One year ago, Raphael Lessard was on the losing end of a five-lap shootout to the checkered flag with Steve Wallace at the Redbud 400 at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway. Fast forward one year, and Lessard was faced with the same situation as he had in 2017; a five-lap shootout to win the Redbud 400.
This time, the 17-year-old held off all challengers and scored the win, getting retribution after last year’s heartbreak. After an underwhelming 2017 season that saw him win once with the CARS Super Late Model Tour, he took the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 to victory lane for the second time in a major race in 2018, adding to his win at the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“It’s pretty cool because last year, we came so close,” Lessard told Speed51.com. “Every time they were talking to me about it they were like, you should’ve won that thing last year. Now I can say I won it this year, so I’m just super pumped. I can’t thank my parents and family back home and everyone that helped me in my career. I’m super excited because last year I didn’t really have any wins, and now I have two wins already this year. I’m just ready for more.
“We started 12thin the beginning and I didn’t know what was going to happen. It’s pretty far back and when a wreck happens in front of you, you’ve got nowhere to go, so I was kind of worried. I got to the front pretty early and just tried to stay out of trouble. My car was a little bit loose at the beginning, but we worked on it and at the end it was the best car out there. I just did what I had to do and Kyle Busch Motorsports brought me an awesome Mobil 1 Toyota Camry.”
Lessard was the first driver to use the outside effectively, having worked his way from the 12thstarting spot by going around cars on the high side. He took the lead from Johnny VanDoorn on the outside with 32 laps to go, then held off challenges from Stephen Nasse and VanDoorn for the win.
“I told myself if I find a way to work better than those guys I’ll go where they can’t go, and that was the outside,” Lessard said. “The inside was really, really hard to pass because you couldn’t get a good run off the corner. So I told myself I need to make it work on the outside to pass those guys, and that’s what I did. I figured something out in three and four and I was getting to the right rear of everyone to pass them, so it was pretty fun in the car.”
While Lessard took the checkered flag, drama unfolded behind him in turns three and four. After making up two laps during the race, ARCA/CRA Super Series points leader Josh Brock was battling 2017 Southern Super Series champion Stephen Nasse for the runner-up spot when Brock spun and hit the wall after receiving contact from Nasse. Crew members were involved in a post-race scuffle on pit road after the race. Nasse was credited with a 13th-place finish while Brock finished in 14th.
“First of all, we fought so hard,” Brock said about his night. “We were two laps down and came back. Our crew did an absolutely amazing job. Had the best car on the track. To pass people like Chandler Smith and Steve Wallace, to get up there and race with those guys; it just shows you how strong this team is.
“I had never raced against him until really today. With two to go, I got up underneath him, just textbook rubbing, ain’t no different than what anyone else would do. It came one to go, I cleared him down the backstretch. And he just absolutely didn’t lift off. It sucks that we fought this hard. It absolutely totaled the car, there is no doubt about it, it’s easy to see. If that’s the way he wants to race, that’s the way we’ll race. As far as I know, he’s got a lot of money behind him with the concrete company down in Florida. If we have to, we’ll start totaling cars in practice, I don’t really care. We fought hard, and everybody knew we were here.”
Nasse gave his side of the story.
“It’s just unfortunate. They were beating our heads in the driver’s meeting that if you wreck somebody, that you both are going to the tail, so that’s not at all what I wanted to do. He ran me up the track in one and two, which in my eyes I don’t think he meant to. It was last lap; he was wanting to get the position. He probably drove it in a little deep and lost the nose a little bit. So when we came back around, I just wanted to return the favor and give him a bump and hopefully race back to the line. I didn’t want to wreck him because I knew we both would go to the rear. I’m not going to wreck somebody for second place. When I crossed back over to make my move, he let out a little early and I just had nowhere to go and I just punted him. I’m not perfect; I’m not God. I’m just a racecar driver and I did what I thought was best in the moment and it turned out s****y for the both of us.”
Johnny VanDoorn started on the pole after rain washed out qualifying, setting the lineup on practice speeds. He dominated the first half of the race before being involved in an incident with Dalton Armstrong just before the halfway mark. He used pit strategy to regain the lead in the last hundred laps, but was no match for teams with new tires. Despite this, the three-time series champion came home in second after the incident between Brock and Nasse.
“We had a really perfect race going and then Armstrong just turned right as we came up to a lapped car,” VanDoorn stated. “He got us in the left rear going into one and there was nothing I can do. Once we got back there, it’s so hard to pass here we just had to be smart. We short pitted and got our track position back, but when you do that you’ve got a lot older tires. I thought I could hold them off, but new tires prevailed at the end. All in all, second place after 400 laps around here, the car’s still in one piece, I can’t be too upset with that.”
ARCA Midwest Tour points leader Austin Nason came home in third, while former Redbud winners Steve Dorer and Steve Wallace rounded out the top five.
For an on-demand replay of Monday’s Trackside Now coverage, click here.
Speed51.com will have more from the 52ndAnnual Redbud 400, including video highlights, interviews and more, still to come this week on the Speed51 Video Network.
-By Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (Michigan and Indiana) – Twitter: @KGeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
52ndAnnual Redbud 400
Anderson Speedway, Anderson, Indiana
1 51 Raphael Lessard
2 71 Johnny VanDoorn
3 14 Austin Nason
4 10 Steve Dorer
5 66 Steve Wallace
6 26 Chandler Smith
7 41 Hunter Jack
8 23 Eddie VanMeter
9 35 Greg Van Alst
10 55 Chuck Barnes Jr
11 28 Jeff Marcum
12 5 Dakoda Armstrong
13 51N Stephen Nasse
14 17 Josh Brock
15 1 Jon Beach
16 83 J.P. Crabtree
17 29 Austin Kunert
18 4 Dalton Armstrong
19 54 Brandon Oakley
20 6 Logan Runyon
21 91 Rich Segvich
22 81 Harold Fair Jr
23 6X Ryan Issacs
24 20 Jack Dossey III
25 15 Brett Robinson