Making his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series (NGOTS) debut at Martinsville Speedway, 17-year-old Canadian driver Raphael Lessard had a realistic goal of completing all the laps and finishing the event with his Spectra Premium/FRL Express Tundra in one piece.
Lessard, a graduate of the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) Super Late Model program, caught everyone's attention on Friday when he finished both full-field practices ranked ninth among the 38 cars entered. The results came despite the fact that he had never made laps in a truck, was working with crew chief Michael Shelton for the first time and had never turned a lap at a the challenging .526-mile track in any type of vehicle. The talented teenager upped his game in Saturday morning's qualifying session when he earned the seventh starting position for the 250-lap event.
Lessard got shuffled back a few spots on the initial start of the race and would end Stage 1 in the 10th position. After making the first pit stop of his Truck Series career, he was scored in the 11th position when the field took the green to start Stage Two.
During the final two stages, Lessard and the No. 46 team found it challenging to find the grip necessary to return to the top 10, but were able to register an average running position of 14.0 as Lessard kept the nose of his Spectra Premium/FRL Express Tundra clean, gained valuable seat time that will help him for his final two starts of his three-race schedule with KBM this season and at the end of the day posted a very respectable 14th-place finish in the race that was televised nationally on FOX.
Stage One Recap:
- Lessard started the 131.5-mile event from the seventh position on the inside lane, but fell back two positions on the initial start of the race. He would settle into the ninth spot for the first 20 laps and then fell back one more spot to 10th, where he would remain when a one-truck accident on lap 64 brought the field to the end of Stage One.
Stage Two Recap:
- Lessard communicated to Shelton that his Spectra Premium/FRL Express Tundra was "tight center and free off" before hitting pit road. The over-the-wall crew executed a four-tire and fuel stop along with a trackbar adjustment in an attempt to improve the handling for their young driver.
- The No. 46 Toyota was scored in the 11th position when the field took the green flag to start Stage Two on lap 79. He was scored in the 13th position when one-truck accident slowed the field for the third time on lap 119.
- After Lessard reported that he was "super loose on entry," Shelton summoned his driver to pit road for another four-tire and fuel stop, this time using a wedge adjustment in an effort to improve the handling.
- With a handful of trucks electing not to pit, the Canadian driver took the lap-122 restart from the 15th position. He lost one more spot over the final 18 laps and crossed the stripe 16th to end Stage Two.
Final Stage Recap:
- Between stages Lessard reported that he still wasn't happy with the handling of his Tundra, so when pit road opened, he returned to pit road. Shelton elected to save his final set of sticker tires for later in the race and just called for his over-the-wall crew to make a chassis adjustment and fill the truck with fuel.
- The No. 46 Toyota restarted in the 13th position when the Final Stage went green on lap 152. Shortly into the stage, Lessard got put in a three-wide situation by Cup Series regular Austin Dillon and would end up falling back to the 17th spot.
- Lessard was running in the 16th spot when the field was slowed for the fifth time with 60 laps remaining. Shelton put on the final set of tires and made one more attempt at improving the handling of the Spectra Premium/FRL Express Tundra.
- The field would go back green with 53 laps remaining with the first-time driver scored in the 17th position. He remained in the 17th position when the field was slowed again with 38 laps remaining and was still scored 17th when the sixth caution of the day occurred with seven laps remaining.
- The final restart of the race came with three laps remaining. The young Canadian would battle hard to gain three positions before a caution on the final lap ended the race. At the end of the day Lessard had completed all 250 laps with his Tundra in one piece and earned a very respectable 14th-place finish.