LAS VEGAS, Nev. – After a classic short track battle at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Jake Drew collects enough points to clinch the 2022 ARCA Menards Series West championship.
“It feels pretty amazing. I can’t believe it,” Drew smiled after discovering the final point tally.
Last year was a heartbreak, finishing second to a tie in the championship battle to Jesse Love. This year was more than redemption. Drew has already collected four victories, including three in a row, along with four poles and only one finish outside of the top five which came in Friday’s Star Nursery 150. Despite his worst finish of the year, Drew was more elated than anything else.
“We can all remember the nightmare of last year,” continued Drew. “So to clinch it up a whole entire race early, I think that shows how strong we’ve been all year and how much I’ve been able to progress over the last two years with this program. I can’t believe it. I’ve worked so hard. My team worked so hard. I’ve learned so much, and I’m so thankful for this whole opportunity to be able to do this and show just how strong Sunrise Racing can be.”
And that nightmare was simply looking back throughout the entire nine race 2021 schedule. One more position at any race or a flip of the script at Portland International Raceway from a post-race penalty changes the entire scenario for the California native. As drivers say though, when facing adversity or struggles out of your control, it’s simply best to move on. That is easier said than done, especially as a standout rookie competing for wins and the title.
However, Drew knew that 2022 would be a new year, a new chapter and a new drive for his trophy hunting.
“I just knew in the back of my head all year last year that things were going to change,” Drew reflected. “Every race last year, I felt like my experience level was increasing so rapidly. I was learning so much. By the second half of the season, we were clicking them off. We were always in the hunt. Maybe the finishes weren’t there because of circumstances, but we always showed up with a chance to win that night. I think everybody knew that, everybody noticed that, and to just come back this year and prove that again, I don’t even know what to say.”
It has been a growing year for the sophomore Sunrise Racing driver. Coming in as an unknown to being a title contender in both years has started to put him on the radar. While his plans for next year are still unannounced, he still plans to stick with what he loves.
“I think my biggest thing coming into the car stuff – I obviously had quite a bit of racing experience but not so much in a car – it was beneficial for me to learn about the cars and learn about the setup and what kind of changes to make and how that affects the car. Not just what it’s supposed to do,” he explained his maturity within the ARCA Series garage. “Bill has done an amazing job to explain that to me all year long. We’ve had amazing conversations and learned so much about the cars myself. I think that plays a huge role. Bill’s been a great coach to me as well. He’s been my spotter as well as my crew chief, so it’s just been all around awesome experience working with him and this team.”
As for the race, nature took its course at the three-eighth’s mile oval with two red flags and multiple restarts in the closing laps. Drew was caught in the middle of the chaos after contact from Joey Iest sent his No. 6 Sunrise Ford sliding wide through Turn 4. Skillfully keeping the car off the wall, Drew was able to continue until heavy contact with another competitor while driving through the field sent the front grill cover askew.
The caution flew a few laps later, and ARCA officials ordered his team to make repairs before they could continue. That worked in his favor as laps under yellow did not count, and the California based team was able to make repairs and get him back out on the lead lap.
“I think we had a pretty balanced car, maybe almost too balanced,” Drew shared the race from his perspective. “It just seemed like no matter how old or how new the tires were, we were running the same pace. I had a feeling toward the middle part of that race, we’d start coming back. I don’t think I had enough to get up there and battle for the win, but definitely was good enough to run third. We were just about there and things kinda hit the fan. But my whole team sticks together. I just kept my head straight and kept digging. We found ourselves all the way in the back after having to remove a part off the car. I thought for sure we would have to go to Phoenix to finish this thing off, but luckily we were able to storm through the field and crack back into the top 10 to seal this thing off.
“It was wild all the way through. We had tons of close calls the last 20 laps. I’m so glad Bill was able to guide me through that.”
With less than 40 laps to go, Drew had a challenge ahead of him to clinch early. With a few more yellows and title contender Cole Moore involved in a late wreck, the checkered flag flew with Drew sealing the title that just last year slipped through his fingers.
“Hopefully we can go to Phoenix and do a little proper celebration since I don’t think many people noticed right now,” he exclaimed while crew members walking through the garage congratulated his success. “But that’s okay, that’s cool. I know and that’s all that matters. Just incredible. I’m so thankful to this whole team, to Bob, to Maureen, to Bill. We’ve learned so much this year and grown so much, and he’s taught me a ton. It’s been a pleasure working with him in the shop with Dennis and Mike, working on these cars. I’m so thankful for everything right now.”
While 2023 plans have yet to be announced, Drew still plans to be involved. Where is unknown, but for now, the season finale at Phoenix Raceway is set to be fun and aggressive.
“We’re gonna see the same old Jake Drew, just without the worry of messing up a championship and see how good we can do against those east and national boys.”