Noah Gragson almost saw victory in the Winchester 400 slip through his hands. However, a never-say-die attitude and misfortune for Harrison Burton put Gragson in victory lane at Winchester Speedway.
“This is so awesome,” Gragson told Speed51.com Powered by JEGS. “I am just so thankful to be able to come out here and run the Switch Toyota Camry. It’s fun to come out here and play, and it’s definitely a privilege.”
Burton took the lead on a restart with 25 laps to go after restarting third. Noah Gragson and Chandler Smith nearly tangled fighting for the top spot, allowing Burton to surge to the lead.
“Noah drove it in really deep and tried to get a slide job on Chandler,” Burton said about his pass for the lead. “I remember setting myself up good and I had a good run. I don’t know if we were three-wide or not. I just know I got under Noah. I got clear and was driving my heart out.”
However, Burton’s shot at the win disappeared with eight laps to go, as a wheel stud failed on his machine. Gragson capitalized to take the victory.
“My mom and dad always tell me don’t give up, no matter what you do,” Gragson said. “Harrison Burton got around me with about 20 to go. Something happened to him, and I was able to get around him and come home as Winchester 400 champion.”
Gragson was also overcoming damage suffered from an earlier battle for the lead with Smith. It wasn’t enough to keep him from victory.
“He was racing his ass off. I was racing my ass off,” said Gragson. “Chandler got into my left-side a little bit and I scuffed the wall. From there, the car just got really loose.”
For Burton, the failure was a bitter disappointment, but one he was able to take in stride.
“My spotter’s been trying for over 30 years to win this race,” said Burton. “He’s been leading inside of 20 to go and something happens every time. I wanted to win this so badly for my team. It sucks, but it comes around and goes around. We’ve had good luck all year and won a lot of races. Sometimes things don’t go your way even if you do everything right. We should have won, but that’s racing. You have to make all 400 laps.
“I was trying to get to the checkered as fast as I could. Then the stud started breaking. I wanted to believe it was all in my head, but it wasn’t.”
Travis Braden finished in the second position after Burton’s mishap, successfully holding off Chandler Smith after the chaotic lap 375 restart. Braden played a different strategy than the top drivers, staying out on a lap 333 caution to get track position while the leaders pitted for tires.
“We had a really good car,” Braden said. “We didn’t have the best car, we probably had a fifth-place car. You can win this race with a worse car than that, but if the car’s that good you have a lot of confidence.
“We were trying to play a strategy to keep track position,” Braden continued. “It was a little bit different from what we normally do. Given the circumstances, with having a car not good enough to pass anyone, I am pleased with how it turned out.”
Chandler Smith finished third, pleased with the strong run and a chance to win.
“These past four races, we’ve been really good,” Smith said. “We had them beat there at the end, but I messed up on the restart. I got up in the trash and cost us the win. I think I had the car to beat there at the end.”
With a sixth-place finish, Logan Runyon claimed the 2017 ARCA/CRA Super Series championship. Runyon, a rookie in the Super Late Model touring series, entered the race as one of four “Championship Chase” contenders. However, he was the last one standing at the end of 400 laps at Winchester Speedway.
Dalton Armstrong and Johnny VanDoorn both battled mechanical issues throughout the day, while Wes Griffith was involved in an early incident.
“I would have never thought going into the year, my rookie season, my first in Super Late Models, never seen any of these tracks before, this could happen,” Runyon said. “It speaks volumes about this team.”
The race was not without calamity for Runyon. He was fighting loss of horsepower, as well as a bad clutch, over the course of the race.
“We think the motor is laying down,” Runyon said. “We haven’t rebuilt it for a number of races. About halfway, we lost the clutch, too. We knew our best play was to finish the race, but we also had to keep ourselves in position and not lose a bunch of laps.”
The championship-deciding moment came on lap 335. Runyon suffered a flat right-rear tire and pulled into the pits for a replacement. However, the caution flew as behind him, Steve Wallace spun. This allowed Runyon to return to the speedway without losing a lap and change the tire under caution.
“That’s incredible luck, right there,” Runyon said. “We had a flat right-rear and came to pit road. The crew chief saw the caution and made the call to get us back out and we didn’t lose a lap.”
For an on-demand replay of Saturday’s Trackside Now coverage presented by Senneker Performance, Progressive Racing Engines and Racecar Engineering, click here.
Speed51.com will have more from the Winchester 400, including video interviews and highlights, still to come on the Speed51 Video network.
-By Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent – Twitter: @ZTEvans
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
Winchester 400 Unofficial Results:
1 18 Noah Gragson
2 26 Travis Braden
3 26S Chandler Smith
4 66 Steve Wallace
5 51N Stephen Nasse
6 6 Logan Runyon #C
7 51O Brandon Oakley
8 12B Harrison Burton
9 47S Dakota Stroup
10 4 Dalton Armstrong #C
11 71 Johnny VanDoorn #C
12 51 Cole Rouse
13 1 Jon Beach
14 5M Mason Mingus
15 41 Hunter Jack
16 131 Kyle Crump
17 99 Raphael Lessard
18 7 Wes Griffith Jr #C
19 5 Hope Hornish
20 20 Jack Dossey III
21 81 Terry Fisher Jr
22 2W Donnie Wilson
23 28 Jack Smith
24 26V Brandon Varney
25 23B Billy VanMeter
26 8 Dan Leeck
27 26T Rick Turner
28 40 Jordan Miller
29 71N Ben Welch
30 91 Rich Segvich