PORTLAND — Heading into Friday’s Portland 112, Landen Lewis had finished second in every ARCA Menards Series West race this season.
Ending that streak for Lewis came down to an intense duel with NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Cole Custer on a two-lap sprint to the finish. The two traded the lead multiple times over the last two laps until a mistake from Custer enabled Lewis to pull away with the victory at Portland International Raceway.
Lewis needed a late-race caution to erase the sizable lead Custer had built over the rest of the field. When the final green flag was displayed, Lewis knew he needed to be perfect against a NASCAR Cup Series winner.
“I was running the restart through my head trying to picture what was going to happen,” Lewis said. “I had really good starts all day long, so I wasn’t doubting myself that I could get a good start, but I was thinking about good [Custer] would be. Getting into turn one [on the last lap], I messed up and gave him an opportunity.
“It was a dogfight, but also hard racing.”
For Lewis, it was a journey simply to get back up to the front for the closing laps.
The Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., native set the tone early with the fastest lap in qualifying to earn the General Tire Pole Award. He spent the early stages of the Portland 112 primarily on defense against Sean Hingorani, who was the driver that bested Lewis in the two most recent ARCA West events.
Lewis felt comfortable with his car, but a pit road penalty under caution shortly before the halfway point meant he had to spend the rest of the Portland 112 making up lost ground.
Despite this, Lewis was not fazed by the adversity and was determined to do what was necessary to finally break into the win column this year.
“We pitted early but didn’t know pit entry was closed,” Lewis said. “I knew we’d be alright, because [we all] had a little fight [in us]. The pit cycle worked itself out, and we got up into the top five. Once the [penultimate] caution came out, it just gave me a boost of confidence.”
The defining moment for Lewis came down to executing the initial restart jump with two to go. He learned the technique from mentor and NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.
A four-time champion in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Hornaday became known for his proficiency on restarts and how to separate himself from the field. Though Lewis still had to fend off Custer for two laps, it was Hornaday’s advice that helped him get in front of his seasoned competitor when it mattered.
Lewis was overcome with emotion as he processed the circumstances that resulted in his first win of the year, but he made sure to express his gratitude to the Hornaday family for all the guidance they’ve provided through his development to date.
“If it wasn’t for the Hornadays, I wouldn’t be standing here,” Lewis said.
Now with two ARCA West victories to his name, including a win last year at California’s Kern County Raceway Park, Lewis will look to start a streak of victories as he attempts to assert his control over the point standings.
Custer finished behind Lewis in second, where he was followed by Dale Quarterly, William Sawalich and Parker Retzlaff. Rounding out the top 10 were Bradley Erickson, Caleb Shrader, Takuma Koga, Davey Magras and Eric Johnson Jr.