It was only fitting that Raphael Lessard scored his first win for Kyle Busch Motorsports at a track where his boss has dominated at the NASCAR national level.
Lessard won the Super Late Model feature of the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway, taking the lead from Trevor Noles on lap 77 and surviving a late-race restart to take the checkered flag.
“It was awesome,” Lessard told Speed51.com. “Thanks to Kyle Busch Motorsports, because this Toyota Racing Mobil 1 Camry was really good. I just can’t believe it.”
The win snaps a drought for Lessard dating back to May 6, 2017, when the Canadian driver won a CARS Response Energy Late Model Tour race at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC). Lessard noted that the last time he had been to victory lane, it was at Bristol one season ago – for winning a preliminary qualifying race for last season’s Short Track U.S. Nationals.
“The last time I was in victory lane, it was here in Bristol, and to be back here in victory lane is amazing,” Lessard said. “I’m super excited.”
While Lessard celebrated in victory lane, Noles fumed after an incident with a lapped car dashed his shot at victory in Thunder Valley.
Noles posted the fastest time in qualifying and started eighth after an eight-car invert per the ARCA/CRA Super Series rulebook, the inversion rule chosen at random among the three sanctioning bodies involved in Sunday’s race. Noles quickly worked his way to the front, taking the lead on lap 35.
However, contact with Nick Grodi while negotiating lapped traffic damaged the left side of Noles’ car. He was able to continue in the race, but slowly developed a heavy tire-rub before losing the lead on lap 77 and ultimately crashing in turn four on lap 94.
A dejected Noles did not mince words when discussing the incident.
“We obviously had the car of the field,” Noles said. “Started eighth and got our way to the front. Just idiots racing, they need to be running Pro [Late Models]. Hell, they are five seconds off the pace.”
“I can’t thank Noles Cabinets, Wilson Motorsports, everyone who worked on this car,” Noles added. “It’s just a heartbreaker. I feel like he run us in the fence and knocked the toe out. Then it wouldn’t turn from there on. These cars are built so light, you can’t take any damage like that.”
Lessard felt he had conserved enough for the second half of the race to catch back up to Noles in a perfect world, but commiserated with the circumstances that ended Noles’ race.
“Trevor Noles was super fast,” Lessard said. “He did an awesome job. I knew at the end we would be a little bit better because he was running really hard at the beginning. It sucks what happens to him with that lapped car, but I’m super excited to be here.”
Coming home second after a chaotic restart with six laps to go following Noles’ crash in turn four was Stewart Friesen. Friesen struggled for speed in Saturday’s practice sessions but made gains throughout the weekend before qualifying third and finishing runner-up.
“It was hard-fought,” Friesen said about the finish. “Our car really wasn’t the best. I’ve really got to thank Gary Balough, Halmar Racing, and everyone working their tails off on this thing. We picked up some serious speed from where we were in practice to qualifying. We were decent at the end, but we weren’t the fastest car. It was a lot of fun, and we’ll move on.”
Race fans can watch all of the action from the final day of the Short Track U.S. Nationals via an on-demand replay on Speed51.com by clicking here.
-By Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos
Short Track U.S. Nationals Super Late Model Unofficial Results
Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) – May 20, 2018
|20||23||Billy Van Meter|
|24||20||Jack Dossey III|