Lessard Steals Talladega Truck Series Thunder

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Raphael Lessard earned his first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series victory Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway. (HHP/Andrew Coppley Photo)
Raphael Lessard earned his first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series victory Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway. (HHP/Andrew Coppley Photo)

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Raphael Lessard stayed glued to the bottom during the final two laps of Saturday’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Talladega Superspeedway and it ended up paying off.

Lessard, 19, was declared the winner of Saturday’s race when the caution flag waved on the final lap for a multi-car accident down the backstretch and in turn three. Lessard was marginally ahead of 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne at the time of the caution, leading to NASCAR officials to declare the Canadian driver the winner.

“This is amazing, I can’t believe it,” said Lessard, who became the fifth foreign-born driver to win the Truck Series. “It’s my second superspeedway race.”

Saturday’s race was the first cutoff event in the Truck Series playoffs, with Todd Gilliland and Christian Eckes failing to advance to the next round. Gilliland failed to finish after an engine failure, while Eckes was collected in a crash on the last lap.

A caution for debris with six laps left set up the final two-lap dash to the finish. Moments before the caution Sheldon Creed, who was leading, slowed suddenly with a flat tire. That allowed Stewart Friesen to rocket to the lead moments before the caution flag waved.

Friesen led the field back to the green flag with two laps left and did everything in his power to stay there during the final two laps. He got a big push from Lessard, who restarted third, to power into the lead in turn one.

Coming to the white flag Lessard was able to get to the inside of Friesen, with the two taking the white flag in a dead heat. Heading into turn one Friesen was able to pull clear, but Bayne was getting a big push on the outside and got a run coming out of turn two.

Friesen, seeing Bayne’s run, moved up out of turn two to try and block. Bayne responded by diving to Friesen’s inside, shuffling Friesen out of the way. Bayne was now side-by-side for the race lead with Lessard, who had stayed glued to the bottom.

As the field entered turn three contact between Friesen and Derek Kraus sent Friesen spinning into the wall, collecting playoff contender Eckes in the process. The caution would wave moments later as the field roared through turn four, with NASCAR determining Lessard was the race leader at the time of the caution.

“I don’t know who was behind me, but he gave me a heck of a push and I can’t thank him enough because he’s part of that win too,” said Lessard. “He pushed me as hard as he could and I was just holding on for the ride. Then the caution came out at the right time. I’m so happy. This was my first time doing a burnout (after) a race win and I loved it. Hopefully we can do it some more.”

Bayne, who returned to NASCAR competition this year after last competing in 2018, settled for a season-best second in the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet.

“We were glad to be leading down the backstretch and it looks like we lost by six thousandths of a second. I just need the yellow button clicker to be a little faster,” said Bayne, who confirmed he’d finish the season in the No. 45 for Niece Motorsports. “We put ourselves in the best spot we could to win the race. Really proud of this team. Really thankful for this opportunity.

“Five, six weeks ago I thought I may never run another NASCAR race. So to have a shot to come here and win and be competitive at Bristol, it’s been a lot of fun and I’m really thankful to be back.”

Chandler Smith, making his first start on a superspeedway for Kyle Busch Motorsports, finished third. Ben Rhodes, who gave Lessard the push he needed to win Saturday’s race, was fourth. Codie Rohrbaugh earned his second top-five of the season in fifth.

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