Raphael Lessard, a 16-year-old French Canadian driving a No. 51 Toyota owned by the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, won Sunday’s Super Late Model feature at the Rusty Wallace Automotive Group Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Lessard passed the No. 22 Ford of North Carolina racer Trevor Noles after Noles made contact with a lapped car. Noles wound up with a cut tire, and he pulled onto the apron of the track on lap 94 for the final caution.
With the race on the line, Lessard sprinted away from runner-up Stewart Friesen and Stephen Nasse on the final restart for the victory.
“I was saying to myself ‘I have to have the best restart of my life,’ ” Lessard said. “That’s what we did, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Friesen, a star on the dirt tracks of the Northeast United States and Eastern Canada, finished second. He was driving the Super Late Model at Bristol to help prepare for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 in August.
“It was a good race for us. This place is intense and it’s almost like indoor racing TQ Midgets in the Northeast,” Friesen said. “I was trying to get to the end, but that restart, he just got away from us. Raphael is a great driver, a cool kid with a great race team. He nailed that last restart, and I just couldn’t get into second gear like he did. That was it and we didn’t have a chance to get back to him.”
Georgia driver Corey Heim finished third. Mason Mingus of Brentwood and Tyler Ankrum, a California racer who is competing in the NASCAR K&N Series, rounding out the top five.
The top-five finishers all drove Toyotas.
Chevrolet drivers Connor Okrzeski, Jared Fryar and Anthony Cataldi, in positions six through eight, were the final cars on the lead lap. Jon Beach in a Toyota and Josh Brock in a Chevy rounded out the top 10.
Lessard talked to Busch, who holds the track record with 20 victories, before coming to the high-banked short track.
“He told me just do like I always do and everything would be fine,” Lessard said. “I knew I was going to have one of the best cars here. I just had to get the job done. Kyle has been really nice to me and I can’t thank him enough for this. I’m from Quebec and I never thought I would race for him one day.”
WALLACE, GORDON AND MORE
Steve Wallace, the son of race sponsor Rusty Wallace, finished 18th, and Jeff Gordon, not the NASCAR legend but a Florida short-track driver, wound up 19th.
In other races, Steve Vore won a 50-lap feature for Compact cars, and Chuck Barnes repeated as winner in a 50-lap feature for the Street Stock division.
Dennis Deese, a local evangelist and a regular competitor at Kingsport Speedway, finished 14th in an earlier Street Stock heat race.
“The speed here is incredible. You are moving,” Deese said. “It’s real delicate on the (steering) wheel coming out of the turns. It really sits you down in the car and you’ve got to be real careful on the steering wheel coming off the turns. I’m just glad to finish. It was a good day.”