Two drivers proved their championship mettle as Winchester 400 Weekend began in full force Friday night at Winchester Speedway in central Indiana. The main feature of the night, the championship finale for the JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour, went 75 laps with Travis Braden claiming the win and Dan Leeck capturing the championship.
The victory marked Braden’s third career JEGS victory as he used Friday’s night race to gain track time in advance of Sunday’s Winchester 400 which will determine if he can clinch his second ARCA/CRA Super Series championship.
Braden took over just after the halfway point of the race, which was shortened from 100 laps to 75 after CRA officials and Winchester Speedway track crews spent two hours drying the track after rain moved in right at the start of features. Harrison Burton, competing for his first time at a track famous father Jeff never raced at, had been dominant up until that point. But Burton slipped in power steering fluid laid down by Grant Quinlan in turn two and pounded the nose hard into the wall. From there, Braden had one last challenge from Dalton Armstrong to fend off before a late caution allowed Braden to get away on the final restart.
“Earlier in this day, I never thought we would have won this race,” Braden said moments after climbing out of Victory Lane. “We were focused on the Super [Late Model] car. We did all we could to get this JEGS car fast and it was just wasn’t fast enough, or so we thought. It drove great in the race though. I thought everyone ran a smart race, a really clean race. So we had fun. I had a blast.”
Braden immediately set his sights on the big prize, the ARCA/CRA title and the Winchester 400 Sunday.
“This gives us a little bit of relaxation and excitement for Sunday. We can just set this car back over there [in the pits] without a scratch on it. So we can just focus on the Super tomorrow and I think we may even take some of what we had in this car has and put it on that one.”
Armstrong set a career-best finish in second and was followed across the line by September Winchester winner Trent Snyder, Jon Beach, and Jack Smith.
“I was trying to give him all I could,” Armstrong said after catching his breath on pit road. “I really wish that last caution hadn’t come out. The lap before, coming out of 3 and 4 he [Braden] got a little out of shape and the track was so fast I thought I had him. If you could make a move, you had to make a move then and not hesitate. Good job to Travis though. I’m just proud of all these guys working hard all year and having it finally paying off.”
Leeck finished 12th, a disappointing finish on the surface after being fastest in both practices as well as the third fastest qualifier. But it was more than enough for Leeck to clinch his first ever JEGS/CRA title after closest points rival Quinlan dropped from the race with his engine woes. Leeck has yet to win in the JEGS Tour but he recorded three runner-up finishes and nine top-tens to gap the competition this season.
“This morning I was sick to my stomach thinking about it,” Leeck said after raising the champions’ trophy over his head for the first time. “It wasn’t a good race for us, I was just being conservative. That’s all I could think about doing. Then I saw the 28 [Quinlan] had issues so I tried to go, but the clutch was going out of it.” Laughing, he added “As you see, I couldn’t even do victory burnouts.”
“These guys have worked all year long, they’ve worked their butts off. Neil May [crew chief], Matt, Jordan, my Uncle Tom, my uncle Brian, Jesse – everybody on this team, I couldn’t have done it without them. I’d like to dedicate this to my mom. She’s been to all my races and she couldn’t make it to this one today. This has been a crazy season with all the ups and downs. I thought we had the title there at ORP [Indy] but we had mechanical issues late. That’s when I truly learned to take nothing in racing for granted.”
Speed51.com will have more with Leeck later this autumn as part of our champions’ profile series.
Action at Winchester continues Saturday afternoon with qualifying for Sunday afternoon’s Winchester 400. Saturday night’s racing card consists of triple 50-lap features for the Top Speed Modified Tour, CRA Street Stocks, and CRA Late Model Sportsman.
JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour Winchester 75 Results
| 1||6||01||Travis Braden||75||35|
| 2||7||4||Dalton Armstrong||75||0|
| 3||15||88||Trent Snyder||75||0|
| 4||22||1||Jon Beach||75||0|
| 5||9||128||Jack Smith||75||0|
| 6||2||0||Josh Nelms||75||9|
| 7||3||49||Colin Nickolai||75||0|
| 8||10||99||J.J. Haley||75||0|
| 9||23||13||Hunter Baize||75||0|
| 10||14||7||Mike Stacy||75||0|
| 11||16||4G||Kody Evans||75||0|
| 12||8||12||Dan Leeck||75||0|
| 13||1||20||Cole Rouse||75||0|
| 14||13||14||Kyle Hayden||75||0|
| 15||20||97||Jaxson Jacobs||73||0|
| 16||11||71||Corey Deuser||72||0|
| 17||12||51||Brandon Oakley||57||0|
| 18||5||28||Grant Quinlan||54||0|
| 19||4||12B||Harrison Burton||40||31|
| 20||21||8||Marc Jacobs||38||0|
| 21||18||11||Keith Sterkowitz||32||0|
| 22||17||8C||Tommy Cook||21||0|
| 23||19||33||Cody Robinson||11||0|
Tim Quievryn, Speed51.com Correspondent
Photo Credit: Speed51.com