VALLEE-JONCTION, Quebec — If anyone had any doubts about Raphael Lessard being the real deal, they were quickly crushed on Saturday afternoon at Autodrome Chaudiere.
Lessard, who grew up minutes from the track in St. Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, made his presence known by winning the Budweiser 300 in dominating fashion in his NASCAR Pinty’s Series debut.
The 17-year-old Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota Racing Development driver became the first to claim the checkered flag in their series debut since Don Thomson Jr. won the inaugural NASCAR Pinty’s Series race in 2007.
Lessard’s No. 07 Societies Louis Jacques/FRL Express Dodge used its speed on the restarts to take the lead from teammate LP Dumoulin on lap 137 and never looked back.
Lessard was able to hold off all who challenged him, until the race was called on Lap 286 when rain came pouring down.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” Lessard said. “At first, I thought our car was okay, and on new tires it wasn’t great but as the race went on it just seemed to get better and better. Everyone seemed to fall off and we just didn’t.
“I’m super pumped and can’t thank everyone enough,” Lessard added. “It’s just awesome to do a deal like this for one race and dominate. I’ve never worked with those guys before, so it just feels great.”
Kevin Lacroix started fifth and slowly fought his way up the field, before ultimately settling for his second straight runner-up finish.
“We always have a hard time here. We were targeting top five … maybe top six, and we would’ve been really happy,” Lacroix said. “And now second place, top contender. Everything is very nice for us. We’re really happy with gaining a lot of points and taking the points lead.”
Polesitter and 2016 Chaudiere winner Alex Labbe led the early going before being passed by Dumoulin and Lessard. Labbe would fight his way to a third-place finish, his first podium since his one-off race at GP3R last season.
Jukasa winner Andrew Ranger and Alex Tagliani rounded out the top five.
Mark Dilley scored his second top ten of the season in sixth, followed by CBRT’s Brett Taylor in seventh, notching his best career NASCAR finish.
Despite being laps down at certain points in the race, Brandon White was able to defy the odds and score his best career finish in eighth. Simon Dion-Viens also recovered after numerous spins for a ninth-place finish, with Donald Theetge completing the top ten.
Lap 271 saw a turning point in the race, after Dumoulin and Jason Hathaway crashed in turn three to draw the red flag.
Raphael Lessard, Kevin Lacroix, Alex Labbe, Andrew Ranger, Alex Tagliani, Mark Dilley, Brett Taylor, Brandon White, Simon Dion-Viens, Donald Theetge, Marc-Antoine Camirand, D.J. Kennington, Jason White, T.J. Rinomato, L.P. Dumoulin, Jason Hathaway, Anthony Simone.