Despite two late-race collisions, Jake Drew survives an Irwindale Speedway rendition of their night of destruction to finish fourth and inherit the ARCA Menards Series West championship lead at the conclusion of the NAPA Auto Parts 150.
“I found we were in a really good rhythm and was feeling really comfortable and confident that we could get up there, at least back up to second. But we were lucky to salvage a fourth place.”
After a calm first half of the race, Drew’s car appeared to be set for the long run. In the closing laps, he was battling former teammate Trevor Huddleston for second, after this year’s rookie teammate Tanner Reif was leading the two by a couple seconds. Navigating through lapped traffic proved to be a deciding factor as Huddleston went low to pass lapper Chris Lowden, Drew ran into the back of Lowden while trying to dodge his off-pace car.
“I could tell pretty early that we had a good car but we weren’t the best car,” Drew shared about the first half of his race. “I was confident that we could make a change and go at it and second half, but we didn’t fire off too good which was a bit disappointing especially with the lack of cautions. When we got back to Trevor, he’s not easy to pass. That was pretty tough.
“The situation with Lowden, I just feel absolutely horrible about it. I know how much time and work goes into these cars every week for all these teams, and I feel really bad about the mistake I made. Trevor was on the inside of him on the back straight. I was setting up to get a good run off of Turn 4, and just misjudged where Lowden was going to hit the brakes and flatout drove into him.”
The collision sent Lowden into the outside Turn 3 wall to bring out a caution with less than five laps to go. It set up for a wild overtime finish for the night.
Huddleston spun the tires in the outside lane on the restart, causing Cole Moore to bump and unsettle Huddleston’s machine even more. That unintentionally hooked Huddleston’s car to the left into Drew’s No. 6 car, causing severe damage to the right front of his car. Despite the damage, Drew was able to limp around to finish fourth behind Reif, Moore and Austin Hezrog.
“Still being winless was definitely on my mind,” stated Drew about the overtime restart. “I was hoping to get a good restart to maybe get underneath (Reif) and try to clear him at the line. But we had contact with the 50 car which gave us significant damage, so I just did all I could to hang onto it for the last two laps. It was tough to wheel that thing around, but luckily the guys behind us were fighting hard. We were lucky to be able to salvage a fourth place finish.
Even though Drew is hoping to taste the joys of Victory Lane this season, two positives came from the night. The first was his top five streak at his hometrack, where he finished second and fourth last year. That optimism led into the second and bigger positive, where he takes over the championship points lead in the West division by three points over Reif. Drew is the only full-time driver with top five finishes in the first two races of the 2022 season.
“It definitely feels good, for sure,” said Drew with a sigh of relief. “Last year for nine races, we chased and chased and chased. It does add a little bit more pressure being the points leader because you’re the top of the board. But I guess the mindset shifts a little bit from last year. When you’re chasing somebody, you feel like you take more risks and just have a little more of a go-for-it mindset, whereas this year you don’t want to put yourself in a bad situation so you try to be a little bit smarter and a little more cautious.”
The series heads just a couple hours north to Bakersfield where they compete again on April 23 at the half-mile of Kern County Raceway Park. It will be one of two circuits where Drew has not yet competed, but he holds his head high in confidence.
“I have a fair amount of track time there with testing and whatnot,” Drew exclaimed. “But that’s one of two races on the schedule this year that I have not actually raced at yet. So it’ll be interesting to see how the racing plays out there. I feel like every track has a little bit of a different racing style and how the race plays out. So we’ll try to be on our toes to adapt to that as quickly as we can but I think we’ll have a strong car and a good package that we will unload with.
“Bill (Sedgwick, crew chief) and I will work together as best we can to get the car as good as we can and hopefully try and snag that win there.”
Drew understands there’s plenty of season left. Last year after an 18th place finish at the 2021 season opener at Phoenix Raceway in his first career start, he strung together nine top-10 finishes across 10 races with three poles. He spent all of that season chasing after Jesse Love but lost the championship tiebreaker at year’s end.
This year, he has one plan in mind.
“Keep your elbows out, I like to say.”
Cover image courtesy of Diego Alvarado.