‘Bittersweet Domination’ As Love’s Fuel Runs Dry

HAMPTON, Ga. – As heartbroken as Jesse Love was in the first moments after he climbed from his racecar Saturday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he still could do nothing but chuckle.

That was the dichotomy of the moment for the 19-year-old NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie, who utterly dominated the Raptor King of Tough 250, only to come up short on fuel at the very end.

Love started from the pole, swept both stages, and led six times for 157 laps in just his second-ever Xfinity Series start, looking to have a breakthrough victory well in hand down the stretch.

In fact, until a trio of Ford Mustangs sputtered with low fuel pressure coming to two laps to go, it appeared there would be nothing that could stop Love from ending up in victory lane.

Enter overtime, stage right, and the twist of fate that ultimately denied Love the Atlanta trophy.

As more and more cars slowed to a halt with no gas in the tank, literally, the caution period extended further and further, ultimately pushing Saturday’s race six laps past its scheduled 163-lap distance.

The extra nine miles proved to be too much for Love, who stayed out as others behind him pitted for fuel, as his No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro stumbled on the final restart and faded with fuel pickup issues.

Though the Menlo Park, Calif., teenager was able to get his car back going before the finish, he ended up 12th while his Richard Childress Racing teammate – Austin Hill – celebrated in the winner’s circle.

It was bittersweet, leading to the half-laugh that Love exhaled as he spoke to the assembled media.

“It’s almost comical,” Love said of the way the race turned out. “Man, I'm just so damn proud of everybody on this Whelen car. It just wasn’t meant to be. Obviously, as a Christian, I’m not going to allow myself to question why we were under caution so long or what happened.

“I always try to take responsibility for everything, so I, as a driver, should have saved more fuel. Man, I just didn’t want anybody to catch me off-guard,” Love lamented. “I thought I saved a ton. That overtime and that caution just lasted forever. No matter what, though, I’m really proud of our guys.

“We had a great showing and led a lot of laps. It just wasn’t in store for us today.”


Despite the final outcome, Love said that there was “no question” about the call to stay out on track when the final caution flag waved with two-and-a-half laps left.

“Everyone’s crazy if they thought I was going to pit out of the lead,” he explained. “It’s a gamble, kind of like playing poker, but at the same time … I thought I saved a good bit of fuel. I thought some of the caution laps helped us, but that last one I felt like lasted forever. I have no idea why, and I’m not going to question whether we could have made it if we had gone back to green sooner, but either way I’m so proud of this team and this is going to push us forward, for sure.”

Love is the first driver since Christopher Bell in 2017 to lead more than 100 laps across his first two Xfinity Series races. Counting the 34 circuits he was out front on Monday at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway, Love has led 191 of a possible 289 laps so far in his young career.

“It’s funny because I was upset about last week. Even though I thought that I just got turned, I always try to take responsibility, and I could have been either more aggressive or less aggressive at that time,” tipped Love, recalling his series debut from six days earlier. This week, I thought I was moreso cautiously aggressive. I was going for all I was worth on the 16 [Allmendinger]. But our speed is a product of having a phenomenal team at RCR.

“It makes it a tiny bit easier when you know you have all the tools to do this every week. Tonight still stings, though.”

How motivated is Love to go out and succeed after coming so close to victory Saturday night?

“I know that I definitely want to go pound a mud hole in everybody over the next few weeks, that’s for sure,” he joked. “I’m really grateful to be in the position that I’m in, to be leading laps and have a really good car.

“This just makes me very hungry [to win] now.”

And while that hunger has to wait for another week before it might be able to be sated, Love still cracked a smile as he looked around at his team and his racecar on pit road afterward.

“I’m happy because I know our time is coming,” he affirmed. “It’s bittersweet because we had a rocket.”

Love’s next chance at an Xfinity Series victory will come Saturday, March 2 during the LiUNA 300 at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway. Race coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on FS1, the Performance Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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