CONCORD, N.C. — After a successful first outing with Venturini Motorsports at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway, Toyota Racing Development driver Jesse Love will return to the organization for this weekend’s ARCA Menards Series East finale at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla.
Love, 15, will wheel the No. 15 JBL Toyota Camry at the half-mile paved oval, joining teammates Corey Heim and Mason Diaz in the Pensacola 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions, the sixth and final race of the season for the East Series.
It marks the latest step in a continued upward trajectory for Love, who impressed many with a fourth-place finish in his Venturini debut at Winchester.
“To be honest, I feel like this has been one of those things where I’ve really had to earn the opportunities that I’ve been given,” Love noted. “I got a really great opportunity to go run Winchester after a really great year so far in the (ARCA Menards Series) West, and because of that performance we got that opportunity for Winchester. I feel like we did pretty decent up there. There are some things that I could’ve done better that I learned from … whether it was things like restarts or communication, just things like that that you have to learn from experience.
“It’s definitely good to get a second chance and I’m just super grateful and happy that we were able to get a second chance with Venturini Motorsports to build on what we started,” Love continued. “To do it at a place like Five Flags is pretty cool; I feel like it’s one of those places that tends to suit how I would drive the race track pretty well. So that’s a good thing and we’ll see what we can do with it.”
While Love has never raced at Five Flags, he did turn laps at a somewhat-similar Florida short track — New Smyrna Speedway — in a super late model during the World Series of Asphalt Racing in February.
That experience is something that Love is hoping to lean on as he gets up to speed in Pensacola.
“Even a place like Winchester was honestly, in my opinion, pretty similar to New Smyrna and what I think Pensacola will be this weekend,” Love said. “You’re pulling a lot of G forces there, but it’s really not as much line-dependent as much as it is momentum and how you’re finding speed. I feel like that was really important at New Smyrna and is going to be really important at Five Flags too. You just have to find speed and figure out where your car is best and make it work to give yourself the best chance.
“It’s going to be a long race, but only one lap really matters. We just have to work on it and make sure we’re there at the end and in a good position to at least have a shot to win the race.”
Love has found a comfort zone for extended-distance races recently, which particularly showed at Winchester, when he had one of the fastest cars on track at the end of the longer runs.
He’ll have another opportunity to showcase that skillset this weekend.
“I think I do really well when the tires get hot and everyone is kind of struggling for grip. I feel like that’s one of my strong suits, if you will,” Love explained. “Obviously, it showed at Winchester. I wasn’t the best one on the short run, but I was really good in the long run. I felt like we were the best car as the race trended over more and more and more green-flag laps. Hopefully we’ll get some long green-flag runs in at Pensacola to where we can chip away at it and get faster and faster.”
Love knows that to win on Saturday, he’ll have to stop the likes of Sam Mayer and Ty Gibbs, who have combined to win every race this season in the East Series.
That doesn’t intimidate the California teenager, however. If anything, it motivates Love further.
“At the end of the day, you’ve just kind of got to break their momentum,” Love said of his strategy to take the fight to Mayer and Gibbs. “Obviously, you know, they’re pretty good at playing the mental game, so you just have to put yourself in a position to capitalize when they make a mistake or force them into one if the opportunity is there to do that. I’m really confident in the team. Venturini Motorsports has been really fast at Five Flags in general. So we just have to run up front and put pressure on those two guys, and make no mistakes while capitalizing on their mistakes.
“I’m really confident and we’ll just get to racing and put on some good short-track racing. I feel like that’s our best shot at beating them when it comes down to go time on Saturday.”
The Pensacola 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions goes green at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, with live coverage through Trackpass on NBC Sports Gold.