With the laps winding down during Sunday’s Winchester 400, Logan Runyon found himself running ahead of the field at Winchester Speedway. .
Moments later he pulled over and let the leaders continue battling for the win – not a traditional championship story, but the one Runyon found himself immersed in as the checkered flag neared.
Runyon survived an attrition filled 400 laps at Winchester Speedway to become the first ARCA/CRA Super Series champion under the tour’s new Chase elimination format.
“This is incredible,” Runyon told Short Track Scene. “I would’ve never thought this would happen. To come into your rookie season, and be able to do this is incredible.
“We didn’t necessarily have the hot lap speed to outperform John (VanDoorn) and Dalton (Armstrong), but we out-executed them all day. We were able to be here at the end, and finish all 400 laps. That’s what put us here.”
A native of nearby Cambridge, Ohio, Runyon entered Sunday’s season finale for the Champion Racing Association as a championship underdog. He’d only just made the final four, besting fellow rookie Hunter Jack for the final spot in the Chase’s first round after a winless regular season.
VanDoorn and Armstrong took the green flag as championship favorites, starting second and fourth, respectively, after strong showings in Saturday’s qualifications. Veteran Wes Griffith Jr. followed in a distant 19th, with Runyon rounding out the championship quartet in 24th.
For the first half of the race, it appeared to be VanDoorn’s day. While Griffith was eliminated early in a Lap 49 wreck with Billy VanMeter and Dan Leeck, VanDoorn found himself in contention for the race win. The resurgent veteran never managed to get into the race lead, but he rose as high as second as the field ticked off laps, firmly establishing himself as the man to beat for the title.
Then everything fell apart.
VanDoorn slowed as the field neared Lap 190, coming to pit road from second. His crew lifted up the hood on his No. 71 Chevrolet, working on an issue as the Michigander fell multiple laps down.
While VanDoorn did eventually return to the racing surface, his machine wasn’t the same. He limped along to an 11th-place finish, 22 laps down.
“That’s just racing,” VanDoorn said afterward. “We had a really good piece. Mechanical failures are part of racing at Winchester. You’re not just racing the other cars. You’re racing the race track. Unfortunately we broke a lower control arm and lost a bunch of laps on pit road. I’m proud of everybody for bringing such a great piece. We could’ve won the race, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Asked about his title loss, VanDoorn claimed to have no regrets.
“I have no disappointments,” VanDoorn said. “I knew that was going to be part of the gamble with the Chase format. The championship is what it is. I’m not worried about that. I’m just disappointed to have lost the Winchester 400. We had a piece that could’ve won it.”
With VanDoorn and Griffith out early Armstrong became the de-facto favorite, but the Hoosier began to struggle through mechanical issues as the race wound on. Suffering from an unknown motor issue, Armstrong dropped off pace shortly after lap 250, falling a lap down to the leaders.
Fighting through clutch issues himself, Runyon passed Armstrong for position a few laps later. In that moment he took a championship position that he would not relinquish again.
With his machine slowed by motor issues, Armstrong crawled home in 10th – eight laps off-pace. For the second-straight season, he found himself stuck with a disappointing runner-up championship result – a mark he lamented more this season due to his uncertain future.
“I wish we had this format last year,” Armstrong said. “I guess we knew going into it that this was going to come down to whoever was lucky enough to finish this race. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year, so I just want to thank everybody that made this run possible.
“Just kind of heartbreaking to fall short again. I know that we were a competitive team, and we just never got the chance to show that we could win a championship. I guess there’s always next year, but we don’t know what we’re going to do next year yet.”
While his fellow competitors came to terms with their bittersweet endings, Runyon attempted to grasp his unexpected championship run.
“I wasn’t sure we could do this,” Runyon said. “We had a lot of tracks that we weren’t the best at when we came to them the first time. We struggled here on Labor Day, and struggled at Toledo (Speedway) in the spring. We were a little worried about that, but we pulled it together when it counted.”
While he doesn’t anticipate his family-owned Logan Runyon Motorsports team making any additional starts this season, Runyon was left hopeful for the future after becoming just the fourth driver to win the ARCA/CRA Super Series championship in his rookie season.
“This definitely gives us momentum going into next year, and confidence when we go to each track that we can get it done,” Runyon said. “I’m not sure about any offseason stuff. We need to rebuild the motor here and check the finances.
“We didn’t get any sponsors this year, so this was all out of family pocket. We’re not 100% sure if we’ll be back full-time next season, but it’s definitely a big momentum boost for us to be able to do this.”