If Jack Smith’s performance in the final stages of the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour season is any indication of his team’s future, his competitor’s better be worried for 2016.
Smith took the lead in the opening stages and held off charges from Travis Braden and Trevor Berry to claim the JEGS 100 at Winchester Speedway on Saturday night.
The win was the third of the season for Smith, who also earned wins at Winchester and Lucas Oil Raceway during Labor Day Weekend and Fall Brawl weekend, respectively.
“It’s kind of a dream come true for me to run this good,” said Smith, who won three of the final four events of the season. “Greg Irvine, UV Machine and everybody there, we’ve really hit on some things here. It just brought this car alive.
“Right now it’s a dream. It turned so good, it’s amazing.”
Points leader Dalton Armstrong led the field to green from the pole after a six-car invert was drawn for the race, but quickly fell back with an ill-handling car. Smith rose from the third position to take the lead on lap two.
Through a slew of early-race cautions, Smith held firmly on the lead with a fast short-run car. Meanwhile, Braden and Berry established themselves into second and third.
Braden, who set a new track record to take quick time for the 100-lap feature, moved into the second position as the race neared halfway, closing within a car-length of Smith on a lengthy green-flag run.
While the first half of the event was filled with cautions, the second-half ran caution-free, allowing Braden and Berry to close up on Smith as he struggled with lapped traffic.
Luckily for Smith, a late surge from Berry was enough to help him hold on for the win. After running a few seconds back of the leaders throughout the event, Berry rose up to challenge Braden in the closing laps. The two finished side-by-side with Braden holding on to second as Smith cruised to the victory.
“I kind of got real tight there, but I had some more. I wanted to keep that 10 car-length (lead), but kind of backed up there,” said Smith. “I knew (Braden) was stout enough to pass me, but I knew my car was good enough to win there.
“He would have had to move me to win it.”
Despite failing to earn the win, Braden could take solace in earning the No. 26 team the owner’s championship.
“If you look at how good these guys were all year, they should have locked this championship up before we even got here,” said Braden. “We should have been able to start this race and got it done. That’s how competitive they were all year.
“We had a few mishaps throughout the year that just kept it from happening. The No. 4 car had a great team, but I feel like it kept them a little closer than what I feel like they would have been otherwise, so it came down to the wire. I feel like everybody in the whole series feels like we probably deserve this championship.”
Berry would end the night in third, falling just short of a miraculous drive to the win.
“I burnt off the right-front tire early and decided to cool it down,” said Berry. “When my crew said I had 10 to go, I said it was now or never, so we went for it. It was just too hard to pass, too tight in the center.”
Dalton Armstrong finished seventh, but clinched the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour drivers championship on Friday night. Speed51.com will have more on Armstrong’s championship in the days to come.
Quinnton Bear overcame a flat right-rear tire discovered during pre-race pace laps to finish fourth with Dan Leeck rounding out the top five. Colin Nickolai, Armstrong, Andy Bozell, Jaxson Jacobs and BoLemastus finished out the top 10.
The caution flag fell five times on the evening. However, due to All-Stars Tour rules, all 100 laps of the feature were completed under green-flag conditions.
With the series officially finished for the season, Smith and his No. 28 team are looking forward to 2016.
“We’re going to build another car,” said Smith. “In two weeks, we’re going to go to Highland Rim and run another 300-lapper. Hopefully this run continues and we can see about going to the Snowball Derby.”
An on-demand replay of tonight’s Trackside Now coverage can be found here: http://speed51.com/trackside-now-winchester-400-friday-at-winchester-speedway-2/
-By Aaron Bearden, Speed51.com Contributor – Twitter: @AaronBearden93
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com