TOLEDO, Ohio — Appropriately, the final race of the 2023 ARCA Menards Series season was decided between Jesse Love and William Sawalich.
The respective ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East champions have engaged in numerous aggressive battles whenever they’ve share the track together this year. One last chapter in their rivalry was written in Saturday’s Shore Lunch 200 presented by CGS Imaging at Toledo Speedway.
Sawalich got the last laugh on Love with a late-race pass, which earned him his fourth victory during his rookie ARCA Menards Series season and sixth on the platform overall. With Love unable to run him back down, the only obstacle Sawalich had to deal with was navigating lapped traffic.
“I was calm, cool and collected,” Sawalich said. “That was the best thing I could have done in that situation, and we navigated it well. The race car was on rails and we had a really good SoundGear Toyota Camry today.”
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) October 7, 2023
There was no love lost between Sawalich and Love during their many on-track encounters in 2023.
Berlin Raceway served as the catalyst for their rivalry, as Sawalich chased down a dominant Love before bumping him out of the way with a few couple laps remaining. Sawalich subsequently earned his first main ARCA victory while Love promised to not hold anything back moving forward.
The summer saw Love claim one victory after the other, yet Sawalich remained composed against the most efficient driver on the ARCA platform in 2023. All four of Sawalich’s wins in the main ARCA division came after he passed Love inside the final 50 laps, which included Saturday’s season-finale at Toledo.
Despite coming up short of an 11th victory on the year, Love was far from disappointed as he formally celebrated the 2023 ARCA Menards Series championship with Venturini Motorsports. Love’s consistency enabled him to wrap up the title by starting the penultimate event at Salem Speedway.
For Love, being able to take in such an achievement would not have been possible without the guidance everyone at Venturini provided him since running his first race with the organization back in 2020.
“This means a lot,” Love said. “I was a lot different of a person when I first got to Venturini compared to where I am now. Billy [Venturini] told me that [would happen] when I was kind of sucking a little bit. A lot of great people put me in this situation and I’m looking forward to the future.”
With a stellar season now officially in the record books, Love earned Venturni their fourth ARCA Menards Series owner’s championship and their first since Christian Eckes accomplished that feat during the 2019 season.
Bill Venturini, a two-time ARCA Menards Series champion driver, knew Love was a championship-caliber driver the moment Love joined the team. He wishes Love could remain a part of Venturini Motorsports, but is confident his champion driver will keep thriving in NASCAR’s top levels.
“Jesse is part of the family now,” Bill said. “I told him to never think he wasn’t part of the Big V family. The kid is a talent and a wheel. You’re going to be seeing him race on Sundays pretty soon.”
The only minor negative on such a joyous afternoon for Venturini was not being able to celebrate in Victory Lane, where Sawalich parked the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
High expectations were placed upon Sawalich after two-time East Series champion Sammy Smith moved up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year. Sawalich was thrilled with everything he achieved in his first season with Gibbs and is eager to build upon that success in 2024.
“[I’m most proud about] winning,” Sawalich said. “That’s the first thing we want to do when we get to the race track. We had really good teamwork and there was really good execution all year.”
ARCA Menards Series West points leader Sean Hingorani finished third behind Sawalich and Love. Rounding out the top-five were Andres Perez and Christian Rose.
Although the 2023 ARCA Menards Series season has concluded, there are still three events remaining on the ARCA Menards Series West schedule. The first of those is the Star Nursery 150 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which is scheduled for Oct. 13. The event will be broadcast live by FloRacing at 10 p.m. ET.