Travis Braden faced a similar situation two years ago and let Erik Jones get the best of him in the closing laps of the 2014 Winchester 400. It’s a defeat that’s stayed with him in the ensuing years and the two-time CRA Super Series champion wasn’t going to let it happen again.
Braden found himself fourth on the final restart with seven laps to go behind Eddie VanMeter, Dalton Armstrong and Dalton Sargeant and aggressively picked off those in front of him. He made contact with Armstrong for third and then shoved VanMeter out of the way on the white flag lap.
It was admittedly a bold way to race but he justified it with his own defeat back in 2014 and pointed out that the famous Winchester rifle was on the line.
“With Eddie, I was all the way to his tire when I made contact with him,” Braden said in Victory Lane. “It was more than seven feet there between me and the wall. I felt bad but it’s four laps to go. If the roles were reversed, I would expect it to happen to me. This is the Winchester 400.
“I’ve lost one here like that — two years ago against Erik Jones. This is big time racing and you have to make big time decisions.”
For his part, VanMeter wasn’t pleased with the way things played out.
“Well, I saw that as a (expletive) move,” VanMeter said. “I didn’t know Travis raced that way. If we’re both in a race, he’s not going to finish it.”
VanMeter expressed his frustration after the race by running into Braden on the frontstretch, under the flagstand, while the 22-year-old was attempting to execute a celebratory burnout. This brought out the crews of both teams whom began shoving and shouting at each other.
To call it a wild scene would be an understatement.
It’s worth noting that both drivers only found themselves in this position because Sargeant was penalized by the CRA officials tower for his role in a crash that also included Raphael Lessard and Stephen Nasse. With only four cars on the lead lap, Sargeant was forced to restart fourth but gained a spot when Braden was forced to pit for a failing battery.
His team changed the battery without losing a lap and that sort of valiant effort only encouraged the hard-charging effort that won Braden the race.
“You hope to win these by just going away,” Braden said. “But that’s not always possible. With Erik two years ago, I got the lead fair and square and he kind of dirtied me up on a restart. But that’s hard racing. I feel like you do what you have to do in these deals when that rifle is on the line.”
It wasn’t just a rifle on the line either. Unlike the 45-year-old VanMeter, Braden is racing for a possible NASCAR career. He’s already won in the ARCA Racing Series and a win like this only furthers the cause. It’s a triumph that absolutely rivals his ARCA accomplishment at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana.
“This is a win that makes you feel really good because you’re not racing for the next couple of weeks or months,” Braden said. “You get to let it stay with you. I don’t know what comes next but we want to run more ARCA and run some bigger races like the Snowball Derby. We’ll see.”
The complete results can be found below.
- Travis Braden
- Eddie VanMeter
- Dalton Sargeant
- Dalton Armstrong
- Cody Coughlin
- Raphael Lessard
- Stephen Nasse
- Bret Holmes
- William Byron
- Mason Mingus
- Noah Gragson
- Rich Segvich
- Christopher Bell
- Trevor Noles
- Harrison Burton
- Derrick Griffin
- Hunter Jack
- Billy VanMeter
- Jeff Fultz
- Garrett Jones
- Brandon Oakley
- Johnny Belott
- Jack Dossey, III
- Wes Griffith Jr
- Rick Turner
- Donnie Wilson