Fast VMS Toyota’s deliver mixed results at Winchester; Another second place for Eckes, Lessard earns career best finish and Heartbreaker for Smith
Concord, North Carolina (August 7, 2017) – Venturini Motorsports’ drivers Christian Eckes, Raphael Lessard, and Zane Smith showed up in force on Sunday afternoon for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards 200 at Winchester Speedway. The talented trio of teens made noise as each driver put their fast Toyota race cars into the spotlight throughout the 200-lap event.
Christian Eckes turned in another great performance on Sunday finishing second behind race winner Kyle Benjamin at Winchester Speedway. Eckes, in the No. 15 New York Bus Sales Toyota, stepped up in the end and got within five lengths of the leader, but fell back about a half-second at the final stripe. The Middletown, NY rookie tied his career-best finish with his runner up finish and earned his eighth consecutive top-10 finish of his season campaign.
“This place is so cool…maybe the most fun I’ve ever had at a race track,” said Eckes. “You have so many lines to work with. We started kind of slow in practice but once we got around other cars in the race, we were really good. We definitely had a great long run car…couldn’t get fired off too well on the restarts. But 30-to-40 laps into the run, the car came to us. Not sure if we could have gotten to the 28, but we had a good of a shot as anyone.”
Canadian Raphael Lessard overcame adversity and fought back to earn a career best 10th place finish in his second series start. Lessard, the latest driver to pilot VMS’ Musselman’s BIG Cup Apple Sauce Toyota was in the mix early running inside the top-3 before running over debris and cutting his right front tire. The unfortunate set of circumstances forced the 16-year driver hard into the outside wall damaging the car and pushing him back into the pack. Ruining his bid for victory, Lessard hung tight and kept his focus before completing the race in the 10th place spot.
“I want to thank Toyota and Venturini Motorsports for the opportunity to race in this series. I also want to thank Venturini Motorsports for providing me with great cars at every race,” said Lessard.
VMS’ Dave Leiner had high praises for Lessard after the race.
“Raphael was fantastic today in his series return with Venturini Motorsports,” said crew chief Dave Leiner. “He’s already proven himself as one of the top tiered super late model drivers in the country and based on what he showed me today it won’t be long before he joins the same conversation in the upper ranks. If the right front tire didn’t blow out early in today’s race I believe he would’ve challenged Benjamin for the win. His maturity and growth behind the wheel has come a long way since his earlier start with us (VMS) in the season. I’d like to see him get more opportunities. He’s got what it takes to win at this level.”
It was a major heartbreaker for Zane Smith who led 59-laps before breaking a transmission with 15-laps to go in the race. In search of his first career victory, Smith’s car stalled on the final restart allowing race winner Kyle Benjamin to drive around his No.55 Icon Vehicle Dynamics – La Paz Products Toyota. Smith would retire before the checkered flag and was credited with a 15th place finish.
“Absolutely crushed about today’s finish,” said Zane Smith. “We were right there – and felt good about holding those final laps but everything went out the window on that final restart. I don’t know, I guess something broke in the transmission. We just couldn’t fire off the line and we got freight trained. We were so close. It was definitely shaping up to be one epic Winchester finish.
The ARCA Series will take a week off before returning to action on Sunday, August 21 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds at Springfield for the first of two dirt races of the season.
ABOUT VENTURINI MOTORSPORTS:
Venturini Motorsports (VMS), fielding cars for over 30-years in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, is one of the premier NASCAR driver development programs in the country. Multiple team championships and consistent on-track success, VMS has evolved into one of the most recognizable names in motorsports. Since 2007, VMS has assisted in the career development of notable NASCAR drivers such as Joey Logano, Erik Jones, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, Brennan Poole, Kyle Benjamin, Daniel Suarez, and Brandon Jones. Over the years the Venturini name has become synonymous with modern-day racing in America. In 2012, the Venturini family was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and now find themselves enshrined with such sports icons as Joe DiMaggio, Mario Andretti, Vince Lombardi, Tommy Lasorda and Rocky Marciano.