The key players on the final restart of the 45th Annual Winchester 400 were barely in consideration for the win during the prior 395 laps. Wheeling, West Virginia’s Travis Braden went from being in the pits during a red flag to passing Indiana native Eddie Van Meter for the lead on the final lap.
The brief stoppage occurred when lead contenders Raphael Lessard, Stephen Nasse, and Dalton Sargeant all made contact at certain points, ending the day for two and resulting in a penalty for the other.
“It was unbelievable because we were supposed to get restarted and the battery just went dead and fell back,” Braden told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It was a miracle that those guys wrecked each other up there. We had the best car there at the end considering the tires we had. We went all day and purposely stayed the last car on the lead lap all day long and saved tires. When those guys had their last set of tires on we were still going on stickers. I think we played it perfectly.”
The Platinum Motorsports team was able to change the battery in time on Braden’s No. 26 to get back out and restart in fourth position. The ARCA/CRA Super Series permits teams to work on their cars during a red flag period.
The final restart did not come without controversy. Eddie Van Meter, who had never finished better than eighth in nine previous Winchester 400 starts, stayed out of trouble throughout the distance and inherited the lead.
Van Meter was displeased with Braden’s winning pass that did include some contact. While Braden did a burnout against the frontstretch wall, Van Meter drove toward and nudged the right side of his car.
“He ran down into us up there which at the 400 probably anybody would have to, but still heartbreaking when you do it to me,” Van Meter said, even with a laugh, after the adrenaline subsided post-race. “That is racing, tempers flare, and there will be another day. All the crew and sponsors work real hard, and we’re just blessed to be able to come here and run second.”
These two competitors may not have been in contention if not for the dramatic altercation between the prior leaders.
Nasse and Lessard made contact going for the lead twice, allowing Sargeant to dive low and enter the battle. Nasse later explained what occurred the second time by following more contact with Quebec driver Lessard and Sargeant’s maneuver going for the lead.
“Coming off two again somebody tried to left rear me,” Nasse commented. “It got me real loose. I snapped it back into the fence, saved it, was able to keep the lead, went into three, left reared me again, and sent me into the wall.
“(Sargeant) wants to say it was for last week at the 400 in Nashville, but you can look at the video and it clearly shows that he door-slammed me under the caution before I even started getting to him.”
Although the finish on the stat sheet did not represent the stellar run Nasse had, he was proud of the effort of his team.
“You give me a budget as big as them and I guarantee you they won’t touch me on this race track,” Nasse continued. “We’re a little team and there aren’t many out here that can beat us, and the only ones that can beat us have a Cup team name on it.
“We’re really stout and we’ll be back, and it’s going to be a long career for Dalton Sargeant racing against me because he just started something that I’m going to finish every single week whether it’s in the car or out of the car.”
Sargeant would continue but was sent to the back of the lead lap due to his involvement in the accident, which was only third position since Braden pitted under red. The Boca Raton, Florida driver gave his side of the story as well.
“With about five to go racing for the lead there’s no room to give at that point,” Sargeant recapped. “(Nasse) moved (Lessard) and decided to come down the track. When he came down the track I was there and it obviously didn’t end too well for him.”
Sargeant’s pit strategy was slightly different than Braden’s and was partially the difference on the final restart.
“We had pitted one stop earlier than everybody else and it definitely didn’t play to our advantage,” Sargeant added. “We used up our stuff a little bit earlier than those guys.”
Still, the leader of several circuits throughout the event and runner-up finisher in September’s 100-lap race and June’s ARCA Racing Series event was thankful for the effort to have a shot at the prestigious victory.
“At the end of the day, everybody at Bond Suss Racing did a great job,” Sargeant concluded. “The Winchester 400 itself is just such a pristine race. Just to be able to come here and run top three with the amount of talent that all these drivers here show and how tough the race is itself, being such an endurance race and having to take care of your equipment and be there at the end, we still had a really strong run.”
Dalton Armstrong came home fourth, but it was not enough to overtake Cody Coughlin in the season-long championship race.
Finishing fifth, four laps off the pace due to an unscheduled pit stop, Coughlin played it safe the rest of the distance. As a result, he secured his first ARCA/CRA Super Series title, adding to his second JEGS CRA All-Stars Tour championship from Friday night.
“I really wanted to win the race today, but I realized quickly that wasn’t going to happen,” Coughlin said. “We looked at the big picture and we got it done. I am so proud of my crew and so happy. This feels great.”
Braden also pulled off a double, winning Friday’s JEGS CRA All-Stars Tour 100-lap event. Crossing the Winchester 400 off his list, the up and coming driver has his sights set on the future.
“We want to go to the Derby in December in Pensacola, and we’re trying to get some more support to do more ARCA racing and above and beyond that even in 2017,” Braden indicated. “We’re making ground every time we go to the race track in everything we do. There’s been ups and downs but at the end of the day we keep getting higher and higher on that stature.”
For an on-demand replay of Sunday’s Trackside Now coverage presented by Hamner Racing Engines, PFC Brakes, and Racecar Engineering click here.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
45th Annual Winchester 400 Results
Pos Start # Driver Laps
1 15 26 Travis Braden 400
2 14 23 Eddie Van Meter 400
3 10 55 Dalton Sargeant 400
4 6 4 Dalton Armstrong 400
5 4 1 Cody Coughlin 396
6 9 99 Raphael Lessard 395
7 12 51N Stephen Nasse 395
8 17 H2 Bret Holmes 393
9 2 9 William Byron 385
10 16 98 Mason Mingus 384
11 13 5 Noah Gragson 354
12 24 91 Rich Segvich 327
13 7 51B Christopher Bell 320
14 11 22 Trevor Noles 287
15 5 12B Harrison Burton 279
16 26 95 Derrick Griffin 273
17 18 41 Hunter Jack 233
18 23 123 Billy Van Meter 212
19 19 19 Jeff Fultz 186
20 3 88 Garrett Jones 171
21 1 51 Brandon Oakley 168
22 21 131 Johnny Belott 166
23 22 20 Jack Dossey III 35
24 20 7 Wes Griffith Jr. 35
25 25 26T Rick Turner 12
26 8 2 Donnie Wilson 5