ELKO NEW MARKET, Minn. — Based on the amount of laps Jesse Love led Saturday night at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway, one might assume the Venturini Motorsports driver dominated the Menards 250 en route to his fourth ARCA Menards Series victory in five races.
William Sawalich might suggest otherwise.
Love, the 18-year-old from Menlo Park, California, emerged victorious from a hard-fought battle against his rival from Joe Gibbs Racing. The tussle began in the opening laps after Love took the lead from Sawalich, the General Tire Pole Award winner.
It ended on a restart with 100 laps to go in the 250-lap event. Restarting on the inside, Love’s No. 20 JBL Toyota slammed into Sawalich’s Starkey-Sound Gear Toyota for the lead. Love’s VMS teammate Sean Hingorani put this finishing touches on the JGR car when he bumped Sawalich into a spin.
Despite Sawalich’s best efforts to climb back to the front over the final third of the race, he ran out of laps and settled for a second-place finish.
All of this, of course, occurred one week after Sawalich ran down, bumped and passed Love to win on the final lap at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway.
Well, that escalated.@VenturiniMotor drivers @jesselovejr1 and @seanhingorani both make contact with @WilliamSawalich before the @JoeGibbsRacing driver spins 😶#Menards250 | @FloRacing pic.twitter.com/AVVYXQbSVY
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) June 25, 2023
Love after the race was asked whether he and Sawalich raced clean Saturday night on the 0.375-mile bullring.
“On [Sawalich’s] terms, yeah. I’d like to say so,” Love said. “At the end of the day, that’s just good old short-track racing, I guess. I can do that. It was fun. I had a lot of fun tonight.”
Sawalich, a Minnesota native who grew up racing other divisions at Elko, admitted his first ARCA Menards Series start at his home track was “a lot” to take in.
“I felt like it was almost two against one,” Sawalich said of his battles with Love and Hingorani. “But I held my own. Didn’t really feel like I raced too dirty. They got me a couple times, which I felt like they would get me back from Berlin. I don’t know why [Hingorani] would get me back; it’s not really his deal. It’s between me and [Love].”
Sawalich throughout the Menards 250 proved he had one of the fastest cars on track, if not the best. He set the best lap time of the race at 14.577 seconds to prove as much.
Love, though, had the track position from the jump and the benefit of coming out on top of the continuous contact between himself and the No. 18.
He also benefited from the aid of an astute team effort.
“We unloaded today, and you know when you’re getting beat, and we were getting beat pretty bad,” Love said. “[Crew chief] Shannon [Rursch] just went to work. Fixed center first, then first race break we fixed the entry, and the next break we fixed the exit. I mean you can’t pay a guy enough to do that.
“Hats off to him.”
A couple of Love’s Venturini teammates, Hingorani and Conner Jones, finished third and fourth, respectively. Rev Racing driver Andres Perez de Lara rounded out the top five.
Davey Callihan finished sixth ahead of Tony Cosentino in seventh, Willie Mullins in eighth, Toni Breidinger in ninth and Christian Rose in 10th.
Frankie Muniz, the actor-turned-ARCA Menards Series driver who entered the Menards 250 second in championship points, finished 16th after a hard crash in the closing stages of the race. The rookie got turned and slammed into the wall. He was able to climb out of his car.
After its pair of short-track shows at Berlin and Elko, the ARCA Menards Series gets a week off before returning to action on a road course.
The Zinsser SmartCoat 150 will take place on Friday, July 7 at the famed Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.
That race is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. ET with live coverage on FS1 and FloRacing. A radio broadcast will also be available on MRN / Sirius XM.