IRWINDALE, Calif. – Jesse Love’s Saturday at Irwindale Speedway was nearly perfect.
He won the pole, led the most laps and ultimately won the ENEOS 125 for the ARCA Menards Series West at the half-mile oval for his second career win and second triumph in the last three races.
And of the three minimal blemishes on Love’s banner day, two of them occurred after the checkered flag in victory lane.
“I can win an ARCA race, but I can’t get up on the roof,” quipped Love after his attempt at celebrating atop the car ran into a hitch while he was climbing out.
“That’s going to be an issue,” he laughed.
What wasn’t an issue was just how good Love’s No. 19 NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota was all afternoon long.
Love mastered virtually every restart in the first three-quarters of the race, but a rash of late cautions closed the field up on his bumper and allowed second-running Trevor Huddleston a chance to strike late.
In essence, the ensuing sequence seemed like it came out of one of Love’s recent dirt midget starts.
When the green flag waved with 11 to go, following a spin by Lawless Alan sparked by contact with Todd Souza, Huddleston powered his Sunrise Ford entry to the inside of Love’s Bill McAnally Racing-prepared car, sliding across Love’s nose at the exit of turn two to deny Love the lead for the first time all race long.
Not to be outdone, Love fired a return slider back in turns three and four, but Huddleston was able to cross underneath and lead at the flagstand moments before Blaine Perkins sent Gio Scelzi sliding up into the turn-one wall in a cloud of smoke.
That brought out the last caution of the night and set up a five-lap shootout to the finish, with Love relegated to the bottom groove after restarting on the top as the control car all night long.
But Love learned enough from the move that Huddleston pulled on him during the previous restart to return the favor when racing resumed on lap 121. He shot the bottom, slid up in front of Huddleston and then drove off to the victory by .680 seconds.
All told, Love led 119 of 125 laps.
“This was a really cool weekend,” Love relayed in victory lane. “The restarts were definitely tricky; Trevor had them down. He’s run here so much that he knew how to manipulate them and get me there. I was just slipping the tires a bit on that start … I’m not sure if second gear or third gear was the better option, but we learned from it.
“He (Huddleston) drove it in hard and gave me one, so I took the opportunity to give one back when he opened the door for me,” Love added of the final restart. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to stick, but I’d rather be in the fence than run second with a car like we had today. We were so fast. This was a great weekend, and we extended the points lead too; that’s great to say and we’ll move on to the next one!”
About that third blemish on the day? It came at the end of Love’s NBC Sports interview, when the trophy stand fell over behind him and took the trophy Love had just earned down with it.
That earned a laugh and a shake of the head from the driver in question, who then flashed a grin.
“Bloopers, I guess,” he chuckled. “Overall a good weekend … and now we can go fix that, or something.”
Behind Love and Huddleston, Gracie Trotter earned her career-best finish with a third-place run. Blaine Perkins crossed fourth and Devin Dodson completed the top five.
1. Jesse Love, 2. Trevor Huddleston, 3. Gracie Trotter, 4. Blaine Perkins, 5. Devin Dodson, 6. Johnny Borneman III, 7. Todd Souza, 8. Dustin Ash, 9. Lawless Alan, 10. Takuma Koga, 11. Holley Hollan, 12. Bridget Burgess, 13. Brittney Zamora, 14. Gio Scelzi, 15. Jack Wood, 16. Bobby Hillis Jr.