MARNE, Michigan — For 99 percent of Saturday’s Berlin ARCA 200 at Berlin Raceway, it appeared Jesse Love would become the 18th different driver to win four consecutive races in the ARCA Menards Series.
An almost certain victory for Love evaporated in the final two laps as he struggled to navigate slower traffic, which allowed William Sawalich to muscle Love out of the way coming to the white flag and take his first victory in the headlining ARCA Menards Series division.
Sawalich would have preferred a cleaner route around Love for the win, but he was more than happy to celebrate in Victory Lane with his Joe Gibbs Racing crew after fighting all evening just to keep Love within his line of sight.
“[The pass] was a little bit more dirty than I wanted it [to be], but it’s the last lap,” Sawalich said. “I’ve had that happen to me before and [Love] totally had a lap to get me back. I didn’t think we’d be able to get him, but lapped cars helped for sure.”
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Sawalich faced many of the same frustrations his fellow ARCA competitors had endured during the last few races while trying to chase Love down for the win.
After enduring two rough races to start the 2023 season, Love and Venturini Motorsports broke through for their first victory of the year at Talladega Superspeedway, which they followed with two more convincing victories at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
A time of 16.447 seconds in qualifying gave Love the advantage he needed to set his own pace at Berlin from the opening lap. He faced little opposition from Sawalich and the rest of the field, which put him in an ideal position to keep his win streak going for another week.
Love was admittedly surprised when he saw Sawalich so close in his rearview mirror in the closing stages despite getting briefly held up by the slower car of Jon Garrett. He believed his car was still strong enough to hold the lead, but felt he did not get a fair chance with Sawalich moving him.
Although he heard Sawalich’s apology in Victory Lane, Love does not intend to forget his maneuver any time soon.
“I’m glad there’s some accountability, but I’ve been raced dirty by the No. 18 in a lot of different races throughout my whole ARCA career,” Love said. “I thought I had a ten-car length gap and was just trying to keep the nose on it while not doing anything stupid with the lapped cars. Then all of a sudden, I’m ass-packed and lifted up into [Turn] 3.
“I’ve got to set an example for kids who come in and run people over, so [Joe Gibbs Racing] is going to be building a lot of race cars.”
Love’s frustration with Sawalich and Joe Gibbs Racing stems from a similar incident in last year’s ARCA finale at Toledo Speedway. While battling Grant Enfinger for the race lead, Love was moved by Sammy Smith in the No. 18 for the win, which prompted a heated reaction from Love after the race.
With his win streak now over, Love plans to regroup with his Venturini Motorsports team ahead of a quick turnaround for next week’s event at Elko Speedway.
“I’m really proud of our team and we didn’t deserve to go out like that,” Love said. “We’ll set an example, but there were some things I could have done better as well to not put us in that position.”
While Love was left frustrated over how the ARCA 200 at Berlin ended, Sawalich cherished his third overall victory on the ARCA platform in 2023 after previously earning two ARCA Menards Series East triumphs at Five Flags Speedway and Flat Rock Speedway.
Despite the elation over his victory, Sawalich is already turning his attention towards next weekend’s race at Elko Speedway, where he knows Love will be eager to avenge his defeat from Saturday evening.
“[This win] is very cool and very special,” Sawalich said. “We’re going to enjoy this one until Elko.”
Love held on for second behind Sawalich, with Sean Hingorani, Andres Perez de Lara and Toni Breidinger rounding out the top-five finishers.
The ARCA Menards Series will be back in action next Saturday at Elko Speedway for the running of the Menards 250, which will go green at 9 p.m. ET. FS2 will have live coverage, with the race also being streamed live on FloRacing.