June 14, 2024 | By Brandon White, ARCARacing.com

Zilisch fends off Sawalich In ARCA at Iowa Speedway

Photo by ARCA Racing photo

NEWTON, Ia. — Connor Zilisch and William Sawalich were not exactly on the best of terms as the Atlas 150 at Iowa Speedway wound down Friday.

Exchanging fender rubs and haymakers that nearly ended in disaster on a couple of occasions, the two young racing prospects entertained a packed crowd at Iowa as they battled to claim a victory and build momentum in the ARCA Menards Series East standings.

The fraught duel concluded with Zilisch prevailing over Sawalich. By reaching the finish line first, Zilisch earned his second win in three ARCA Menards Series starts and his third in five appearances with the East Series.

Zilisch admitted to being surprised by the way Sawalich raced him during the closing stages of the Atlas 150. He was thrilled to come away with another victory, but he also wanted clarification from Sawalich on why he was racing so aggressively.

“I honestly don’t know what I could have done different,” Zilisch said. “We were getting into [turn] one there and I felt like he just drove up the track and tried wrecking me. He about tried right hooking me down the back straightaway. I’ll have to talk and ask him what he wants me to do differently.

“I don’t feel like I’ve ever raced him that dirty.”

The thrilling battle with Sawalich fittingly capped off Zilisch’s adventurous debut appearance at Iowa.

A repaved bottom groove in each set of turns initially proved trepidatious for Zilisch. His No. 28 Pinnacle Racing Group Chevrolet got loose each time he tried to race alongside someone in the lower line, which enabled Sawalich to take control of the lead early.

It took a venture toward the top part of the repaved groove for Zilisch to gain the upper hand. After successfully keeping pace with Sawalich during the first 50 laps, Zilisch easily powered around his young counterpart and proceeded to set a comfortable pace.

Sawalich could keep Zilisch in his sights but was unable to find a way back around for the lead. With every spot being crucial in the East Series points battle and with frustration starting to set in from earlier restart games, Sawalich became more determined to usurp Zilisch by any means necessary.

Through several concerted efforts, Sawalich nearly disposed of Zilisch but could not make the necessary race-winning maneuver. He ended up finishing just a few car lengths behind Zilisch, which translates into more lost ground in the East Series standings.

Sawalich admitted that he was fighting both Zilisch and an ill-handing No. 18 Toyota all evening. He never lost faith in himself or his Joe Gibbs Racing crew to keep his car competitive, which made the second-place finish sting worse.

“There was definitely a lot of effort,” Sawalich said. “I can’t thank them enough for trying everything to get us up there. We had the speed, but just not enough there at the end. Something early on happened with the right front. I’m not too sure what it was, but it stayed consistently tight all throughout the race, so fighting that was a hinderance.

“I tried everything that I could.”

Friday’s Atlas 150 continued a sequence of ongoing events between Sawalich and drivers affiliated with PRG.

On two separate occasions in 2023, Sawalich saw a dominant run curtailed by Luke Fenhaus in a PRG Chevrolet on an overtime restart, one of which took place at Iowa. Earlier this year, contact between Sawalich and Zilisch at Dover Motor Speedway knocked the former out of the race, all while Zilisch took home the checkered flag.

Zilisch’s triumph on Friday improved his average East Series finish to 2.0, while his overall average in the premier ARCA division is now 1.33. He also became the first repeat visitor to Victory Lane in 2024 after the first six ARCA Menards Series events saw six different winners.

Despite this, Zilisch did not lose sight over how close Sawalich came to undoing his stellar evening. Zilisch does not expect Sawalich to go easy on him the rest of the season, but he feels confident he and PRG can keep tallying wins across every event they enter.

“I understand we had our troubles at Dover and if he has to get me back once or twice, but I felt like he was pretty rough on me,” Zilisch said. “I can’t say enough about my entire Pinnacle Racing Group team. It’s a true team effort to get these wins, and it means a lot to come out and win these races.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this without them, so hopefully we can keep this momentum the rest of the year.”

Gio Ruggiero got the best view of the fight between Zilisch and Sawalich by settling for third, capping off his own eventful evening that saw him rebound from a spin. Mason Mitchell, in his first premier ARCA Menards Series start since 2018, came home in fourth, with Andy Jankowiak completing the top five.

Andres Perez, Gus Dean, Toni Breidinger, Lavar Scott and Chris Tate were the rest of the top 10 finishers.

Three races remain for the ARCA Menards Series East in 2024, all combination events with the premier ARCA Menards Series. Next up for the East Series is the Circle City 200 at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park on July 19.

The main ARCA division hits the track once again next Friday evening at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Zinsser SmartCoat 150, which will serve as the first of two road-course venues on the 2024 schedule.

Both races will broadcast live on FS1.


Pos Car No. Driver Sponsor, OEM Laps Diff.
1 28 Connor Zilisch * Chevrolet Performance Chevrolet 150  –
2 18 William Sawalich * Starkey/Sound Gear Toyota 150 0.513
3 20 Giovanni Ruggiero * JBL Toyota 150 0.943
4 23 Mason Mitchell Karl Chevrolet/B-Bop’s/SPS Chevrolet 150 1.452
5 73 Andy Jankowiak Acacia Energy Toyota 150 2.063
6 2 Andres Perez Max Siegel Inc Chevrolet 150 2.216
7 55 Gus Dean VMS Toyota 150 2.747
8 25 Toni Breidinger Ruedubusch Toyota 150 3.077
9 6 Lavar Scott * Max Siegel Inc Chevrolet 150 3.115
10 10 Chris Tate * T-Top Manufacturing Toyota 150 4.244
11 32 Christian Rose West Virginia Department of Tourism Ford 150 4.695
12 39 D.L. Wilson ETR/Heart O’ Texas Speedway Toyota 150 6.817
13 99 Michael Maples * Don Ray Petroleum LLC/Maples Motorsports Chevrolet 147 3 Laps
14 3 Alex Clubb Race Parts Liquidators/Drop the Hammer Auctions Ford 140 10 Laps
15 12 Ryan Roulette * Bellator Recruiting Academy/VFW Ford 132 18 Laps
16 15 Kris Wright FNB Corportation Toyota 121 29 Laps
17 6 Kevin Hinckle KH Automotive Toyota 118 32 Laps
18 93 Cody Dennison * Timcast.com Chevrolet 117 33 Laps
19 98 Dale Shearer Shearer Speed Toyota 72 78 Laps
20 11 Zachary Tinkle Racing for Rescues/Fast Track Toyota 71 79 Laps
21 31 Rita Goulet NationalPolice.org Chevrolet 67 83 Laps
22 17 Marco Andretti * Group 1001 Chevrolet 24 126 Laps
23 35 Greg Van Alst CB Fabricating/Top Choice Fence Ford 23 127 Laps
24 22 Amber Balcaen Icon Toyota 23 127 Laps
25 86 Presley Sorah * Race Parts Liquidators/Drop the Hammer Auctions Ford 6 144 Laps
26 48 Brad Smith Copraya.com Ford 1 149 Laps


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