Rain Gives Sawalich ‘Redemption Win’ At Phoenix

Sawalich

William Sawalich in victory lane Friday night at Phoenix Raceway. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR photo)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – It may have been rain-shortened, but William Sawalich got his “redemption victory” in Friday night’s ARCA Menards Series stop at Phoenix Raceway.

Nearly a year to the day after a late spin cost him the victory in the General Tire 150 last March, Sawalich came back to the Valley of the Sun and dominated this year’s edition, leading a race-high 66 laps.

After battling with a determined Gio Ruggiero during the night’s final restart at lap 81, Sawalich slowly pulled away and was out in front when lightning – followed by a downpour – forced the race to be stopped 35 laps short of its scheduled distance.

The field was stopped on pit road at 7:40 p.m. local time, but when the bottom fell out of the sky less than 20 minutes later, ARCA officials were left with little choice but to call the race complete.

It marked Sawalich’s fifth career ARCA national victory and was also credited as his second win with the ARCA Menards Series West, as the race was a combination event between the two tours.

“Not the way I wanted to win a race, but I knew we had the best car out there,” said Sawalich, who started from the pole and led on three different occasions. “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.

“This is a little bit of redemption [from last year], for sure.”

Sawalich

William Sawalich in action Friday at Phoenix Raceway. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR photo)

Though Sawalich got out front early, it was Ruggiero who was the star of the race’s first half, taking control on lap 20 and staying out front for 48 consecutive circuits.

A lap-69 restart, however, was where Sawalich was able to pounce. He stayed side-by-side with Ruggiero on the outside lane for the entirety of the resumption lap before edging ahead working lap 70 – just as the night’s third of six yellow flags waved for a spinning Greg Van Alst down the back straightaway.

That gave Sawalich the lead through the scheduled halfway break at lap 75, and though Ruggiero edged ahead for a moment on lap 80 as the final green flag of the night waved, it was Sawalich who motored back ahead and never looked back in the No. 18 Starkey-SoundGear Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Ruggiero came home second in Venturini Motorsports’ No. 20 Toyota, which was piloted last year by eventual champion Jesse Love, with Grant Enfinger finishing third for Sigma Performance Services in his only planned ARCA start of the season.

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Connor Mosack and reigning ARCA West champion Sean Hingorani closed the top five, followed by one of the stars of the night in 19-year-old Isabella Robusto.

Robusto finished sixth in her ARCA debut, delayed by a full year due to a concussion she suffered in a late model crash early last season that sidelined her for eight months.

She ran as high as third in the first half of the race, before restarts proved to be a challenge for her around and just beyond the lap-75 break.

Bill McAnally Racing’s Jack Wood was the highest finishing ARCA West regular in seventh, with Andres Perez, Toni Breidinger, and Lavar Scott closing the top 10.

Defending race winner Tyler Reif, driving for longtime ARCA West car owner Todd Souza, ran inside the top 10 for much of the night before fading back in the final laps to an 11th-place finish.

A three-car crash marred the opening lap of the race, eliminating Cody Kiemele and Danica Dart before either could complete a full mile around Phoenix Raceway, while the night’s biggest crash came on lap 60 when Eric Johnson Jr. got into David Smith and sent Smith up into the No. 88 of Jake Bollman.

Bollman pounded the outside wall and the back of Smith’s car, taking several minutes to catch his breath before climbing out under his own power. He was scored 31st in the final rundown.

Friday night marked the first race of any kind at Phoenix shortened by weather since Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final NASCAR Cup Series win in 2015. It’s only the fifth rain-shortened event overall in track history.

The ARCA Menards Series national season continues April 20 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway with the General Tire 200 at the mammoth 2.66-mile superspeedway.

Meanwhile, the ARCA Menards Series West resumes with the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame 150 presented by NAPA Auto Parts at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway on March 30.

The finish:

1. William Sawalich, 2. Gio Ruggiero, 3. Grant Enfinger, 4. Connor Mosack, 5. Sean Hingorani, 6. Isabella Robusto, 7. Jack Wood, 8. Andres Perez, 9. Toni Breidinger, 10. Lavar Scott, 11. Tyler Reif, 12. Kris Wright, 13. Greg Van Alst, 14. Tanner Reif, 15. Amber Balcaen, 16. Christian Rose, 17. Trevor Huddleston, 18. Kyle Keller, 19. Todd Souza, 20. Eric Johnson Jr., 21. Marco Andretti, 22. Robbie Kennealy, 23. Takuma Koga, 24. Issac Johnson, 25. Caleb Costner, 26. Nick Joanides, 27. Andy Jankowiak, 28. Ryan Roulette, 29. Michael Maples, 30. Alex Clubb, 31. Jake Bollman, 32. David Smith, 33. John Borneman III, 34. John Aramendia, 35. Joe Farre, 36. Bobby Hillis Jr., 37. Brayton Laster, 38. Brad Perez, 39. Cody Kiemele, 40. Danica Dart.

Lap Leader(s): William Sawalich, 1-19; Gio Ruggiero, 20-67; William Sawalich, 68-79; Gio Ruggiero, 80; William Sawalich, 81-115.

Laps Led: William Sawalich 66, Gio Ruggiero 49.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 20 minutes, 1 second.

Average Speed: 86.232 mph

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.