ARCA Menards Series West: 2024 Phoenix Race Review

By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires.

The 2024 ARCA Menards West Series season began March 8 at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, AZ with the General Tire 150, a combination race with the ARCA National Series. And like at Daytona Int’l Speedway last month, the year 2024 seems to be a big year for ARCA. The entry list included 43 drivers for 40 positions on the starting grid. In addition to the West Series drivers, there were the full-time National Series drivers as well as many drivers who will make the ARCA East Series whose season will soon begin in Pensacola, FL on March 23.

For all the information on the drivers, teams, etc. of this first race of the season at Phoenix I invite you to read or reread the race preview article available here:


William Sawalich, the last winner here in the West Series in Phoenix in November 2023, immediately marks his territory by being the fastest from his first run and by far ahead of his opponents. He will not be able to improve his time while the beginner Giovanni Ruggiero or the 2023 champion Sean Hingorani will significantly reduce their deficit at the end of the only practice session. A practice where there were 16 drivers out of 43 who discovered Phoenix.

William sawalich won a rain-shortened arca menards series west season opener at phoenix raceway.
Takuma Koga. (Photo by Diego Alvarado via Vincent Delforge)

The session was disrupted by two cautions. The first with David Smith’s crash at Turn 3, which will force him to take his backup car for the race. The second was a spin in Turn 4 from Brad Smith who did not hit the wall. In fact his goal was to be present to score a minimum of points in the owner standings. To do this, REV Racing provided him with one of their Chevrolets. We will note the great domination of the Toyota Camry which occupy the first six positions.

Fifteen minutes after the end of practice, the qualifying session began. Unsurprisingly Sawalich and his Toyota prepared by Joe Gibbs Racing took pole position. Hingorani with his new team Hattori Racing Enterprises taking second position. Ruggiero is the best of the newcomers in third position ahead of Mexican Andres Perez de Lara. The third row is made up of Grant Enfinger and Isabella Rosbusto.

The two Smiths, David and Brad, did not take part in the session. The first 32 qualified on times. The rest of the starting grid is made up of eight drivers benefiting from provisional places. Four for the National Series and four for the West Series. Brad Smith, Cody Dennison and Garrett Zacharias failed to qualify.

Let the Season Begin!

As soon as the green flag was waved, Sawalich retained his property but we felt that he would have a lot to do with Ruggiero. Behind, the first turn goes badly for Smith, Michael Mapples and the rookies Cody Kiemele and Danica Dart. For these last two, the race ended there.

At the restart on the 10th lap Sawalich directly managed to put some distance with Ruggiero. Then Fast Track Racing drivers Brad Perez and Brayton Laster do their start and park. But at the end of the 19th lap Sawalich made a mistake by overtaking the latecomer Ryan Roulette. Contact between the two drivers allowed Ruggiero takes the opportunity to dive inside the dog leg and takes command of the race. Behind the positions change almost every lap.

Bobby Hillis, Jr suffered brake failure on the 27th lap. Shortly after, Joe Farrè gave up due to electrical problems. Joe Aramendia, Johnny Borneman III will also enter the garages and never come out again during this long green flag of 50 laps.

Disastrous Start to the Season for David Smith

William sawalich won a rain-shortened arca menards series west season opener at phoenix raceway.
(Photo by Diego Alvarado via Vincent Delforge)

The second yellow flag came on lap 60 when David Smith dropped to the inside line just in front of Eric Johnson, Jr. who was passing him once again. Johnson, Jr. is surprised and hits the No. 05 Toyota. Smith slides and hits the wall on Turn 3. Unfortunately for him Jake Bollman has nowhere to go and crashes into the back of the car of the Canadian driver. Both drivers had to retire. For Smith, driver/owner, the start of the season turned into a nightmare with two broken cars in one day.

At the restart on lap 69 Sawalich, side-by-side with Ruggiero regains first position against the latter with a superb overtake on the outside line. But the green flag barely lasted more than one lap before Greg Van Alst, then 13th, spun in Turn 2. By a miracle all the drivers managed to avoid it! This benefits Tanner Reif who receives the free pass.

Contrary to its usual habits, the race direction did not take advantage of this third yellow flag arriving almost halfway through the race to make its midway break. And restarts the furious pack for a lap before waving the yellow flag for the five-minute break. This suits Amber Balcaen since she obtains the free pass.

The mid-race standings are as follows: Sawalich leads Ruggiero, Enfinger, Robusto, Hingorani, Andres Perez de Lara, Tyler Reif, Kris Wright, Toni Breidinger and Connor Mosack for the top-10. Lavar Scott, Jack Wood, Christian Rose, Van Alst, Tanner Reif and Balcaen, 16th, were the other drivers on the leader’s lap. Todd Souza, Kyle Keller, Trevor Huddleston, Takuma Koga, Johnson, Jr., Isaac Johnson, Marco Andretti and Robbie Kennealy, 24th, being one lap away. Caleb Costner (-2), Nick Joanides (-2), Andy Jankowiak (-3), Roulette (-7), Mapples (-7) being the last drivers still on the track. Alex Clubb, 30th, retired shortly before the break due to an oil pump failure.

Second Segment

The restart is given on the 81st lap and Giovanni Ruggiero momentarily regains first position but Sawalich will once again be the fastest on the outside line and regain leadership of the race.

Ten laps later Isaac Johnson, Van Alst’s teammate, spun between turns 3 & 4 and caused the fifth caution. Huddleston, 17th, receives the free pass.

Another wild restart on the 96th lap with three, four or even five-wide in Turn 1!

In the backstretch the fight is tough with Wood, sandwiched between Tyler Reif and Robusto. The three drivers touch each other but manage to stay on the track.

Lightning and Rain

William sawalich won a rain-shortened arca menards series west season opener at phoenix raceway.
Todd Souza. (Photo by Diego Alvarado via Vincent Delforge)

The green flag lasts 16 laps before officials wave the yellow flag for the sixth time. The cause was lightning within an eight-mile radius of the track. The red flag was waved on the 115th lap and then the rain arrived. A real storm is hitting the Phoenix Raceway!

After 35 minutes and 20 seconds, the officials announced that the race would not resume and Sawalich was able to burst out with joy. For the second time in a row, he is the winner of the Phoenix race. Ruggiero is second ahead of Enfinger, Mosack and Hingorani for the top-five. Robusto, Wood, Perez de Lara, Breidinger and Scott complete the top-10.

“Not the way I wanted to win a race, but I knew we had the best car out there. We kind of fell back during that first stint, but the guys made a really good adjustment, so I’m super proud of them doing that. We ran a good race and I knew we had a chance to win it.” Sawalich said.

In the championship, logically Sawalich is the first leader of the season in the West Series. The rest simply corresponds to the classification of the race.

Van Alst, 13th, becomes the leader of the ARCA Menards national series.

Complete race results :

The next race on March 30 at Irwindale Speeway, Irwindale, CA, for the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame 150 which is streamed live on FloRacing.

See you Wednesday on Kickin The Tires for the full driver-by-driver analysis of this Phoenix race. 

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