As is always the case, winning a marquee Super Late Model race like the Winchester 400 came down to a series of decisions.
While most of the spotlight will be focused on the contact between Sammy Smith and Jack Smith on the intended final laps, Wilson Motorsports also won the race on a decision by crew chief Bond Suss to save their final set of right sides until the final 25 laps.
The decision by race director Glenn Luckett to penalize Sammy Smith for avoidable contact with Jack Smith sent the young driver to the back of the field. There were only 14 cars still on the track by that point and each of those a lap down or more made a decision to wave Smith ahead of them.
Those decisions placed Smith on the outside second row on the final restart and the Wilson Motorsports No. 22 was shot out of a cannon and quickly retook the lead from Jake Garcia during a green-white-checkered finish.
It was those choices that sent the 2021 ARCA East champion to what he called the biggest accomplishment of his young career.
"I say it’s the top,” Smith told Speed51 in victory lane. “Super Late Model racing is the toughest in my opinion. That was a tough day. Started seventh and led for a little while and the tire deal makes you run up against the wall and then we came close to losing a lap when we were saving. This place isn’t easy."
In the immediate aftermath of his celebration, Smith didn’t think he had much to apologize to Jack Smith over, but that sentiment wasn’t shared by the 48-year-old ASA and NASCAR veteran.
Driving the Platinum Motorsports No. 26, Jack Smith led for much of the final 100 laps until the white flag lap when he came together with Sammy Smith on the backstretch and didn’t disconnect until the veteran was sent into the wall.
Sammy Smith claimed to have the position and wasn’t going to lift as someone pinched him into corner entry, while Jack Smith didn’t mince words on a rebuttal.
“I should keep my mouth shut right now because I’m really pissed off, but that was nonsense,” Jack Smith said. “I have a lot of respect for his dad. His dad used to be my agent. It was nonsense. You don’t race someone like that.
“I get it’s one of the biggest races of the year and you want to win it, but doing it that way, everyone knows what comes around, goes around.”
As for the conviction that he pinched Sammy into making that decision:
"He’s full of s—,” Jack Smith said. “He f—–g lifted me up down the back straight and then he just carried me off in there. That’s bulls— and that’s a chickens— way. Just man up and take it."
As Sammy Smith came to a stop for his frontstretch celebration, he was immediately met by Jack Smith who wanted to make him take it right then and there. The younger Smith put his No. 22 in reverse until he was clear of his pursuer.
“I don’t really feel like I hit him at all,” Sammy said. “I was trying to pass him clean so I wouldn’t have to hit him into (Turn) 3 because I feel like that doesn’t really turn out good when you do that. I tried to get under him and I was and he started to come down and I wasn’t going to lift, and that happened.”
That being the contact, and one there wasn’t immediately a lot of remorse for.
"I mean, at the end of the day, I would have lifted if it were lap 20, but it was the last lap and he came down,” Sammy added. “There is nothing to apologize for. I didn’t do anything wrong, I feel like. Just racing. He came down and got the bad end of the deal."
“It is what it is, I guess.”
The younger Smith was quick to praise Suss and team for the car and the strategy that landed him up front.
The race played into the veteran crew chief’s hands.
“I wanted to save tires until late because that’s how this race is won, especially with the (every) 50 lap (competition) caution deal,” Suss said. “When the caution came out on lap 320, I wanted to save those right sides and that would get us to 370.
"No one else waited to take it so it was just a matter of taking care of track position. We made it 180 laps on both set of right (sides) so it was just keeping Sammy on the right pace. Those sets were hurt, and they’re supposed to be after 180 laps — but they weren’t killed and that was because of Sammy."
Despite the messy circumstances, Suss was quick to point out the maturation of his driver this season, a campaign that has included several Super Late Model victories and the ARCA East championship.
“He’s obviously one of our TR2 development drivers and I work that program with Toyota and it started late when we put this schedule together for him in January,” Suss said. “From Day One this year, we evaluated how to build him up as a driver and I think we found some thing that had never been done for him.
“Mark McFarland on the ARCA side has had a similar approach and similar results this year too. But he works so hard. I’ll have the debrief with him tomorrow and he will be ready to go through everything. He has worked really hard this year and he’s doing everything he needs to do to get where he wants to be.”
And now, he’s a Winchester 400 winner.
The race was halted under red flag conditions on Lap 80 for a three-car crash involving JP Crabtree, Josh Ebbert and defending winner Carson Hocevar. The incident concluded with Crabtree upside down and Hocevar citing the incident as the hardest hit of his career.
Crabtree spent time in an ambulance but walked away under his own power.
Hunter Jack claimed the Champion Racing Association Super Late Model championship with a 12th place finish with fellow contenders Cody Coughlin and Kyle Crump falling out earlier in the race.
The two fastest cars in the race were driven by Chandler Smith and Stephen Nasse but both were challenged early on with mechanical problems. Nasse lost four laps due to a blistered tire while Chandler Smith lost over 10 laps due to an electrical problem.
Nasse worked his way back on the lead lap and spun off Turn 4 inside 10 laps to go while running second and attempting to chase down Jack Smith for the win. Nasse and Smith were routinely mixing it up with the leaders during the middle portions of the race in the hopes that enough cautions and passes would get them back in contention.
Chandler Smith said he wishes the track would have paid a bonus for most cars passed and Nasse was prepared to challenge him for the distinction.
“It was fun,” Nasse said. “I say it was fun because it’s fun to pass race cars, but it’s not fun to be on the verge of wrecking and risking tearing up your equipment every lap. Hoosier needs to figure something out (with the national tire shortage) because it’s getting to be ridiculous.
“I truly feel these tires cost me the race because we were night and day different after just changing the tires. We went from getting lapped three times to then passing the leaders and running away from them. It’s just a crazy up and down day.”
That was the story of the 50th Winchester 400.
-Story by: Matt Weaver – Twitter: @MattWeaverRA
-Photo credit: Matt Weaver
Unofficial Results – Winchester 400
- Sammy Smith
- Stephen Nasse
- Eddie VanMeter
- Jake Garcia
- Dusty Williams
- Jack Smith
- Albert Francis
- Chandler Smith
- Rick Turner
- Dakota Stroup
- Colby Lane
- Hunter Jack
- Corey Heim
- Cody Coughlin
- Dalton Armstrong
- Cayden Lapcevich
- Kyle Crump
- Carson Hocevar
- Josh Ebbert
- JP Crabtree
- Tommy St. John
- Chris Munson