Event: South Carolina Education Lottery 200, Race 15 of 23, 147 laps – 45/45/57; 200.1 miles
Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in South Carolina (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval)
Date/Broadcast: Sept. 6, 2020, at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR 90
Racing with Raphael:
Raphael Lessard and the No. 4 Mobil 1 team head to Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where the 19-year-old Canadian driver is coming off his third top-10 in the last four races. He is in his first full-time season in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and is competing for Rookie of the Year honors with veteran crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. This will be the first time since the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series returns to Darlington Raceway since 2011 when Kyle Busch Motorsports picked up the victory with Kasey Kahne.
So far in 2020, Lessard has 14 starts with an average starting position of 13.2 and an average finishing position of 15.6. The Toyota Racing Development Driver’s season-best finish was on the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, where the rookie driver finished in the third position. The talented teenager has shown a great improvement in recent weeks, recording an average finish of 9.2 over the last five races compared to an average finish of 19.1 he posted over the first nine races of 2020.
With two races remaining in the regular season, Lessard is ranked 13th in Gander Trucks driver points standings. He currently sits 73 points behind the cutoff line for making the 10-driver playoff field, so while it is still mathematically possible to get in on points, realistically he must win one of the next two races to earn a spot on the playoff grid.
Lessard made five Gander Trucks starts in 2019, three of those with Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM). Across his five starts, he posted two top-10 finishes while recording an average starting position of 10.4 and average finish of 11.1. Lessard’s strongest run came in his final start of the season when he was running inside the top five with under 30 laps remaining before getting spun and relegated to a 12th-place finish.
While Lessard may be a newcomer to the Gander Trucks, Hillman Jr. has plenty of experience. The veteran crew chief has 314 Gander Truck Series starts under his belt, with 22 wins, 23 poles, 116 top-five and 173 top-10 finishes with drivers including Todd Bodine, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch and last season, Harrison Burton. At Darlington, Hillman has two Gander Trucks starts and his drivers have earned one win (Todd Bodine, 2010), two top-five and two top-10 finishes, an average start of 10.0 and an average finish of 2.0.
Due to Lessard’s presence in the series, all 23 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series races this season will be broadcast throughout Canada on RDS and RDS DIRECT.
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Raphael Lessard Darlington Q&A
Often at Darlington, crew chiefs tell a driver to race the track and not the other trucks. How hard is that to do as a driver?
“I’m going to Darlington for the first time this weekend. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I feel like it is going to be a tough racetrack, especially for rookies that have never been there. My crew chief (Mike Hillman Jr.) told me that we have to race the track and not the other trucks around you. You have to save your tires as much as possible and stay off the outside wall because you are really close to it most of the race. We are just going to race the racetrack, learn what we have to learn to be there at the end to be in contention for the win. We have two more races to make it into the Playoffs, so we have to win. I’m going out there and ready to win.”
Being a tough surface known to wear out tires, do you think having experience in tire conservation from your Super Late model days will help you on Sunday?
“I think it definitely won’t hurt having experience on old pavement racing in super late models with having to save a lot of tires. It won’t hurt for this Sunday’s race because Darlington has really old pavement, and we are going to have to be pretty careful with how aggressive we are at first with those tires. We are going to need a lot of patience and then to be aggressive at the end to be there with 50 laps to go. I feel like we are going to be really good there. We have three top-10s in the past four races, so we are getting better as a team. I think we are going to have a good Mobil 1 Tundra.”
With it being throwback weekend, what’s your favorite NASCAR paint scheme of all time?
“It’s throwback weekend this weekend at Darlington and one of my favorite schemes from when I was younger is Jeff Gordon’s DuPont No 24. I always thought with the bright colors that it looked pretty cool and you could really see it on the racetrack. I’m looking forward to this weekend. Hopefully, we can get this Mobil 1 Toyota Tundra in victory lane.”
Raphael Lessard Career Highlights:
Across 19 career Truck Series starts has produced one top-five, five top-10 finishes and an average finish of 14.4.
In 2019, Lessard posted 83 laps led, two top-five and three top-10 finishes across three ARCA Menards Series starts and one win, one top-five and two top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. His Pinty’s Series victory came at his hometown track, Autodrome Chaudiere in Vallee-Jonction, Quebec, on June 29 when he led a race-high 153 laps en route to the sentimental win.
Won two marquee events driving KBM’s famed No. 51 Super Late Model in 2018: the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway in May and the Red Bud 400 ARCA/CRA Super Series race at Anderson Speedway in July.
Overall in 16 starts for KBM in 2018 split across the CARS Super Late Model Tour, the Southern Super Series and the ARCA/CRA Super Series, posted two wins, three poles, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 2018.Started seventh and led 68 laps in the prestigious Snowball Derby at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla.
Captured the 2016 CARS Super Late Model Tour championship after recording four wins, one pole, 157 laps led, eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes across 10 races.
Raphael Lessard’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Tundra:
KBM-066: The No. 4 Mobil 1 team will unload chassis number KBM-066, which has been raced once. Lessard ran the chassis at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, where the rookie driver finished 15th.
KBM Notes of Interest:
Across two starts at Darlington Raceway, KBM drivers have collected one win (Kasey Kahne 2011), 95 laps led, one top-five and one top-10 finish resulting in an average finish of 11.0
KBM holds the NGROTS records for most career wins (78) and most wins in a single season (14 in 2014). In addition to collecting a series-record seven Owner’s Championships, the organization has produced two championship-winning drivers: Erik Jones (2015) and Christopher Bell (2017).
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!