Matt Craig was in the right place at the right time and left Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway with a guitar as a result.
Throughout the 300-lap All American 400 main event, it appeared as if the race ran through Donnie Wilson Motorsports teammates Chandler Smith and Sammy Smith. Craig captured the pole earlier in the afternoon but quickly conceded the top spot to Chandler Smith.
Sammy Smith took the lead from Chandler Smith, no relation, with 120 laps to go but that is when everything started to unravel for the Wilson organization. Sammy Smith developed a stagger issue early in the race with crew chief Bond Suss suspecting it would take a miracle to get their No. 22 to victory lane.
When Chandler Smith retook the lead, he then began to experience an electrical issue, not too dissimilar from the one that eliminated him from contention in the Winchester 400. During his final pit stop with 30 laps to go, Chandler Smith needed a lengthy push from a safety vehicle before the car re-firing and joined the field.
On the ensuing restart, Chandler Smith surged ahead to a three-second lead, and immediately fell off the pace.
The race was on.
Derek Griffith, making his All-American 400 debut, inherited the lead and was joined on the front row by Craig. Jackson Boone, a Nashville Pro Late Model regular, started just behind them. All three contenders were seeking their first win in the Super Late Model crown jewel.
Each of them did not appear to have the raw speed of the Wilson Motorsports cars but gave themselves a chance to win purely on attrition and survival.
Craig won only after trading paint with Griffith and just narrowly holding off Boone to the tune of a 0.365 margin of victory.
Craig was legitimately in shock, climbing out of the car and asking his team if they could believe what happened.
The JCR3 Racing team did not even plan to make the trip until after Craig returned from his honeymoon earlier in the month and was convinced to race this weekend by his dad, Jeff. And even then, they still were thinking about withdrawing.
“I can’t believe it,” Craig told Speed51.com in victory lane. “We were looking at the forecast this week and saw all the rain, and we could have done anything this weekend, Halloween parties.
“My dad said, ‘let’s go race,’ and I was like, ‘okay,’ and here we are. We won!”
Craig admitted this wasn’t a dominating win, but that didn’t matter.
“We were maybe a second-place car, third-place car,” Craig said. “Sammy wasn’t as good with their tire strategy or whatever happened there. But we got the win, and that’s all that matters.”
For Boone, a 21-year-old from nearby Franklin, Tennessee, simply making his first start in the Super Late Model main event was a highlight of his career. He had spoken glowingly throughout the weekend of just being happy to take the green flag in his favorite race of the year.
Jamie Yelton’s Fathead Racing called a perfect race and Boone has a shot, which is more than he ever could have dreamed of earlier in the morning.
“Man, I can’t even put this into words,” Boone said. “I have to thank mom and dad, Red Street Records and Fathead Racing. I’m ecstatic right now. We’ve had cars that run up front all year, and we’ve just had awful luck over and over, and I told everyone to not sleep on us.
“I’m still learning the Super, but the experience paid off and this showed what we’re capable of doing. I am just so ecstatic.”
Griffith rebounded from two laps down to find himself in the lead with 25 laps to go. He was pretty ecstatic for a guy that ultimately didn’t win, too.
“We just weren’t quite as good as those other guys,” Griffith said. “All day, we battled and battled, got the two lucky dogs, and I’m stoked to have had a chance after that, and just 30 laps of practice earlier today.”
Chandler Smith was unavailable for comment after the race. His elimination changed the entire dynamic of the night.
When given a chance to win, Craig and Griffith leaned on each other pretty hard, but it was an opportunity to steal a crown jewel from a multi-car mega team.
“I wasn’t going to make it easy, but Matt and I go back-a-ways and there’s a lot of respect there and we raced hard but clean,” Griffith said.
Boone came from a lap down, too.
“Crew chief told me once we got the lucky dog and pitted for tires to ‘save, save, save and chill out,’ and that’s what we did,” Boone said. “And then it was pick off as many cars as you could without burning the tires off it.
“Sure enough, we did that, and that’s when we had the caution for Chandler, and I hate that for them but we all capitalized on it and had a chance to win.”
For a race Craig didn’t plan on attending in the first place, his team leaves it with major momentum approaching the Snowball Derby in December. It was also the biggest win of his career.
“I’d say so,” Craig said. “It’s a big boost for the Derby because you never go down there thinking you’re going to win. We didn’t think we were going to win this weekend either. You just have to give yourself a chance and that’s what we did.”
-Story by: Matt Weaver, Racing America Editor-in-Chief – Twitter: @MattWeaverRA
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo
Unofficial Results – All American 400
- Matt Craig
- Jackson Boone
- Derek Griffith
- Carson Kvapil
- Willie Allen
- Cody Coughlin
- Sammy Smith
- Dylan Fetcho
- Casey Roderick
- Stephen Nasse
- Hunter Robbins
- Michael House
- Jesse Love
- Albert Francis
- Jack Smith
- Justin Drawdy
- Jake Finch
- Joe Ross
- Chandler Smith
- Dalton Armstrong
- Buddy Shepherd
- Kyle Crump
- Cole Butcher
- Blake Rowe
- Dakota Stroup
- Connor Okrzesik
- Austin Nason
- Jake Garcia
- Gabe Sommers
- Hunter Wright
- Devin O’Connell
- Justin Marks