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ARCA/CRA Super Series

Raphael Lessard earns redemption with Redbud 400 win

CRA Super Series

Raphael Lessard left last year’s big race at Anderson Speedway crestfallen and disappointed after losing the race in a controversial finish with Steve Wallace.

He left this year’s race a winner.

Lessard took the lead from polesitter Johnny VanDoorn with an outside move on Lap 368 and fended off a late challenge from Stephen Nasse to win Monday’s Parallax Power Supply Redbud 400.

The win was the Canadian’s second marquee win of the season, following a May triumph in the U.S. Short Track Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway. After the heartbreak of last year’s loss, this win felt a little more special.

“We came so close last year to getting it done,” Lessard told Short Track Scene. “This year I knew we were gonna have a good shot at it. I just had to be there at the end, and be always on (my) game, and always ready or everything. That’s what we did.”

The 16-year-old was able to secure Monday’s ARCA/CRA Super Series race with a No. 51 Toyota that could run outside better than any other driver in the field. The Canadian spent the majority of the race’s 400 laps battling through traffic, trading off positions with Chandler Smith throughout the night and dueling with drivers like Wallace, Nasse and VanDoorn along the way.

It was VanDoorn that led the field to green in the rain-delayed race, earning the pole after late afternoon showers forced CRA officials to revert to practice times to set their starting lineup.

From the drop of the green flag, the veteran proved to be near-impossible to overcome. 2015 JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour champion Dalton Armstrong ran with VanDoorn through the first half of the race, but the Hoosier couldn’t find a way around him, even over the course of a 75-lap run under green to open the race.

It wasn’t until Lap 193, when VanDoorn was trapped in the high lane by a lapped car, that Armstrong saw an opportunity to strike. He dove under VanDoorn coming off of Turn 4 and looked for a lane around him going into Turn 1.

But the move went awry. The two made contact, and VanDoorn was sent spinning up the track.

After dominating the first half of the race, the No. 71 team were forced to make repairs and drop to the back of the field. They would have to claw their way to the front on an alternate strategy to rise back into contention.

“We were out in the lead, under control, and came up to a lapped car that wasn’t really staying in his lane,” VanDoorn said of the run-in. “Dalton Armstrong got us, spun us going into Turn 1, so we had to go to the tail.”

Armstrong apologized for the incident post-race, claiming he had no ill-intent.

“I didn’t really mean to get into him,” Armstrong said. “I was behind the (No.) 1 car (of Jon Beach) and I tried staying in my line. I think he came down to try to protect, and I didn’t really move, just stayed in my line. But I got into him.

“That really sucks, because I try to race him clean. He races me clean.”

Armstrong continued on in his position toward the front after the accident after a curious no-call from CRA officials, but his run wouldn’t last much longer. The Hoosier rose to the front of the field, taking the lead on a Lap 253 restart.

But after a Lap 312 caution Armstrong fell victim to mechanical woes that eliminated from from the race after hitting the outside wall.

With Armstrong out the race came down to a handful of contenders – VanDoorn, Lessard and Nasse among them.

VanDoorn took the lead back from Hunter Jack on Lap 306 after staying out on an alternate tire strategy post-crash, and for a time it appeared he might be able to keep the field at bay. But over the final 50 laps his tires faded, allowing Lessard, Nasse and later Josh Brock to slip by him for position.

Lessard and Nasse were the main combatants, closing up on each other in traffic and separating in clean track as the laps wound down.

Brock rode quietly a straightaway behind them. The Super Series champ had fallen a lap down after stalling following a Lap 120 crash, but battled back to put himself into contention. He needed only a late yellow.

That came on Lap 390 when Dakoda Armtstrong spun off of Turn 2. A long green-flag run to the finish quickly became a five-lap sprint as a result, with Lessard and Nasse lining up to lead the field to what was bound to be a chaotic closing to the race.

Lessard burst out to the lead on the ensuing restart and drove off to an emotional victory. Though he stayed close to Lessard for a lap, Nasse quickly faded back behind him and opened the door for Brock, who muscled his way past Nasse with heavy contact on the final lap of the race.

Nasse took offense to the move, and quickly paid the points leader back. He dumped Brock going into Turn 3, nullifying the Fury Race Cars driver’s rebound and trapping him with a 14th-place finish. Nasse was penalized for the contact and slotted one spot ahead of Brock in 13th.

The late attrition paved the way for VanDoorn to steal a second-place finish.

“You’ve gotta realize who you’re racing against,” VanDoorn said of the last-lap incident. “Some people can run side-by-side, and some you just know that someone’s going to end up in the fence. I pretty much knew that going into the corner, and sure enough it happened. We were able to prevail.

“All in all, after 400 laps here with the car in one piece, as hot as it was, I’m happy to come out with the car okay and a good result.”

Austin Nason overcame an early crash to finish third in the longest race of his young career.

“I’ve never ran 400 laps,” he said. “It was grueling. But we snuck in there, stuck with it. These guys worked their butts off. I don’t think we deserved third, but these guys do.”

Steve Dorer and defending winner Wallace rounded out the top five, with Smith, Jack, Eddie VanMeter, Greg Van Alst and Chuck Barnes Jr. completing the top 10.

There were 10 cautions total in the 400-lap event. A totall of 13 cars finished on the lead lap at race’s end.

Next up for the ARCA/CRA Super Series is a trip to Baer Field Speedway on July 28.

Redbud 400 Results

  1. Raphael Lessard
  2. Johnny VanDoorn
  3. Austin Nason
  4. Steve Dorer
  5. Steve Wallace
  6. Chandler Smith
  7. Hunter Jack
  8. Eddie VanMeter
  9. Greg Van Alst
  10. Chuck Barnes Jr.
  11. Jeff Marcum
  12. Dakoda Armstrong
  13. Stephen Nasse
  14. Josh Brock
  15. Jon Beach
  16. J.P. Crabtree
  17. Austin Kunert
  18. Dalton Armstrong
  19. Brandon Oakley
  20. Logan Runyon
  21. Rich Segvich
  22. Harold Fair
  23. Ryan Isaacs
  24. Jack Dossey III
  25. Brett Robinson

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Aaron Bearden is a contributing writer for Short Track Scene. Having grown up watching NASCAR and IndyCar, Bearden began following short track racing during his high school years before starting a blog about racing in college. A writer for Frontstretch and Motorsports Tribune, Bearden also covers NASCAR, IndyCar and other forms of open wheel racing.

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