By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
It all came down to the final restart of the evening as Jesse Love took the lead from Dean Thompson to tally his first victory of 2021 at Irwindale.
The defending race winner and ARCA West Champion held his ground multiple times throughout the race and ultimately earned his fourth career ARCA Menards Series West victory.
After dominating the race, Thompson was able to come home in a career-best second. Joey Iest and Jake Drew both earn career-best finishes of third and fourth and Cole Moore rounds out the top-five.
After earning his first career pole award, Thompson led the field to green alongside Joey Iest. Thompson rocketed out to the lead with Iest slightly behind. Trevor Huddleston would follow in third. Thompson would rocket away with the lead with a solid lead over second-place Iest at lap 15.
Jesse Love and Huddleston would battle for the third spot, with Love taking the position by lap 20. Huddleston would continue to battle for the position but Cole Moore would also put pressure on both Huddleston and Love.
The first caution of the evening would be displayed at lap 21 when Amber Slagle made some contact with the outside wall. Slagle would continue running with some major damage on the right rear of the car. Slagle qualified a solid fourth place in her ARCA Menards Series West debut. She would return to pit road at lap 34 but would get back on track. She would ultimately finish 15th.
Thompson and Iest would restart the race in first and second with Thompson getting a good push from Huddleston. Using the top-top lane, Thomspon would retake the lead while Iest and Huddleston battled for second behind. Love and Huddleston would continue their side-by-side battle with Love taking the third spot by lap 30.
The points leader, Todd Souza would battle it out with Moore and Jake Drew for sixth with Souza holding the advantage using the top line. Looking back at the race for the lead, by lap 40, Iest would cut the lead down to roughly three car lengths with defending race winner Love breathing down the leaders’ necks.
As the field began approaching lapped traffic, Iest began to close in on Thompson.
Caution at lap 57 for the 33 of Paul Pedroncelli Jr. spun bringing out the second caution of the night. He was running ninth at the time of his spin. It wasn’t expected for anyone to come down pit road with the break approaching in less than 15 laps. Unexpectedly, Souza brought his No. 13 down pit road to make a trackbar adjustment and a grille clean. He was running fifth at the time but would fall to the back, restarting eighth.
Once again, Thompson and Iest would lead the field back to green. Iest would try to make a run for the lead and would get a shove from the No. 16 of Love. Love would use the slide job to move into the second position at lap 65 but while Love and Iest battled for second, Thompson would run off with the lead again. Iest would continue to put pressure on the No. 16 but it wouldn’t pay off as the caution was displayed for the halfway point.
Thompson would bring the field down pit road for the halfway break as crews were given their first opportunity to adjust their cars and change tires. Thompson would lead all 80 laps of the first half of the race but towards the end of that stage, Love began making ground on the No. 51.
Thompson would lead the field to green, but this time with a new challenger. The defending race winner and ARCA West champion, Love would restart from the second position for the first time of the evening. Thompson would pick the top lane but quickly move down to the bottom but Love would take the lead on the backstretch.
Huddleston would wash up the track almost hitting the outside wall but the caution was not displayed. Thompson and Love would battle for the lead and trade places multiple times with Drew in third. After having to battle for that lead, Thompson would stretch out about 10-car lengths away from the No. 16 of Love.
With less than 50 laps remaining, Thompson would hold a .84-second lead over Love while Drew, Iest, and Moore would battle it out for third. Iest would finally make the pass on Drew with 44 laps remaining but the three of them were still a little over three seconds behind the leader.
With 31 laps to go, Amber Balcaen would slide down the race track and make contact with Takuma Koga on the left side tire. Koga would come back up the track and nail the outside wall. Bridget Burgess would spin coming into the accident and make contact with the inside wall. All three drivers safely walked away from their accidents while the red flag would be displayed.
Love would get another opportunity to get the lead. Thompson and Love led the field to green for the final restart of the evening with a 25 lap dash for the victory. Despite holding on side-by-side, Thompson would take the lead on the backstretch with 24 to go. Iest would move into third and pressure the No. 16 for second while Thompson ran off. While this was going on, Thompson would rocket away with the lead.
With seven laps remaining, Hiroyuki Uno spun bringing out the caution. Uno didn’t net any damage on his No. 38 but the caution would set up a dash for the checkers with under four laps remaining. Thompson would have to again take the lead from Love on the restart. Thompson would try to take the lead and would at one time but he just didn’t have enough to seal the deal as Love got past him and took the lead and ultimately the victory.
The ARCA Menards Series West takes some time off before returning on July 31st at Colorado National Speedway.
Photo: Meg Oliphant/ARCA Racing