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ARCA Menards rewind: What we learned at Portland

Good luck finding a race with more action packed into 58 laps. The Portland 112 for the ARCA Menards Series West at Portland International Raceway had it all.

With seven yellow flags, about 36 percent of the event on the 12-turn, 1.967-mile road course in Portland, Oregon, ran under caution. But those numbers do not account for the countless spins that did not result in yellow flags.

Through all of the chaos, Jake Drew was a constant. The driver who paced the field in both Friday practice sessions at Portland before qualifying on the General Tire Pole on Saturday led the most laps in the race.

He was in control on a last-lap restart, but that final green flag took the chaos to a new level.

As a result, the driver who crossed the finish line first, Drew, was credited with a 10th-place finish. The driver who crossed the finish line third, Taylor Gray, was credited with the win.

Needless to say, such a wild finish leads our takeaways from the sixth of nine West Series races in 2021.

Portland: Race Recap | Race Highlights

Taylor Gray
Taylor Gray, driver of the No. 17 Ripper Coffee Ford celebrates winning the Portland 112 for the ARCA Menards Series West at Portland International Raceway in Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 11, 2021. (Alisha Jucevic/ARCA Racing)

Rules are rules

Competing for David Gilliland Racing, the 16-year-old Gray picked up his second career West Series win Saturday at Portland. Even under these extreme circumstances, he’ll take it.

On the last-lap restart, Gray, having lined up third behind Drew, appeared to make contact with the leader entering the frontstretch chicane, a part of the course that had given drivers trouble throughout the race.

Drew failed to get his No. 9 Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Stilo USA/Offset Ford slowed in time to make Turn 1. As a result, he completely missed Turn 2, driving through the corner and back on the track for Turn 3.

Eric Nascimento, the driver who restarted fourth, did the same thing. As did Rodd Kneeland deeper in the field.

Having missed Turn 2, Drew and Nascimento led the field back to the checkered flag, and it appeared the former had won his first West Series race. But ARCA officials told Drew to wait before he began celebrating. They needed to review the incident in the chicane.

Sure enough, ARCA officials ruled that Drew, Nascimento and Kneeland all failed to make Turn 2. Because the incident occurred on the last lap, the three were issued time penalties rather than pass-through penalties.

Drew, Nascimento and Kneeland finished 10th, 11th and 13th, respectively, because of those penalties.

Though it was the most impactful, the incident involving the race leader on the last lap was not the first of its kind on the frontstretch chicane at Portland.

It happened multiple times earlier in Saturday’s race, including to Nascimento. Jesse Love, P.J. Pedroncelli and Bobby Hillis Jr. all served penalties for missing the turn at various points throughout the event, too.

Drew’s mistake just happened to come at the worst possible time.

If there’s a silver lining for the Sunrise Ford racing driver, it’s that he jumped Cole Moore for second place in the West Series championship standings. With three races remaining, Love has a 19-point advantage over Drew.

And that’s with Drew technically finishing 10th at Portland. Understandably, he will scorn the fact that he isn’t closer to the points lead after crossing the finish line first.

RELATED: Updated ARCA Menards Series West points

Portland 112
Jake Drew leads the Portland 112 for the ARCA Menards Series West at Portland International Raceway in Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 11, 2021. (Alisha Jucevic/ARCA Racing)

Jake Drew’s statement

He may not have won the Portland 112, but Drew did prove himself as a force in the West Series moving forward.

In the first practice session Friday, he was 0.548 seconds quicker than second-place Gray. In the second practice session, Drew was 0.485 seconds faster than the driver in second, his teammate Trevor Huddleston.

In qualifying, Drew earned his second career General Tire Pole Award with a lap time (01:16.0; 93.122 mph) that was a full 1.246 seconds faster than Pedroncelli’s second-place effort.

The 21-year-old showed the same speed in the race, and he was dominating before he got spun in the frontstretch chicane after a restart on Lap 13.

Despite the adversity, Drew battled his way back through the field in a steady manner, damaged Ford and all.

He completed that comeback with 19 laps to go.

In a statement move, Drew passed Love for the lead. The pass was so smooth, fans voted it the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race from the Portland 112.

Drew, who is competing in the West Series this season in part because of his successful background in kart racing, reinforced at Portland how good he is on road courses.

The Portland 112 was the last road-course race of the season for the West Series, but the driver who is second in championship points now has more evidence of speed on his side as he races for a title on three ovals to close 2021.

Notes

  • Pedroncelli set a new career high with this second-place run at Portland driving his family-owned No. 33 Select Mobile Bottlers Toyota. Having competed in the West Series periodically since 2008, his first pair of top-five finishes came earlier this season; he finished third at both Sonoma Raceway and California’s Irwindale Speedway.
  • Takuma Koga, the 44-year-old from Nagoya, Japan, who has been racing in the West Series since 2002, picked up his second career top-five finish with his fifth-place run at Portland. Fifth place ties his career high in the West Series; he also finished fifth at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino, California, in 2017.
  • Six-place Portland finisher Tim Spurgeon, who entered Saturday’s race with 14 West Series starts dating back to 2010 (all but two on road courses), was one position away from his first top-five run. Instead, he picked up his second career top-10 finish.
  • Saturday’s Portland 112 was the sixth West Series race at Portland International Raceway dating back to 1986. The six races have produced six different winners.
  • The ARCA Menards Series West will close the 2021 season with races at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 23), All American Speedway (Oct. 9) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).