Ty Gibbs won Saturday’s Arizona Lottery 100 at Phoenix Raceway, but it became an absolute afterthought. That’s because the ARCA Menards Series West finale had its version of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.
As Gibbs crossed the line to cap off an incredible 2021 racing season, Jesse Love was running at the tail end of the lead lap in 15th. By that point, Jake Drew had a one-point lead in the championship trail. However, as the No. 9 Sunrise Ford crew were celebrating an apparent championship, Love dove down in the bottom of Turn 1 to get by Drew’s teammate Trevor Huddleston for 14th.
That was the title-deciding moment as Drew finished 11th, second best among the seven title contenders entering Phoenix. But the celebration was short lived. The move Love made on Huddleston resulted in a tie with Drew as their final points tally was 438 points.
Similar to Portland in September when a controversial penalty robbed him from a win, Drew faced heartbreak as he lost the tiebreaker on race wins 2-0. Therefore, Drew ended up like Felipe Massa and Scuderia Ferrari at Interlagos, celebrating prematurely before realizing they’ve lost the title fight.
Instead, it was Love who brought Bill McAnally Racing its third straight West title on what was his final race with the team.
The 16-year-old is part of the TRD program but with BMR leaving Toyota for Chevrolet next season, Love won’t make the move. Thus, the Californian took the time to reflect on his two-year tenure with the No. 16 NAPA squad. On top of that, winning in multiple disciplines, including a National ARCA win at Salem for Venturini Motorsports.
“It’s really special. Winning both championships in the seasons that we ran for them means a lot. Winning for Venturini was big too,” said Love. “To win kind of everything I ran this year put the cherry on top. It meant a lot to get it done and wanted to validate my season. After winning (Salem) made my season, but you can definitely say (Phoenix) tops it now.”
For Drew, he’ll take what’s learned from his crazy rookie campaign and become stronger next season.
“I’m super blessed to have an opportunity to fight for the championship and to be that close,” Drew told The Podium Finish.
“When we started this year, I never would’ve thought I could come back at Phoenix and fight for a championship. Well, technically tied. I think how fast I’ve gained experience, we’re looking forward to next year. All of us are. Start fresh. Start all over and be on top of it from the start and not have to chase all year like we did.”
Heartbreak aside, Drew’s run showcased again that Sunrise Ford have honed their craft at Phoenix when comparing the rest of the West competition.
“The car was good. It’s always a learning curve for me coming to Phoenix,” said Drew. “This is my second time here now and it’s the only big track experience we get on the West Series. It’s a little bit tougher for us, but we fight through. Everybody at Surnise Ford does an incredible job to give us a good car and fight like we do.”
After nine intense rounds, the championship trail was over. Six men left in disappointment. One will leave Arizona accomplishing the ultimate goal of becoming a champion out West.
For Love, maturity was 100 percent factor on what got him a second championship. More so after learning a lot from the shortcomings ranging from losing out to Stephen Nasse on the final night of this year’s World Series of Asphalt to even when Love got turned by Drew at Roseville last month.
“There’s a lot of ways for a driver to get spun out mentally,” said Love. “We have a lot of those situations happened throughout the year, especially at Phoenix. We had to keep a leveled head and definitely wanted to get the championship.”
Top 10 Results: Gibbs, Taylor Gray, S. Smith, Sanchez, Bergeron, Garcia, Dollar, Caruth, Trotter and Moore
Title Contenders Results: Moore (10th), Drew (11th), Love (14th – champion), Huddleston (15th), Souza (16th), Iest (17th), PJ Pedroncelli (18th)