ARCA Menards West Series – Irwindale race preview

By Vincent Delforge, special to

This Saturday, March 26, it is on the Irwindale Speedway in the eponymous city in California that we find the drivers of the ARCA Menards West Series for the NAPA AUTO PARTS 150 PRESENTED BY WEST COAST STOCK CAR HALL OF FAME. This is the second of 11 races for the 2022 season. 

It’s the first of 10 stand-alone races for the West following the opening race in Phoenix. That was combined with the ARCA National Series and won by East Series driver Taylor Gray for David Gilliland Racing. They will not be present in California. 

It will be the 995th race since the inception of the series in 1954 and the 31st on the half-mile of Irwindale where we come since 1999. A real institution in the landscape of the West Series. 

Last year Jesse Love won both races held here. With his victory in 2020, he has won the last three races consecutively. It was not the first time in history that a driver had won three races in a row at this track. Brendan Gaughan, Jason Bowles and Todd Gilliland being the other three pilots to have done so. Austin Cameron with five wins is the all-time winningest driver at Irwindale. 

Irwindale is also what I call the “private garden” of Bill McAnally Racing. The Roseville CA-based team having won 16 of 30 races to date as well as the prestigious All-Star Showdown in 2003. Among the remaining teams again in activity that have already won races here are Bruncati Racing (4) and Performance P -1 Motorsports (1). 

All this takes place on the one and only day of Saturday, March 26. The unique practice/qualifying session will last an hour and a half from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. PT. The start of the 150-lap race will be given at 7:00 p.m. PT. The race will be split into two segments with a midway break at or near the conclusion of Lap 75.

Tire management will be key to success as they will be limited in number. The pit stop rule being: No adding or moving tires to or from pit box after race has started. All cars will be required to make at least one pit stop prior to last 10 lapses of race. The maximum tire use at track for the event is 10. Per ARCA Rulebook, maximum number of tires allowed in pit box for use in race is four (4) – two for break and two for emergency. 

With 22 places available for the race, this will not be a problem for the drivers since there are 18 in the entry list. 

The drivers  

No. 4 Sebastian Arias (Nascimento Racing)   

Our young Colombian friend knows the Irwindale Speedway having driven there last year with BMR. He had not taken the start of the race following an accident during the practice/qualifying session when he had made the 14th time out of the 20 pilots. Which was good for his first time with a West Series car. Things are now in place with his new team and we should finally see the true potential of Arias. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
2   0   0   0   0   25th   0 start, best result : DNS  

 No. 6 Jake Drew (Bruncati Racing)  

Drew and his team took part in the pre-season practices here in Irwindale. And everything had gone well. Last year when he was a rookie, he obtained two top-fives both respectively in the fourth and second position.

Best of the West’s regular drivers in Phoenix where he obtained a fifth position, he will start the race as the virtual leader of the championship. It’s a position he intends to keep by winning his first career victory. His collaboration with the legend Bill Sedgwick already seems to be a success. Segwick who already has three victories as crew chief in Irwindale. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
10  0   5   8   3   2nd (2x)   2 starts, best result : 2nd   

 No. 7 Takuma Koga (Jerry Pitts Racing)  

With hindsight, we can consider the Phoenix race as a disappointment for Koga and his team. They were expecting more especially after showing that they had good speed in Arizona last year. But focus now on the Californian short track.

Jerry Pitts took Greg Pursley to Victory Lane in 2011. Koga has already done 12 races here and had two top-10 finishes. Last year he was the collateral victim of an accident during the July race before obtaining eighth position in August. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
91   0   2   15   0   5th (2x)   12 starts, best result : 8th   

 No. 08 Stafford Smith (John Wood-Holleran Performance)  

It’s the return of Stafford Smith. He will make a partial season with the team led by John Wood and Mike Holleran The team for which he has always driven in the West Series since his debut in 2016. In addition to Irwindale, we will find him in Bakersfield then at the end of the season in Roseville and Las Vegas.

Last year he had worked miracles by obtaining two top 10s in three races with, it must be said, a car that is not as efficient as the BMR or Bruncati. He has already done two races at Irwindale in 2017 with a 14th position as his best result.

Technician for Michael Andretti’s team in Indycar, he could be part of the F1 adventure if Andretti obtains permission to start there in 2025. In the meantime Stafford is taking advantage of the weekends off with Andretti to have fun in the West Series. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale  
24  0   0   6   0   6th   2 starts, best result: 14th 

 No. 9 Tanner Reif (Bruncati Racing)  

Irwindale, Tanner Reif, 16 years old, he knows well with many races in SRL Spears Pro Late Model for example. Bob Bruncati’s team also tested there during the off-season. In short Tanner is ready and will be keen to put himself forward. Goal top-five! 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale  
1   0   0   0   0   16th   N/A 

 No. 11 Chris Lowden (Lowden Motorsports)  

After using number 21 in Phoenix, Lowden sports No. 11 here and it will be that way for the rest of the season. This is his first start in Irwindale. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale  
2   0   0   0   0   15th   N/A 

 No. 12 Kyle Keller (Kyle Keller Racing)  

Accident in Phoenix, Keller will have to find the way to the top 10 to start his season. Like Lowden, he too changes his number for the rest of the season. After the No. 70 at Phoenix, here the Chevrolet sporting the No. 12. It’s his first race in West on this short track. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
4   0   2   3   0   4th   N/A 

 No. 13 Todd Souza (Central Coast Racing)  

He didn’t have a smooth run in Phoenix to say the least. Last year during the first race at Irwindale Souza had seen his car being run over by Johnny Borneman, III when crossing the finish line. This year Borneman is not there. He hopes to improve on his best career result obtained in Irwindale, namely a seventh position. Something he has done in the last three races here! 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
98  1   14   51   0   1st (1x)   10 starts, best result : 7th (3x) 

 No. 16 Austin Herzog (Bill McAnally Racing)  

Phoenix served as a rehearsal for Herzog. The young Californian intends to honor his No. 16. Indeed last year Jesse Love won both races here, taking him to the title of champion. Charlie Wilson, his crew chief, having already known victory with Scott Lynch, but that already dates back to 2003. At the time Austin was not even yet a year old! 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
2   0   0   1   0   8th   N/A 

 No. 31 Paul Pedroncelli (P.J. Pedroncelli Racing)  

After fulfilling his mission in Phoenix, secured some owner points for his No. 31 while doing a careful start and park. The “old” Pedroncelli should have the opportunity to do the entire race. Because last year, without forcing it, he finished at the door of the top-10 in 11th position. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
9   0   0   1   0   8th   2 starts, best result : 11th  

 No. 33 P.J. Pedroncelli (P.J. Pedroncelli Racing)   

Phoenix is a race to forget for P.J. who rightfully claims better. Last year he experienced his only retirement here in July following engine failure. With hindsight the few points lost during this race cost him the championship. In the August race, he secured his first career pole before finishing third.

Remember that it was here in 2008 that P.J. had his first West career race. Ty Joiner, his crew chief has 17 career victories but curiously none at Irwindale. Together they really want to bring the trophies home this year. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale  
23   1   4   6   1   1st (1x)   3 starts, best result : 3rd  

 No. 39 Andrew Tuttle (Last Chance Racing)  

Complicated start for LCR in Phoenix. But the team is now ready and it is on this type of oval that we should see them more to their advantage. Tuttle will be among many drivers making their Irwindale debut 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
15th (2x)  N/A 

 No. 50 Trevor Huddleston (High Point Racing)   

One last incredible race finish in Phoenix during the 2021 final and then Trevor had “disappeared” from radar. He returns with the family team, leads by his father Tim, on his hometrack. For the occasion he will have a number that he has used a lot in the past. It’s No. 50. On a personal note, it was with this number when he was racing here in Irwindale in the S-2 Sportman Series that I discovered this driver, then only 15 years old. Moreover, this will be the 50th career race for Huddleston.

He will have an excellent car since last year in partnership with Bruncati Racing, HPR had allowed Dean Thompson to obtain pole position before seeing him finish 2nd behind Jesse Love after having led 144 of the 150 laps. Regarding Huddleston, he has always been successful at Irwindale with five top 10s in five races. It was here that he obtained his first victory in 2019. His crew chief will also be Travis Thirkettle, who held this role last year with Thompson. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
 49  2    18  41   0   1st (2x)  5 starts, best result : 1st 

 No. 54 Joey Iest (Naake-Klauer Motorsports)   

Last year Iest did wonders, getting the third and fourth positions respectively here. Only Jesse Love (twice first) and Jake Drew (4th and 2nd) having obtained a better average over the two Irwindale races. But since Iest has turned a step and has become one of the most consistent riders in the top-five. He will be a candidate for victory, no doubt about it. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
14   1   6   6   0   1st (1x)   2 starts, best result :3rd  

 No. 77 Nick Joanides (Performance P-1 Motorsports)  

Budget problem in Phoenix having forced Joe Nava to stay at home with his team. The situation is again complicated for Irwindale. PP-1M is on the entry list but if the budget is not completed by March 26, it will again be a withdraw. Nick Joanides is currently registered as a driver but if another driver provides additional funding, he will take the wheel of the No. 77. Last year Joanides finished ninth here in his only race of the season. The only top10 of the team in 2021. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale  
13   0   1   4   0   4th (1x)   3 starts, best result : 9th  

 No. 86 Tim Spurgeon (David Racing with Nascimento)  

After the Phoenix one-mile, it’s again a first time for Spurgeon in Irwindale. A first career race on a paved short track. So it will be a race to gain experience. Its crew chief Mike David, 2007 West Series champion, has never won here despite 12 career starts. But he still got four top-fives and eight top-10s. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
16   0   0   2   0   6th   N/A 

 No. 88 Bridget Burgess (BMI Racing)   

New chassis for Burgess here in Irwindale. This is the one purchased from Levin Racing during the off-season. Bridget has been experiencing various mechanical problems for several races. A top-10 would be good for the morale of the team. She’s capable of it. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
21   0   0   5   0   7th    3 starts, best result : 12th 

No. 99 Cole Moore (Bill McAnally Racing)   

Only satisfaction for Moore in Phoenix, he finished ahead of his new teammate Herzog. But the driver from Granite Bay, CA, wants more. At 25, he must win the championship if he wants to continue his career in a national division of NASCAR. Respectively fifth and sixth last year in Irwindale, he had absolutely not been able to play for victory. 2022 is an important year. He knows it and intends to win his first career victory this Saturday. 

Starts   Wins   Top5   Top10   Pole   Best result   At Irwindale 
18   0   4   10   0   4th (2x)   2 starts, best result : 5th  

The absents 

Several drivers are finally not present in Irwindale. 

-Bobby Hillis, Jr. who won’t be racing short-track this year and has listed his neon yellow Chevrolet for sale. 

-Eric Rhead who has to solve the brake problems which caused his accident in Phoenix during the qualifying session. The deadline being too short for the small team to make the necessary modifications. But He will be back in Bakersfield for the third race of the season. 

-Ryan Roulette won’t be behind the wheel of LCR’s second car, the No. 85, like in Phoenix. However, a last minute commitment is possible for the team if another pilot brings the budget. The car is in the hauler. 

-But the biggest surprise, and therefore disappointment, is the absence of Johnny Borneman, III. The Californian driver has not missed the last races on his favorite short track. With 23 career starts including 6 top-fives and 13 top-10s, he always had his say and animated the races here. 

Final notes 

-Who will be the 198th winner in the history of the West Series? The 197th being P.J. Pedroncelli in Roseville last year. 

-Who will be the 17th different winner in Irwindale history? 

-Which of Drew or Reif will be the 13th different winner, the lucky 13, for Bruncati Racing and will win the team’s 37th victory, the fifth at Irwindale? 

-Which of Herzog or Moore will be the 24th different winner for Bill McAnally Racing and will win the team’s 99th victory (100th if you include the 2003 All-Star Showdown), the 17th at Irwindale? 

To all these questions and many more, we will have the answers this Saturday. 

Featured Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of ARCA Menards Series via Vincent Delforge.

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