Though he didn’t start on pole, Jesse Love led most of the ARCA Menards Series race at Elko Speedway Saturday evening (June 24), winning his fourth race of 2023 in dominating fashion.
The race featured a very spirited battle between Love and second-place finisher William Sawalich, as the two made contact multiple times throughout the event while battling for the top spot.
“We unloaded today, and we knew we were getting beat pretty bad, and Shannon (Rursch, crew chief) went right to work,” Love told Fox Sports. “Last week, we probably should’ve won, and tonight I feel like we won one we probably should’ve lost.”
Sawalich brought his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 home in second, coming up one position shy of a win at his home track.
Love’s Venturini Motorsports teammate Sean Hingorani came in third, the same position in which he finished last Saturday at Berlin Raceway. Conner Jones brought his VMS No. 25 home in fourth place, giving the Toyota team three cars inside the top five.
Andres Perez de Lara and the Rev Racing No. 2 team came home fifth, giving the 18-year-old up-and-comer his fourth top five in six races this season.
On the initial start of the race, Love took the lead from Sawalich, but didn’t pull too far away as the two stayed relatively close through the first 30 laps of the event. Lapped traffic proved to be an early issue, as Love made contact with AJ Moyer while passing the driver of the No. 06 on lap 16. Moyer would later bring out the first caution of the evening, coming on lap 31, en route to finishing some 34 laps off the pace.
When the race restarted on lap 38, Love retained the lead over Sawalich, taking the top on the restart. However, Moyer yet again lost control of his Toyota, bringing out the second caution of the night.
When the race restarted on lap 50, Love bested the restart over Sawalich again, pulling out to a narrow lead over his Toyota teammate. From there, the field settled into a lengthy green-flag run, going roughly 50 laps, with Love leading the entirety of it.
After a caution just past lap 100, Love and Sawalich once again led the field to the green on lap 107, facing a short dash to the halfway break caution. Sawalich kept it closer on the restart than in previous attempts, but Love was still able to retain the top spot as the field headed into turn 3.
Sawalich attempted a move on the outside of Love with a handful of laps before the halfway caution, but Love shut the door, keeping the lead until lap 123. For the remaining circuits until the halfway break, Love and Sawalich traded bump-and-runs, both running each other up the track at least once for the lead. However, it was Love who came out ahead once the halfway caution flag flew on lap 125.
Following the scheduled race break, Love and Sawalich once again led the field to green on lap 134. This time, however, Sawalich was able to take the lead from Love from the outside lane, which proved to be dominant on restarts throughout the event. Sawalich wasn’t able to keep it for long, though as the fourth caution of the night flew on lap 143 for a Rose spin.
On the lap 150 restart, Love and Sawalich made contact before the restart zone, which perfectly represented the events to follow. Love shoved Sawalich up the racetrack into turns 1-2, taking the lead back as both drivers remained fairly aggressive.
However, Love’s VMS teammate Hingorani was the next driver to make contact with Sawalich, spinning the 16-year-old into turn 3. Sawalich ultimately fell to eighth position after the incident, but restarted on the lead lap.
For the first time all race, Love shared the front row with someone other than Sawalich. This time, teammate Jones restarted beside him, though Love was again able to retain the lead with ease.
Shortly into the run, Sawalich found himself in more trouble, getting squeezed into the wall by Frankie Muniz while batting for sixth.
Back out front, Love was able to hold the lead over VMS teammates Jones and Hingorani until Rose spun again, bringing out another yellow. From there, the field endured another restart, with Love retaining the lead during the short run to the lap 190 race break. During that stretch, Sawalich was able to work through traffic and rebound all the way back up to third position.
Following the final race break, Love retained the lead on the restart, with Sawalich in tow, but the yellow came back out quickly for Muniz, who had a hard hit to the frontstretch wall after contact with Davey Callihan. The wreck resulted in the first race all season that Muniz wasn’t running at the finish.
On the final restart of the race, Love again retained the lead, and this time, he never looked back, leading the last 43 laps of the event. Sawalich closed the gap down to just about a second, but ran out of laps, falling short in his efforts to win at his home track.
The next national division ARCA Menards Series race is scheduled for Friday, July 7 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Zinsser SmartCoat 150. Television coverage there will be provided by FOX Sports 1.
In the meantime, ARCA Menards Series West drivers will take center stage. That series heads to Irwindale Speedway in California next Saturday, July 1, at 10 p.m. ET for the NAPA Nightvision 150.
About the author
Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University
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