William Sawalich dominates at Nashville for a redeeming East Series victory

NASHVILLE — The presumption could be made prior to Saturday night’s Music City 150 that William Sawalich was not the driver to beat. He lost the General Tire Pole to rival Gio Ruggiero in qualifying. He entered the third ARCA Menards Series East race of the 2024 season third in points based on his finishes at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway (second) and Dover Motor Speedway (17th).

The defending East Series champion shut down that sentiment emphatically at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

Sawalich led all but the first few laps Saturday at Nashville and cruised to his first East Series win of the season. The victory marked his second on the ARCA platform this year; he also won the ARCA Menards Series / West Series combination race at Phoenix Raceway in March.

RELATED: Complete results from Nashville

Sawalich on Lap 4 took the lead from Ruggiero, the pole-sitter who stumbled to fourth place before a flat left-rear tire sent him spinning into the Turns 1-2 wall. Ruggiero, who entered Saturday as the East Series championship points leader, attempted to get back onto the track despite the damage to his Toyota, but the team eventually pulled the car behind the wall.

That all but sealed Sawalich’s fate as the eventual race winner. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver successfully held off challenges from Connor Zilisch and Isabella Robusto on a handful of restarts over the course of 150 laps.

“It was a really good race; we had a really good Starkey Soundgroup Toyota Camry,” Sawalich said before adding his victory was an early Mother’s Day present. “Just really happy to be here. I love this track.”

Saturday’s win is a redemption story for Sawalich, an All American 400 winner who dominated last year’s East Series race at Nashville race until the final corner, where a caution froze the field just before he could take the checkered flag. On the ensuing restart, Luke Fenhaus utilized a perfect restart to pull ahead of Sawalich and steal the victory.

Nobody had a chance to take the win from Sawalich in 2024, as the final third of the event went clean and green to the finish.

Robusto, who placed sixth in her ARCA platform debut in March at Phoenix Raceway, finished second, tied for the best result for a female driver in East Series history.

Robusto was supposed to make her ARCA debut at Nashville a year ago. That opportunity was foiled by an injury suffered in a Pro Late Model crash at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway; she sat out the rest of the 2023 season recovering from a concussion.

Zilisch finished third Saturday at Nashville a couple weeks after his triumph at Dover.

Zachary Tinkle, who recently was awarded the 2023 General Tire Spirit Award for his off-track endeavors, logged his first career top-five finish in ARCA competition when he came home fourth at Nashville. Andrew Patterson rounded out the top five.

Tyler Scofield, Caleb Costner, Jayson Alexander, Hunter Wright and D.L. Wilson finished sixth through 10th, respectively.

Including the scheduled halfway break, Saturday’s Music City 150 at Nashville featured four cautions. The first flew when Ruggiero slammed the wall on Lap 6. The second came out when Tanner Reif attempted to pit but instead hit the tire barrier entering pit road. The fourth and final yellow flag came out for debris on the backstretch with 61 laps to go.

The East Series will return to action next week, when Michigan’s Flat Rock Speedway will host the Dutch Boy 150 on Saturday, May 18. The 150-lap race on the quarter-mile oval is scheduled to start at 7:50 p.m. ET. FloRacing will provide live coverage.