven starts at Irwindale Speedway in his career. His best finish in those seven starts came last season where he finished seventh. Souza has had a solid season so far this year finishing top-10 in both races this season and looked really solid at Sonoma before going off-course late. He was experiencing major cramps during that race but still finished fifth. He took over the points lead after Sonoma and holds just a one-point lead over Paul Pedroncelli Jr.
Pedroncelli Jr. earned a solid third-place finish at Sonoma in the last race. Pedroncelli Jr. made his ARCA Menards Series West debut at Irwindale in 2008. He finished 21st in that debut race and has only improved over his last starts in the West. He finished 13th two races in a row at Sonoma in 2011 and 2019 and followed that up with an 11th place finish in his ARCA Menards Series debut. As noted above, Pedroncelli earned a career-best third-place finish and will look to take over the points lead in race number three of 2021.
Cole Moore hasn’t raced in the ARCA Menards Series West at Irwindale in his career but has had some extra track time as of late with Bill McAnally Racing’s driver academy leading the way in the most recent race at Kern County Raceway. Moore will make his 11th ARCA Menards Series West start Saturday after earning his career-best finish of fourth in the last race at Sonoma. He’s just three points behind the points lead and will look throw his name into the championship battle.
Sonoma was a place where many drivers gained ground on the points lead and Dean Thompson is another one of those drivers. He finished 15th in his ARCA Menards Series debut at Phoenix earlier this year and finished sixth in just his second career start in the ARCA Menards Series West. Thompson sits fourth in ARCA West Series points eight points out of the lead and will look to earn his first career victory at Irwindale this weekend.
Trevor Huddleston will make his 43rd ARCA Menards Series West start this weekend. Huddleston will be one of the sure favorites this weekend after winning this race in 2019 and finished runner-up to eventual ARCA West Series champion Jesse Love last year. Huddleston has failed to crack the top-five so far this season and will look to do so Saturday at Irwindale.
Jake Drew enters this weekend’s race in sixth, 11-points behind points leader Souza entering Irwindale. Drew actually has some experience at Irwindale winning the 2020 YOURACELA Spec-Late Models championship at Irwindale. Drew earned his first career General Tire Pole Award at Sonoma and finished a career-best seventh-place finish in his second career start. Unlike some drivers in the field who haven’t raced at Irwindale, Drew will look to use that to his advantage.
Despite picking up the victory in race number two in Utah, Irwindale was where Jesse Love really began his chase for the ARCA Menards Series West championship. Love earned his first career pole at Irwindale and grew as a racer as the season ran on. He faced mechanical issues at Sonoma which relegated him to a 19th place finish but actually pushed a solid finish in the ARCA Menards Series/ARCA Menards Series West combination race at Phoenix finishing sixth. Love will look to be the first back-to-back winner at Irwindale since Gilliland did so in 2016-17.
Late Model racer Amber Slagle will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut this weekend in the No. 17 MMI Racing Chevrolet SS for McGowen Cook Racing. Slagle currently works with Cook Racing Technologies and has served as the crew chief for the No. 42 of Parker Retzlaff. Retzlaff currently sits sixth in points with one top-five and four top-10 finishes.
Amber Balcaen will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut this weekend at Irwindale with Bill McAnally Racing. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada native and the third-generation driver have experience on both dirt and paved racing surfaces ranging from 410 Outlaw sprints to late model stock cars. Balcaen made her ARCA East Series debut in 2017 with Hal Martin at New Smyrna finishing 20th. She has also raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the CARS Super Late Model Tour at Motor Mile Speedway in 2019 where she finished 14th.
The NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Irwindale Speedway will go live on NBC Sports Gold: Track Pass at 10 p.m. ET. There will also be a radio broadcast on ARCA’s website. A tape-delayed version of the race will be shown on NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, July 8th. Tickets for the NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Irwindale are available by clicking here.
Photo: Meg Oliphant/ARCA Menards Series