It may not have been the customary dominating win much like his others in the 2023 season, but for Jesse Love the victory was sweet at Watkins Glen International on Friday night. With darkness falling and the added curveball of mist turning in to a steadier rain coming down, Love used a late-race caution and the front bumper to secure his eighth victory in the ARCA Menards Series this season.
Love started what once felt to be a distant fourth behind pole sitter and NASCAR Cup Series regular Corey LaJoie, who opted to join the series for seat time ahead of Sunday’s Cup Series event. It was LaJoie who jumped out to an early lead, utilizing a start slightly delayed by rain to propel his number 63 Chevrolet to a four-plus second lead over the rest of the field in the opening ten laps. Caution number one of three flew at lap 10. Parker Retzlaff encountered mechanical issues, causing his car to come to a rest at the top on The Esses. With the field bunched up, Connor Zilisch was able to move around LaJoie and secure the lead. LaJoie would retire from the race with brake trouble shortly after the halfway mark at lap 22.
Zilisch, in his ARCA debut, drove away from the field, however he also would encounter trouble. Traveling over The Glen’s famous red and yellow rumble strips in The Bus Stop, Zilisch would break what appeared to be his front sway bar. The issue only could be seen on left turning corners where the car’s weight shifted to the right side of the vehicle. With only five laps remaining, the sway bar became the least of Zilisch’s problems. Jack Wood spun and knocked down the Armco barriers on the inside of turn one.
With the caution out a split strategy played throughout the field as the rain fell. All but three drivers chose to pit for wet weather tires. Kris Wright and Stanton Barrett led the field back for a one lap shootout. Zilisch was able to split the drivers who remained out on slick tires. In hot pursuit were Brent Crews and Love. Love was able to pass Crews, his teammate at Venturini Racing and set his sights on Zilisch. Love drove hard into the left turn six, where Zilisch gave up ground with his sway bar issues. In turn seven, coming back on to the front stretch, Love used his front bumper to send Zilisch up track and cruise to the victory.
Following behind Love and Zilisch was Crews, also making his ARCA debut. William Sawalich placed fourth with Dale Quarterley from Ballston Spa rounding out the top five. The ARCA Menards Series will shift to the dirt at the Springfield Mile in Illinois on Sunday. Next up at The Glen is the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. You can find the action on USA Network and MRN Radio.
Paul is a producer responsible for production of podcasts and streamed content on our network. This includes Finger Lakes Today, FingerLakes1.com’s flagship daily live program. He hosts the Concrete Jungle podcast, too. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].