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ARCA Menards Series West
Cars in action during the NAPA Auto Parts 150 for the ARCA Menards Series West at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, California, on Aug. 21, 2021. (Meg Oliphant/ARCA Racing)

NOTEBOOK: ARCA Menards Series West championship contenders short on experience at Phoenix

Several factors will impact the results of Saturday’s Arizona Lottery 100 and determine who will leave Phoenix Raceway as the 2021 ARCA Menards Series West champion. A car count of 36, for example, will make for a chaotic field the title contenders must navigate.

For those seven championship contenders, though, experience at the one-mile paved tri-oval in Avondale, Arizona, in a West Series car likely will not be a key element.

Arizona Lottery 100: Entry List | Schedule | Preview

Of the seven drivers who are within range of the 2021 title based on the standings — Jesse Love, P.J. Pedroncelli, Jake Drew, Joey Iest, Cole Moore, Trevor Huddleston and Todd Souza — only Souza has more than three West Series starts at Phoenix.

Jesse Love and Todd Souza
Jesse Love (No. 16) and Todd Souza (No. 13) in action during the General Tire 150 for the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series West at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona, on March 12, 2021. (Adam Glanzman/ARCA Racing)

Souza, 56, is the veteran among the championship contenders. The car owner/driver from Aromas, California, racked up eight starts at Phoenix from 2007-19 in what was then the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, picking up a trio of top-10 finishes in that span. He added two ARCA Menards Series West starts with a 17th-place run in last year’s season finale and an eighth-place effort at Phoenix earlier this year. His career best at Phoenix is his seventh-place run in 2007.

Souza likely will need to improve upon that career high Saturday in order to steal the championship. He ranks last among the title contenders, seventh in the standings and 26 points back from the lead.

Even though he has just two West Series starts at Phoenix on his resume (plus one ARCA Menards Series start), Love might be in the best position entering Saturday’s finale. Not only is the 16-year-old Bill McAnally Racing driver the points leader (by one over Pedroncelli), but in March, his sixth-place run at Phoenix made him highest finishing West Series regular in a combination event with the ARCA Menards Series (won by Ty Gibbs).

Love also is not new to this situation. The Menlo Park, California, native entered last season’s West Series finale at Phoenix as the points leader, too. His 14th-place run was enough to seal his status as the youngest (15 years, 9 months, 24 days) NASCAR champion in history.

Of course, Love entered last year’s finale with a 14-point lead in the standings. His one-point edge this year is far less comforting.

That’s thanks to Pedroncelli, the 31-year-old car owner/driver who has become one of the best stories of the West Series season.

RELATED: Points scenarios for championship contenders

P.J. Pedroncelli
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)

A native of Sonoma, California, Pedroncelli never raced at Phoenix when he logged 12 West Series starts from 2008-11 before an almost decade-long hiatus from the platform. His first and only West Series start at Phoenix came earlier this season, when he finished 11th after starting 18th in the combo race with the ARCA Menards Series.

If he improves upon that run, Pedroncelli will have a chance to win the ARCA Menards Series West championship in his first full season.

Drew, the 21-year-old from Fullerton, California, also has just one start at Phoenix, an 18th-place run earlier this year. He sits just three points out of the lead in the standings with four top 10s and seven top fives through his first eight West Series races.

Iest, the 20-year-old from Madera, California, who ranks fourth in points, has two West Series starts at Phoenix; he finished 12th in last year’s finale and 16th earlier this season.

Along with Love, Moore is another Bill McAnally Racing driver looking to make it six championships in the last seven West Series seasons for the organization. A 24-year-old from Granite Bay, California, Moore is another contender who has just one West Series start at Phoenix (12th earlier this season).

Huddleston, who like Drew is hoping to win a championship for Bob Bruncati’s Sunrise Ford Racing operation, has the most West Series experience of the group beyond that of Souza. A 25-year-old from Agoura Hills, California, Huddleston also has been the most consistent at Phoenix among the title contenders.

Huddleston logged top-10 finishes in each of his three West Series starts at Phoenix dating back to 2019: eighth, seventh and 10th.

None of the seven championship contenders in Saturday’s race have a top-five West Series finish at Phoenix.

Should that change, it might just be enough for a title.

Joey Iest, Trevor Huddleston and Jesse Love
Joey Iest, left, Trevor Huddleston, middle, and Jesse Love, right, look on during driver introductions ahead of the NAPA Auto Parts 150 for the ARCA Menards Series West at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, California, on Aug. 21, 2021. (Meg Oliphant/ARCA Racing)

ARCA Menards Series regulars invade field for West Series finale

Unlike the event at Phoenix in March, Saturday’s Arizona Lottery 100 is not an ARCA Menards Series/ARCA Menards Series West combination race; it’s a standalone West Series event.

The entry list does not exactly reflect that fact.

Multiple regulars from the ARCA Menards Series, including the 2021 champion, will join the West Series regulars for their season finale.

Ty Gibbs
Ty Gibbs celebrates winning the ARCA Menards Series championship after the Reese’s 150 at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 23, 2021. (Cassie Florido/ARCA Racing)

Gibbs, who clinched the championship when he took the green flag for the ARCA Menards Series finale at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 23, will look to defend his Phoenix race win in March. The 19-year-old led 124 of 150 laps that night in what was his first of 10 ARCA Menards Series wins in 2021.

Gibbs will have a Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in the field with him Saturday in Sammy Smith, the 2021 ARCA Menards Series East champion.

The third-place finisher in the 2021 ARCA Menards Series standings, Rev Racing’s Nick Sanchez, is entered at Phoenix. He will be joined by teammate Rajah Caruth, who finished third in the East Series standings this season. Both drivers, part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Development Program, are slated to run full ARCA Menards Series schedules for Rev Racing in 2022.

ARCA Menards Series powerhouse team Venturini Motorsports will field four cars at Phoenix with Drew Dollar, Gracie Trotter, Parker Chase and Toni Breidinger as the drivers. It will mark the first standalone West Series start for each in 2021. (Dollar, Trotter and Breidinger competed in the combo event in March.)

Daniel Dye, the GMS Racing driver who recently announced plans to run the full ARCA Menards Series schedule with the team in 2022, will race at Phoenix, too, for his first West Series start.

Taylor Gray, who has a pair of West Series wins in 2021 (Portland International Raceway and The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), will run for David Gilliland Racing at Phoenix. Gray finished the 2021 ARCA Menards Series season with 10 top-10 finishes (eight top fives) in 11 starts.

Taylor Gray
Taylor Gray, driver of the No. 17 Ford Performance Ford, celebrates winning the Star Nursery 150 for the ARCA Menards Series West at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sept. 23, 2021. (Miranda Alam/ARCA Racing)

Debuts at Phoenix

Three drivers will make their ARCA Menards debuts Saturday when they start the Arizona Lottery 100 at Phoenix.

Sebastian Arias, a 23-year-old from Bogota, Columbia, originally was slated to make his series debut at California’s Irwindale Speedway in July, but he withdrew from the race.

At Phoenix, Arias is entered in the No. 19 Rubbermaid Commercial Products/Brady IFS Toyota as Bill McAnally Racing’s third car along with title contenders Love and Moore.

Jake Garcia, a 16-year-old from Monroe, Georgia, will make his ARCA Menards debut at Phoenix driving the No. 45 DGR Ford for, yes, DGR.

Garcia has spent the last three seasons racing Pro and Super Late Models across the southeast. In 2019, he earned two wins and captured the Allen Turner Pro Late Model track championship at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway. In his first attempt at the Snowball Derby that year, he finished second to become the youngest driver to earn a Snowball Derby podium.

The third driver making his ARCA Menards debut at Phoenix is Ryan Roulette from Minot, North Dakota. A driver with a deep background racing sprint cars, midgets, late models and more, Roulette is also a pilot in the United States Air Force.

He’ll race the No. 77 Jans-Bellator Recruiting-Proper Patriot-Fanvestor Toyota for Joe Nava and P1 Motorsports.

Phoenix Raceway
A general view of the track before the General Tire 150 for the ARCA Menards Series at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona, on March 6, 2020. (Adam Glanzman/ARCA Racing)

And more:

  • Saturday’s Arizona Lottery 100 will mark the 47th time the West Series has competed at Phoenix Raceway dating back to 1977. Cale Yarborough won the first West Series race at Phoenix, his only career West victory.
  • Others whose first West Series wins came at Phoenix include Richard Petty, Neil Bonnett, Rich Woodland Jr., Mike Wallace, Burney Lamar, Andrew Myers, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Gray Gaulding, Cole Custer, Nick Drake, Todd Gilliland and Ty Gibbs.
  • David Gilliland won the West Series finale at Phoenix in 2020, making him and his son Todd the only father and son to both score wins in West Series races at the track.
  • Ty Gibbs, who won the season-long Valvoline Lap Leader awards in both the ARCA Menards Series and the East Series this season, can add the West Series lap leader title Saturday if he leads 59 more laps than Jesse Love, 32 more laps than Taylor Gray and 20 more laps than Dean Thompson.
  • Twenty drivers have scored at least one top-five finish in the West Series in 2021, and 33 drivers have at least one top 10.
  • Cole Moore has completed all but two laps in the West Series this season, the most in the series (1,018 laps).