AVONDALE, Ariz. – While Ty Gibbs stole the trophy in the Arizona Lottery 100, it was Jesse Love that was crowned the 2021 ARCA Menards Series West champion in a last lap battle to win the war.
“We’ve been the class of the field all year on almost every different surface,” Love said, holding the most wins among the series’ regulars.
Entering Saturday’s race brought an old school traditional battle for the championship. Since the ARCA Series does not have a Playoff system like the three NASCAR national touring series, it was a culmination of season-long points that brought an intense battle for the championship title. There were seven drivers mathematically eligible to take the title, but the top five were separated by just six points, including the three rookies of Jake Drew, Joey Iest and Cole Moore.
As the race approached the closing laps, it appeared that Drew would win the championship by one point. However on the white flag lap, Love passed Trevor Huddleston – Drew’s teammate ironically – to tie in the championship points. With his two wins this season at Irwindale Speedway, he clinched the tie breaker. And thankful to his crew’s information, he knew what was at stake in the final laps.
“Just needed to get to him. I knew I had to get one spot, and we got to him,” said Love regarding the last lap pass. “I wasn’t sure what happened. I was going to get to him one way or another. I wasn’t going to spin him out. I was going to rattle his cage a little.”
Since ARCA doesn’t use the timing loop that NASCAR has in place, the scoring pylon delays the results as cars cross the line. The No. 9 Sunrise Ford team began celebrating believing they had just won the championship. The cheers were soon silenced once ARCA officials relayed the devastating news over the radio.
“Crossed the line and the first thing I heard was, ‘Eff yeah, you’re the ARCA West champion and I pretty much said the same thing.’” Drew shared with Kickin’ the Tires postrace. “Sadly it only lasted about 10 seconds, but the big picture. How many people got to wake up today and fight for an ARCA West championship? Thankful to Bob (Bruncati), thankful to Maurine, the whole Bruncati family. They’ve been so supportive all year to give me this opportunity. I owe it all to them that I got a shot to do this.”
For Drew, he also fell one spot short of the Bounty Rookie of the Year battle to Moore, but the 21-year old from California is holding his head high in confidence.
“At the beginning of the year, I thought I was getting experience. I didn’t think I would come back here in November to fight for a championship, and that’s incredible to me. We were closing on Cole (Moore), and maybe Jesse wouldn’t have gotten that spot. Either way, it is what it is, one lap, one point. To come up that short, I think everybody else should be worried.”
Love won the title tiebreaker over Drew with both drivers earning 438 points. Moore finished two points below, with Paul Pedroncelli, Jr. five behind and Joey Iest back by eight marks.