LAS VEGAS — Taylor Gray failed.
With the nose of his No. 17 Ford Performance Ford pinned against the outside wall at the start/finish line of The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 16-year-old’s goal was to blow both of his rear General Tires in a lengthy victory burnout.
“I didn’t complete my goal, obviously,” Gray said standing in Victory Lane. “I heard some (shredding) going on back there, so I thought I blew them out. I was honestly kind of upset.”
Of course, the Mooresville, North Carolina, native was not actually upset about what occurred Thursday night in the Star Nursery 150.
A couple weeks after he picked up his first win of the 2021 ARCA Menards Series West season at Portland International Raceway, Gray dominated much of the race on the 0.375-mile paved oval, leading 123 of 150 laps.
Including Gray’s victory in last season’s event at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, Thursday night’s triumph marks Gray’s third West Series win.
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Gray left The Bullring thrilled, but not satisfied.
“It’s easy to get worked up at these short tracks, overdriving the entry and stuff like that,” Gray said. “I didn’t do that great of a job tonight honestly, just making mistakes. I should have had better restarts. In my opinion, I should have won this race by a lot more, but just got to work on myself and keep studying and get better.”
Gray, who also has a top-10 finish in all 10 ARCA Menards Series races he has started this year, was sidelined for a couple months in the spring following an early-April street car accident. Since his return in July, he has only one finish outside the top five (a seventh-place run at Watkins Glen International) in 11 races across the ARCA Menards platform.
Because Gray has only three West Series starts thus far this season, his victory did little to impact the championship standings.
The same can’t be said for the rest of Thursday night’s results at The Bullring.
Sunrise Ford Racing teammates Jake Drew and Trevor Huddleston finished second and third, respectively, after some hard racing behind Gray in the closing laps. Which was especially helpful to Drew, who entered the seventh of nine West Series races this season ranked second in points.
An even bigger development as it relates to the season-long title chase was the trouble points leader and defending series champion Jesse Love encountered in Vegas.
After contending for the lead, Love in the latter portion of the race slipped out of the groove and began free-falling through the field due to a flat right front tire on his Bill McAnally Racing Toyota. A couple cautions allowed his team to get the car back to pace, but not before he had fallen multiple laps down.
Love ultimately finished four laps down in 13th, and what was a 19-point lead over Drew in the championship standings shrunk to seven points by night’s end.
Drew was frustrated he again missed out on his first victory, but he understood and appreciated the bigger picture.
“Didn’t quite get it done, but second’s cool,” Drew said. “Closed the gap quite a bit to Jesse. He had an unfortunate night; I wish he was up there battling with us. But once again, my guys worked super hard all night, and I had a really good race car.
“Just those last couple laps, I made too many mistakes. Which is unfortunate, but I’ll take that. I’ll learn from it. We’ve got two more rounds to go, and we’ll keep trying to fight for those points.”
Joey Iest and Kyle Keller finished fourth and fifth, respectively, Thursday night at The Bullring.
Cole Moore, P.J. Pedroncelli, Takuma Koga, Josh Fanopoulos and Christian Rose rounded out the top 10.
The ARCA Menards Series West will return to action Saturday, Oct. 9, for the NAPA Auto Care Center 150 presented by Berco Redwood at All American Speedway, a third-mile paved oval in Roseville California. The penultimate race of the West Series season will be shown live on NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass starting at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET.
A replay of Thursday’s Star Nursery 150 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will broadcast on NBCSN on Thursday, Sept. 30, starting at 5 p.m. ET.