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ARCA Menards rewind: What we learned at All American

The ARCA Menards Series West entered its penultimate race of the 2021 season with relative clarity in the championship picture. Sitting first and second in the standings, respectively, Jesse Love and Jake Drew enjoyed what seemed like a comfortable cushion over other contenders.

Now that title race is complete chaos.

Saturday night’s NAPA AutoCare 150 presented by Berco Redwood at All American Speedway in Roseville, California, had it all, from 11 caution flags to some impactful, late-race incidents and even a first-time winner in 31-year-old P.J. Pedroncelli.

As a result, when the West Series’ season finale arrives at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6, seven drivers will be within range to win the championship.

That includes Pedroncelli, who when it’s all said and done might be the story of the 2021 West Series season.

All American Speedway: Race Recap | Race Highlights

PJ Pedroncelli, driver of the #33 Select Mobile Bottlers Toyota, celebrates taking first place during the NAPA AutoCare 150 presented by Berco Redwood for the ARCA Menards Series West at All American Speedway in Roseville, California on October 9, 2021. (Nina Riggio/ARCA Racing)
P.J. Pedroncelli, driver of the No. 33 Select Mobile Bottlers Toyota, celebrates winning the NAPA AutoCare 150 presented by Berco Redwood for the ARCA Menards Series West at All American Speedway in Roseville, California, on Oct. 9, 2021. (Nina Riggio/ARCA Racing)

P.J. Pedroncelli steals the show

Coming to the white flag Saturday night at All American, Drew bumped Love and sent the championship points leader spinning to bring out a caution and set up an overtime finish. This figured to be the defining moment of the race.

And it was until Pedroncelli made the winning pass in Turns 3-4 of the final lap, an effort that earned the Sonoma, California, native the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race.

Pedroncelli not only picked up his first West Series win. He is now just one point behind Love in the championship standings entering the season finale. Which is remarkable considering Pedroncelli is driving his own car for his family-owned team, and racing is not even his first (or second) job.

Based in Sonoma, Pedroncelli operates two mobile wine bottling companies that account for almost 80 hours in a given week. He himself transports the hauler carrying his car to each race. His father Paul has also run seven West Series races this season driving one of the family’s backup cars.

P.J. Pedroncelli grew up in Sonoma watching his dad race. He took interest to motorsports himself early in his teenage years, and after some success, his parents purchased a couple stock cars so he could race part-time in the West Series. From 2008-2011, he competed in 12 West Series events with his best finish being a 12th-place run at Douglas County Speedway in Roseburg, Oregon, in 2009.

PJ Pedroncelli

After 2011, Pedroncelli’s competing in the West Series became financially unsustainable, but he kept racing locally in lower divisions. Then he stopped racing altogether in 2014, when he started Pedroncelli Mobile Bottling.

Pedroncelli’s mobile wine bottling company flourished to the point where he was able to purchase a competitor, Select Mobile Bottlers. Even while bearing the load of running two businesses, his racing itch returned.

Pedroncelli bought an ARCA Menards car in 2019 and raced it at Sonoma that year; he finished 13th after starting 19th. He planned to run the 2020 West Series race at Sonoma, too, before that event was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When the 2021 season arrived, Pedroncelli’s racing ambitions suddenly changed.

“I just decided, ‘You know what? It’s only a nine-race series. Let’s go buy a circle track car (too) and go have fun and see what we can do,’” Pedroncelli explained in June following what was then a career high third-place finish at Sonoma Raceway. “It happened quickly. I initially was just like, ‘Oh, let’s go have fun and see what we can do ourselves.’ And then I got Ty (Joiner) to join as crew chief, and from there it just became, ‘Alright, we’re going to run the whole series and see how good we can be.’

“Now I’m pretty heavily back involved in it.”

That’s an understatement given his standing with one race remaining.

Paul Pedroncelli was the first person to reach P.J.’s window net after the latter pulled into Victory Lane on Saturday night. A few minutes later, he embraced his wife and daughter.

“It means the world,” Pedroncelli said, fighting back tears, when asked what it was like to share this moment with his loved ones. “It’s really cool.”

RELATED: Updated ARCA Menards Series West points

All American race tees up chaotic finale

The incident involving Love and Drew late in Saturday night’s race completely altered the dynamic of the championship battle.

What might have been realistically a two- or three-car race for the title at Phoenix has expanded to seven.

Love made clear with his post-race social media activity Saturday that he felt Drew’s bump was intentional.

“Felt like we raced our championship competitors with respect this year,” the 16-year-old defending West Series champion tweeted. “But that respect didn’t go both ways. We got wrecked by (Drew) who we’re racing against for the championship. But my approach to Phoenix is narrowed down, just run hard!”

That will need to be Love’s approach at Phoenix, where the West Series is expecting more than 30 entries. A win for Love or any of the title contenders would eliminate the seemingly endless points scenarios that will depend upon where others finish.

Love has a one-point lead over Pedroncelli in second place. Drew is three points back from the lead and just two points behind Pedroncelli. Joey Iest ranks fourth in the standings, just five points back from the lead, and Cole Moore is one point behind Iest in fifth.

Behind the top five, Trevor Huddleston (15 points back from the lead) and Todd Souza (26 points back) are still contenders for the championship given the expected car count at Phoenix.

This kind of parity entering the finale perfectly represents what has been a competitive West Series season. Eight races have produced six different winners. Fourteen different drivers have led laps.

On the subject of laps led, perhaps the most telling stat for the year is the one lap Pedroncelli led Saturday night. It was his first lap led in his 21-race West Series career.

And, again, he is just one point away from a potential championship.

Notes

  • Pedroncelli at All American became the 197th different winner in West Series history.
  • Pedroncelli may have only one win, but he has the best average finish this season (6.25) among drivers who have competed in all eight West Series races.
  • Iest with his second-place run at All American extended his streak of top-five finishes in the West Series to six races, a run that began with his third-place effort at California’s Irwindale Speedway. The streak includes his first win, which he earned at Colorado National Speedway in July.
  • Saturday night’s race at All American featured a season-high 11 cautions for 69 laps, holding the average speed to just 43.294 mph. That’s the slowest winning average speed of any race across the ARCA Menards Series platform in 2021.