In a wild two-lap shootout that ended prematurely with a multicar wreck near the entrance to Turn 3, 19-year-old Canadian Raphael Lessard earned his first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series victory in Saturday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Lessard had nosed ahead of runner-up Trevor Bayne while Stewart Friesen’s Chevrolet spun into the outside backstretch wall on the final lap, causing the caution that froze the field. The yellow made a winner of Lessard, but what was euphoria for one Kyle Busch Motorsports driver was heartbreak for another.
With Playoff spots in the elimination race still on the line for the final restart on Lap 93 of 94 at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, Christian Eckes was a victim of the final wreck that also left Playoff driver Austin Hill hustling out of his No. 16 Toyota, which sat on the apron with flames shooting from underneath the hood.
With the Round of 10 completed, Eckes was eliminated by eight points, as Tyler Ankrum, another victim of the last-lap wreck, advanced to the Round of 8 in the Playoff by that margin. Hill already had secured a spot in the next round with last weekend’s win at Las Vegas.
Those two drivers are joined by Sheldon Creed (12th Saturday), Ben Rhodes (fourth), Brett Moffitt (seventh), Matt Crafton (eighth), Grant Enfinger (13th) and Zane Smith (33rd). Crafton took the green flag on the final restart below the Playoff cut line but avoided the final wreck to finish the day fifth in the Playoff standings.
But the big winner was Lessard, who did not qualify for the Playoff but earned a significant consolation prize on Saturday, with a strong push from Rhodes.
“Oh, my gosh, that was awesome,” said Lessard, who moved to Mooresville, N.C., from Quebec this year. “First of all, I just want to thank everyone at home, my team-Kyle Busch Motorsports. I can’t believe it. It’s just my second superspeedway race.
“To get my first Truck Series win here is amazing. I don’t know who was behind me, but he gave me a heck of a push. I can’t thank him enough. He pushed me as hard as he could, and I was just along for the ride. The caution came out at the right time. I’m so happy. I got to do a burnout after the win. I’m hoping I can do some more.”
Smith avoided elimination despite being swept up in an 11-car wreck on Lap 13. He spent the rest of the race waiting anxiously to learn whether he would advance to the Round of 8.
“It sucks, for sure,” Smith said after the accident. “They just kept getting bunched up. My teammate (Chase Purdy) got all out of shape, and I was just kind of an innocent bystander.”
Also exiting the Playoff was Todd Gilliland, whose No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford retired from the race after 47 laps because of engine issues. Gilliland had finished second in Stage 1 (won by Hill) and seventh in Stage 2 (won by Derek Kraus) before the mechanical failure.
Chandler Smith ran third, giving non-Playoff drivers the top three positions. Rhodes was fourth, followed by Codie Rohrbaugh, Jordan Anderson, Moffitt, Crafton, Kaz Grala and Kraus.
— NASCAR Wire Service —