Race Weekend Central

Fuel Tank Sputter Denies Dominant Jesse Love at Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. — After his pole-winning car ended up in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway on Monday (Feb. 19), Jesse Love came ready to play in Saturday’s (Feb. 24) RAPTOR King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Love started the afternoon at Atlanta by grabbing another pole over Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Hill, and he became the first driver in NASCAR Xfinity Series history to win two poles in his first two starts.

That same dominance showed during the race as Love swept the first two stages and led 81 of the first 83 laps. The start of the final stage brought about a brief side-by-side battle for the lead with AJ Allmendinger, but Love ultimately prevailed. And once Love jumped in front of Allmendinger on the outside, the inside line that Love had led instantly suffocated.

It was a single-file affair throughout the race, and as the laps ticked down, it looked like nothing could stop the No. 2 car.

Except fuel.

With no cautions for the duration of the final stage, the teams had to save fuel and gamble on going the distance. The latter almost happened until second-place Riley Herbst, Cole Custer, and almost every Ford ran out of fuel with 3 laps left. Ryan Sieg stalled his car on the track apron, which led to a late caution that tacked on six extra laps beyond the scheduled distance. As the field restarted to take 2 to go, Love’s car sputtered on the restart and he lost the lead.

Love managed to get the No. 2 refired, but the damage was already done, and he was left with a 12th-place finish after leading 157 laps in just his second career start.

See also
Austin Hill Wins Back-to-Back After Saving Fuel

“Man, I’m just so damn proud of everybody on this Whelen car,” Love said. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”

He clarified that despite running on fumes at the finish, there was no way he would surrender the lead before the race resumed.

“Everybody’s crazy if they thought I was going to pit out of the lead,” Love said. “It’s a gamble, kind of like playing poker, but at the same, I thought I saved a good bit of fuel. I thought some of the caution laps helped us, but that last one felt like it lasted forever.

“I have no idea why, and I’m not going to question whether we could have made it if we had gone back to green sooner, but either way, I’m so proud of this team and this is going to push us forward, for sure.”

As for the sputter on the restart, Love explained what happened as he shifted through the gears as he approached the green flag.

“I was trying to load the right side of the fuel cell as hard as I could, and yeah, I got going, and I got through the second gear pool fine and really good,” Love said. “I had a really good jump once the No. 48 [Parker Kligerman] ran out, and I was like, ‘okay, the floodgates are open. I could’ve got it.’

“And then I shifted to third, and I pulled for a little bit, and then it died. I took it out of gear and cycled in and got it back going again.”

With two poles and 191 laps led between Daytona and Atlanta, Love became a sensation two weeks into the 2024 season. With such a fast start, it’s now most likely a matter of when — and not if — he will reach victory lane this season.

“I’m really grateful to be in the position that I’m in, to be leading laps and have a really good car,” Love said. “This just makes me very hungry [to win] now.”

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Jesse Love deserved the win. He would not have “sputtered” if NASCAR had not thrown that stupid caution with 2 laps to go. Ridiculous! Was cheering for him big time~Heartbreaking!

The cautions in many cases are just way to long and need not be, today was one of those times.

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