The ARCA Menards Series West’s first visit to the 1.98-mile Portland International Raceway road course since 2012 was the Jake Drew and Taylor Gray show, and it was hardly surprising that one of those two drivers wound up celebrating the win in Victory Lane after 58 laps.
Gray and Drew shared ARCA’s special awards from the Portland 112, but only one of them could take the race victory. And even though Drew took the checkered flag on the racetrack, it was Gray who took home the trophy after Drew was handed a penalty for cutting the course on the white-flag lap.
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Drew may be the most skilled road racer of the West Series regulars, coming from a background in karting before transitioning to stock cars, and it showed when he sped to the General Tire Pole Award with a qualifying lap of 76.042 seconds/93.122 mph to become the first repeat pole-sitter of the 2021 season.
There was no competition for the spot, as Drew was more than a second quicker than outside pole-sitter P.J. Pedroncelli. Drew picked up his first General Tire Pole Award at the only other road course race on the West schedule, at Sonoma in June, albeit by a far slimmer margin over veteran Todd Souza.
A stack-up in the first turn of Lap 1 immediately set the tone for the race, promising that there would be many lead changes and spinouts yet to come. Gray led the opening lap from third place for the first of nine lead changes on the day.
Drew was back to the point by the time the field came around to complete Lap 2, well on his way to becoming the Valvoline Lap Leader for leading 29 laps in total. Drew’s power move to take back the lead with 19 laps to go earned him the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race award.
Eventual winner Gray led 18 laps while Cole Moore led 10. Current championship points leader Jesse Love led a single lap. Love added to his total atop the yearlong Valvoline Lap Leader standings, if only by one circuit. Love has 174 laps led, leaving him ahead of Dean Thompson with 144 laps led and Ty Gibbs with 124 laps led.
Gray led for much of the middle section of the race, earning Richmond Water Heaters Halfway Leader honors in the process. Each of the six West races this year has seen a different driver leading at the halfway mark. Gray’s stint as the leader ended when he couldn’t refire following a spin and went a lap down while waiting to get a push-start under the ensuing caution.
Another yellow flag inside of 15 to go allowed Gray to get back on the lead lap via the free pass, and he worked himself through the field to be in position to take advantage of any potential chaos on the final restart. Sure enough, when original 1-2 finishers Drew and Eric Nascimento were penalized for bypassing the second turn, Gray was the first driver in line that made the corner and took the race win and the Bounty Rookie of the Race award, as well.
While Gray’s victory had little impact itself on the Bounty Rookie of the Year chase due to his status as a part-time driver, a shakeup at the top was in order nonetheless. Moore continues to lead the rookie standings, a position he has held since the second race of the season at Sonoma, but his lead over Drew shrunk to one point.
The rookie of the hour was arguably Joey Iest, who survived an adventurous day to claim fourth place. Iest flashed road-racing potential at Sonoma earlier this year when he qualified fifth, but his day ended just six laps into the race when he blew an engine. His prospects appeared to be no better at Portland, where he had to line up in 16th on the grid. For gaining 12 spots over the course of the 58 laps, Iest was named the K&N Filters Hard Charger.
Iest’s fourth consecutive top five allowed him to pull within five points of Moore in the Bounty Rookie Challenge standings, sitting in a very close third place.
The ARCA Menards Series West will resume making left turns in the Star Nursery 150 at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Thursday, Sept. 23, kicking off the weekend of NASCAR activity at the LVMS facility. The 150-lap event on the 3/8-mile short track is scheduled to go green at 10 p.m. ET and will be shown live on NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass.