Race Weekend Central

ARCA Power Rankings: Jesse Love Still on Top After Iowa

The 2023 ARCA Menards Series is nearing its halfway point, as Saturday’s race at the Iowa Speedway marked the ninth race on the 20-race schedule.

A sixth different winner emerged victorious in the Calypso 150, as ARCA East regular Luke Fenhaus made an impressive move on an overtime restart to pass a dominant William Sawalich for the win. The win was Fenhaus’ first in the ARCA national division, and it marked the second time a full time driver in one of the regional divisions won a combination race this season (after Tyler Reif at Phoenix International Raceway in the West season opener in March).

Though the East regular seemed to run the show at Iowa, who else stood out to make this week’s edition of the 2023 Frontstretch ARCA power rankings?

1. Jesse Love

Prior to the race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course two weeks ago, Jesse Love was on a streak of five races straight in which he led the most laps, finding victory lane in four of them. However, in the last two races Love has only led a combined eight laps, all of which came at Mid-Ohio. Though he may not be leading and winning races as of late, Love has still been by far the most consistent driver in the series this season. 

Iowa wasn’t the most kind to Love; he qualified fifth and ran around that position for much of the first portion of the race. However, crew chief Shannon Rursch made a few positive adjustments to the car that netted Love a few extra spots on the track in the final run of the race, eventually leading him to a third place finish. 

Despite the recent brief down spell of sorts, Love still holds a commanding 49-point lead over second-place Frankie Muniz, heading into the 10th race of the season at Pocono. 

2. William Sawalich

Even with not being full time in the national division this season, William Sawalich’s presence has been known in his five races this season. After a late race spin led to a 13th-place finish at Phoenix in March, Sawalich hasn’t finished worse than second in any of the last four starts he’s made. That includes a win, which he scored at Berlin Raceway, and three consecutive runner-up finishes. 

The result at Iowa might’ve been a second place, but Sawalich put on a clinic at the ⅞-mile speedway. Sawalich was in command of the lead for 154 of the 156 laps that were run. The only two he didn’t lead? The final two, when Fenhaus beat him on the final restart. 

Obviously, not being full time, Sawalich has no hopes at a championship this season. However, he is slated to take the reins of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 in eight of the final 11 races, making his final points standings position an interesting storyline to follow, despite the limited schedule.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: William Sawalich Winning His Way Up the Ladder

3. Andres Perez de Lara

Another race, and another top ten for Andres Perez de Lara. The 18-year-old has now finished in the top 10 in all but one of the races he’s been able to compete in this season, with the lone outlier coming at Mid-Ohio after a mechanical issue. The consistency has put Perez de Lara into the third spot in the season standings, closing in on second-place Muniz. 

Iowa was a quiet race for Perez de Lara. He and the Rev Racing team ran inside the top 10 for the entirety of the event, nearly sneaking into a top-five finish by the time the checkered flag flew but coming up one position short, crossing the line in sixth.

A championship effort will be difficult for Perez de Lara, as he enters Pocono 63 points behind Love. However, in recent weeks, he’s closed the gap quickly on Muniz and sits just 14 points behind him for second place in the overall standings. 

4. Frankie Muniz

Like Perez de Lara, Frankie Muniz continued his impressive run of top 10s at Iowa. The first year stock car driver has now finished inside of the top 10 in seven of the nine races, only missing out at Daytona, where he finished 11th, and Elko Speedway, where he sustained a crash. That consistency has kept Muniz in the championship discussion, sitting 49 points behind Love for first. 

Putting the Elko race aside, Iowa saw Muniz finishing a few positions worse than usual, as he recorded his worst result, ninth, since Kansas Speedway where he finished eighth. However, Muniz was still able to corral a top 10, and had a very impressive save after contact with Christian Rose off of turn 4. 

Despite a finish a little lower in the running order than usual, Muniz has still run a very impressive season thus far, especially for a rookie. He has finished 95% of his laps, keeping his car clean in nearly every race run this season. 

5. Toni Breidinger

Rounding out the power rankings is a resurgent Toni Breidinger, who tied her best career finish at Iowa, finishing fifth. It’s the second time this season the Venturini Motorsports driver has come across the line in the top five, doing so at Berlin in June as well. 

Like Sawalich, Breidinger is not full time, but she has started eight of the nine races run this season, only missing Mid-Ohio. She’s on a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes, including two top fives, with Iowa perhaps being her best race of the season to date. Breidinger outran her VMS teammates Love and Conner Jones for much of the first half of the race. Despite fading a bit on the last green flag run, Breidinger was able to rally for the top-five finish on the late race restart. 

Despite missing a race, Breidinger sits in sixth place in the season standings, only one point shy of reaching the top five. While the remainder of her schedule is largely unknown, her recent uptick in results should at least put her in the conversation for the races she does start for the remainder of the season. 

It won’t be long before the ARCA Menards Series returns to the racetrack, as the series heads to the Tricky Triangle, Pocono Raceway, this Friday, July 21, for the Sunset Hill Shooting Range 150. The green flag for the event is scheduled to fly at 6 p.m. ET that evening, and television coverage of the race will be carried on Fox Sports 1.

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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Dawg

I have a hard time seeing the ARCA/Menards series, as a viable series.

They struggle to field 20 cars, with usually half of them totally uncompetitive.

They draw crowds, & I use this term loosely. That by comparison, make the average Truck crowd seem huge.

Then they split themselves into two divisions. Maybe if they were to combine them, they could put on a show worth watching, & draw a decent crowd.

Sorry, I’m probably being too hard on them, but I just can’t make myself get interested.