Controversy defined Saturday’s Portland 112 as the ARCA Menards Series West visited Portland for the first time since 2012.
A race that appeared to be pole sitter Jake Drew’s victory until officials declared he cut the Shelton Chicane. Instead of a Sunrise Ford triumph, it was DGR’s Taylor Gray who scored the victory.
Following a caution for separate spins by Bobby Hillis, Jr. and Bridget Burgess, it came down to a one-lap shootout. Incidents followed in the chicane that had a series of accidents all afternoon. Drew along with Eric Nascimento, who crossed the line in second, and Rodd Kneeland missed the chicane were all penalized.
As a result, Drew went from celebrating to absolute heartbreak as he’ll have to wait another race for that triumph.
Taylor Gray’s 2021 Season
The 16-year-old racer has had a tumultuous year with fines, controversial driving, and an off-road accident. Due to the latter, Gray had to miss races in both ARCA and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Even during the race, Gray was turned around by Drew in the chicane early in the race. Resulting Gray being stranded until a tow truck pushed him to re-fire his Ford powered entry. From there, Gray worked his way back to the front and while controversial, the win stands.
After a grueling 58-lap race, pain was still there for Gray. Whether it’s driving or even getting out of his car to celebrate. However, winning was all that mattered. More so that it’s the young racer’s biggest win of his career.
“It’s really big honestly. Probably the biggest of my career. I came back from so much in such a short amount of time,” said Gray. “I can’t thank everybody enough. All my physical therapy people back home to get me right every day.
“I kind of had a flare up from my car accident with my ankle. Kind of battled that, but I can’t thank everyone enough. I’m getting back to work on Monday and head to Bristol.”
Once all penalties were issued, finishing behind Gray were PJ Pedroncelli, Jesse Love, Joey Iest and Takuma Koga.
The latter had a wild afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. Not only his No. 7 Toyota launched on top of Drew’s right rear, but he ended up fifth. Such result equaled his best West finish of fifth at Orange Show back in 2017.
Momentum for Pedroncelli
PJ Pedroncelli scored his best career finish in ARCA West. While momentum is there for the driver of the No. 33, there was still some frustration. That’s because Pedroncelli dealt with penalties and incidents.
“We struggled all day with penalties and overshooting the turn on the first start. We came back and we were flying,” said Pedroncelli. “Cut down a right rear, so we managed to the end. Somehow, we got second out of it. We’ll take it but frustrated being so fast and getting taken away from us like that.”
There were some positive gains for the Sonoma, California racer. As seen with his pace in qualifying that got him a pole at Irwindale Speedway and a second at Portland.
“We got some good speed with our cars. We’re happy and getting good solid finishes. Everything’s good and we’ll keep plugging away, trying to get back up in the points.”
A Step Closer to Title No. 2
Rounding out the top-three was defending ARCA West champion Jesse Love. Like many competitors, Love had to overcome a penalty for cutting the chicane. That’s despite trying to avoid a wreck, but still had to serve a drive thru.
All in all, it was a rally drive for Love. Perhaps the biggest consequence of Drew’s penalty is that it relegated him to 10th. Therefore, Love extended his points lead on the competition with three races left.
“We got our positions back and did it clean. Put a strong race and it’s all we can do,” said Love. “Had a good restart but had six cars went on a two-car area. It was bound to have cars wreck.
“Wasn’t the best day on the finishing board because we want to win. But Drew had a bad finish. (Cole Moore) also had a bad finish, we’re in a better spot in the points. That’s not what I was expecting with five laps to go. I’m really happy with that.”
The next stop for ARCA West is at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring. It’s scheduled to commence Thursday, September 23. Current national ARCA driver Gracie Trotter won last year’s event.