Jesse Love and Taylor Gray entertained the crowd with a thrilling battle during Saturday’s Dawn 150 at Kansas Speedway that saw the two drivers exchange the lead for most of the afternoon.
Love ultimately emerged victorious over Gray and teammate Dean Thompson for his second straight ARCA Menards Series victory and Venturini Motorsports’ fifth across the ARCA platform this year.
When Love climbed out of his No. 20 GEARWRENCH Toyota to celebrate on the frontstretch, he admitted to being simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted following a grueling race in the Kansas heat.
“This place is tough,” Love said. “I had never raced on [an intermediate], and I did a B+ job yesterday [in pre-race practice] and wanted to do an A+ job today. It was fun, but I’m worn out. This is the most tired I’ve ever been.”
Love was determined to hold onto his car until the checkered flag to ensure Venturini Motorsports could achieve redemption from last year’s Dawn 150.
A dominant run by Corey Heim in the same car Love was driving Saturday was derailed after he and Drew Dollar crashed while battling for the lead on a restart, which resulted in eventual ARCA Menards Series champion Nick Sanchez earning one of his three victories during last season.
History came close to repeating itself on numerous occasions for Venturini, as Love had to play both offense and defense while trying to fend off Gray as well as teammate Dean Thompson. By the time the race reached its closing stages, Love’s most pressing competition came in the form of Thompson, as Gray had bounced off the wall while trying to chase the Venturini teammates down following a bad restart.
Like Love, Thompson was also fatigued after trying to chase down Love in the heat with a broken cool box.
Despite being disappointed to finish second, Thompson considered his first start with Venturini a success and hopes to obtain more knowledge from the organization and Toyota while embarking on his second season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
“Venturini put together a great car,” Thompson said. “That’s why I’m here, [to learn]. I dumped dirty air [on Love] and that’s something you have to learn somehow. Toyota has been absolutely phenomenal in developing me. I just have to get better.”
With Love managing to fend off one last charge from Thompson on the final lap, he now has four ARCA Menards Series victories during his career.
Love expressed confidence in the ability of himself and Venturini to keep adding to that total as the season progresses, adding the relentless dedication of everyone at the shop is the primary reason why he and so many others have found success with the organization.
“We’re beating Cup guys and Truck [Series] teams,” Love said. “These guys work so hard and are in the shop from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. some nights. That’s how we win races and I’m so proud of them.”
Gray settled for third with Connor Mosack and Jack Wood following him in the final running order.
Andres Perez de Lara, Cody Coughlin, Frankie Muniz, Christian Rose and Greg Van Alst completed the top 10.