Jesse Love celebrates his victory Saturday at Irwindale Speedway. (Steve Himelstein Photo)
Jesse Love celebrates his victory Saturday at Irwindale Speedway. (Steve Himelstein Photo)

Love Continues Irwindale Love Affair

IRWINDALE, Calif. – Something about Bill McAnally Racing drivers and Irwindale Speedway seem to jive well.

For the second time this season and fifth time in his career, defending ARCA Menards Series West champion Jesse Love earned the victory, surviving a flurry of late-race restarts — including a green-white-checkered — to do so.

The win is also his third straight at Irwindale, tying the record set by two fellow BMR drivers (Brendan Gaughan in 2001 and Todd Gilliland from 2016-17) as well as Jason Bowles (2008-2009) with Sunrise Ford.

“I’ve been (racing at) this track for a decently long time,” Love said post-race. “I’ve been here in a super late model, I’ve been here in an ARCA car obviously. And my first real shot with Toyota Racing Development was here with the combine.”

Love said TRD’s Jack Irving sent him a text pre-race to “go get him one” and he did, hoping it put a smile on Irving’s face.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Menlo Park, Calif., native, though. After battling for 40-plus laps, he wrestled second place from Jake Drew on Lap 45 and then set his sights on Trevor Huddleston. The 2019 ARCA West (then K&N Pro Series West) winner at Irwindale paced the opening 88 laps before Love edged by on a restart, and the rest was history.

Drew came home second, his best career finish for Sunrise Ford in his rookie season. His emotion was clear post-race, as he put his head in his hands, wondering what he could’ve done differently to get by the No. 19 Toyota.

“I just feel bad,” he said. “It’s just a little bit a lack of experience right there on those restarts. My guys work so hard, I just want to give it to them. … We just keep creeping. We got third last time, we’re second here, maybe next time is the one.”

After starting on the pole, Paul Pedroncelli Jr. tied his best career finish of third, with Colorado National Speedway winner Joey Iest coming home fourth, his third consecutive top five this season for David Gilliland Racing.

Making his first West start since 2018, Ryan Partridge got the call late to substitute for Dean Thompson, who dominated the series’ first trip to Irwindale in 2021. Out due to COVID-19 protocols, Thompson and team opted to put his driver coach Partridge in the seat.

The two-time series runner-up shook the cobwebs off well, finishing fifth after only one practice session to get comfortable with the car. Cole Moore, Todd Souza, Takuma Koga, Eric Nascimento and Huddleston, who fell off the pace with 21 laps to go, rounded out the top 10.

Bobby Hillis Jr. earned his second-best finish of the season in 11th, with Amber Balcean (11th) and Mariah Boudrieau (13th) bringing their cars home clean in their second career series starts.

The win extends Love’s points championship lead over Moore, Souza and Drew with four races to go (Portland, Las Vegas Bullring, Roseville and Phoenix) on the season.

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