The 16-year-old defending series champion also is the only driver in the field who has multiple top-five finishes in the West Series at the 0.375-mile paved oval. He finished second and third in his pair of starts at the track last season.
The drivers chasing the West Series points leader in the standings have to hope Love’s good fortunes at The Bullring — and at short tracks in general — will change Thursday in Vegas (8:30 p.m. PT / 11:30 p.m. ET on TrackPass).
The Star Nursery 150 marks the fourth short-track race for the West Series this season. Love won two of the first three, both at California’s Irwindale Speedway, and Joey Iest won the other, at Colorado National Speedway in July. Love finished second behind Iest.
Love’s success on short tracks is not specific to this season. The driver of the No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing has 10 top-five finishes in 11 West Series short-track races dating back to last year. That includes four wins. He has never finished outside the top 10 on a short track in the series.
For these reasons, Love will feel comfortable entering Thursday night’s race at The Bullring with a 19-point lead over second-place Jake Drew in the West Series championship standings.
The question is whether anybody chasing the points leader will be able to close the gap in the seventh of nine races this season.
Four drivers are within four points of each other ranked second through fifth in points. One point behind Drew are P.J. Pedroncelli and Cole Moore in a tie for third. Iest is three points back from them in fifth.
With 23 cars entered in Thursday’s Star Nursery 150, a slip on the part of Love absolutely would open the door for one if not all four to make significant strides in the title race.
Christian Rose’s debut
Several drivers in Thursday night’s field will be making their first starts at The Bullring in the West Series. Only one will be making his first start on the ARCA platform, period.
Christian Rose, a late model racer from Martinsburg, West Virginia, will make his debut in the West Series driving Bruce Cook’s No. 42 Chevrolet at The Bullring. And he will do so with a special partnership.
The West Virginia Department of Tourism will appear on the hood of Rose’s car not only in Vegas, but also in other various races on the West Coast this fall.
“I can’t wait to go to Las Vegas with the support of the entire state of West Virginia behind me,” Rose said. “I want to go out there and show everyone that drivers from West Virginia can compete with the best in the world.”
Rose played collegiate baseball at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. After graduating from college in 2018, he met NASCAR driver B.J. McLeod, who encouraged Rose to pursue his dream of becoming a professional race car driver.
Rose ran his first test race in December of 2018 before making his late model debut on Jan. 5, 2019, when he finished 15th out of 24 at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida.
“My journey in racing has been a bit different,” Rose allowed. “Most of these other drivers have been at this since they were kids. The last few years have been a great ride, and I’m excited to take the next step in my career by racing in the ARCA Menards Series.”
Rose signed with Cook Racing Technologies in 2020 and has since raced late model cars up and down the East Coast.
“Bruce and our entire team have been incredible to work with,” said Rose. “They help me continue to get better as a driver, and I couldn’t ask for a better group with which to work.”
More history at The Bullring
In last fall’s West Series race at The Bullring, Gracie Trotter made history when she became the first female driver to win an ARCA-sanctioned event. Five drivers entered in Thursday’s Star Nursery 150 will be looking to become the second.
And with those, a total of five female drivers in the field is believed to be the most ever in a West Series race.
Jolynn “JoJo” Wilkinson, Amber Slagle, Amber Balcaen, Mariah Boudrieau and Bridget Burgess all are entered in the Star Nursery 150. Wilkinson and Balcaen will compete for Bill McAnally Racing, the team Trotter drove for when she won at The Bullring last year.
She’s ready for the Bullring 🔥@ARCA_Racing
The Star Nursery 150 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Race schedule for Thursday Sept. 23 with a start time 8:30 PT/ 10:30 CT/ 11:30 ET
— Jolynn “JoJo” Wilkinson (@jo_wilkinson11) September 22, 2021
Wilkinson, the 17-year-old from Hueytown, Alabama, is a third-generation racer and the second generation in her family to compete in ARCA-sanctioned competition, continuing the “Alabama Gang” tradition from her hometown.
A regular in McAnally’s BMR Drivers Academy, she finished eighth in her ARCA debut at Colorado National in July.
It’s race week!
— Amber Balcaen (@amberbalcaen10) September 20, 2021
Balcaen, another product of McAnally’s academy, is also a third-generation racer. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, native has three West Series starts dating back to 2017.
Balcaen in 2016 became the first Canadian woman to win a race in what is now the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series.
— Bridget Burgess (@8BridgetBurgess) September 17, 2021
Burgess is the only West Series full-timer of the group. A 19-year-old from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Burgess races her family-owned No. 88 HMH Construction Chevrolet with her mother Sarah as crew chief.
Burgess finished seventh in last season’s fall race at The Bullring. She’s one of just six drivers in Thursday night’s field who has a top-10 finish at the track in the West Series.
WERE GOING ARCA RACING AGAIN! This is truly a dream come true to have not only 1 but 2 more @ARCA_Racing starts this year! I’m looking forward to heading out to The Bullring at Las Vegas in a couple short weeks and All American Speedway shortly after! 🏁 pic.twitter.com/HaQZ9KDR3h
— Amber Slagle (@AmberSlagle) September 6, 2021
Slagle, a regular competitor in various Late Model divisions and a mechanic/crew chief for Cook Racing Technologies, will make her second West Series start driving the No. 17W Sunwest Construction-MMI-CRT Chevrolet for Steve McGowan.
Boudrieau will make her third West Series start driving the No. 77 Jans-REX MD-All Phase Construction Toyota for Joe Nava.
- Thursday’s Star Nursery 150 at The Bullring will mark the 10th West Series race at the track dating back to 1994. It will be the 991st race in series history.
- Previous West Series winners at The Bullring include Ron Hornaday Jr., Ernie Cope, Mark Reed, Austin Cameron, Jim Inglebright, Greg Pursley, Sam Mayer and Trotter.
- Reed, Inglebright, Mayer and Trotter all scored their first series victories at The Bullring.
- Love leads the series with a 5.3 average finish in six races this season. Among series regulars, Pedroncelli is next best at 7.0.
- Moore has completed all but two of the 712 possible laps of West Series competition so far in 2021, a 99.72 percent completion rate. Drew and Trevor Huddleston are next with 706 laps compete, a 99.16 percent completion rate.
- The West Series has seen an 80 percent increase in the number of leaders per race from 2020, up from 1.67 per race to 3.0. There also has been a 225 percent increase in lead changes per race, up from 1.33 in 2020 to 4.3 in 2021. There has been an 81 percent increase in cautions per race, 6.33 per race in 2021 compared to 3.5 in 2020. Similarly, caution laps per race is also up, 231 percent from 2020 to 33.17 per race.