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Leyendecker a Winner in HTF Winter Shootout Series Finale

Leyendecker a Winner in HTF Winter Shootout Series Finale

MILTON, Fla. (Feb. 24) — Surviving a grueling 50-lap main event and a tense clash early with Cory Neil Jr. and Steven Jernigan, Colton Leyendecker of Holt, Fla. won Saturday night’s Rogers-Dabbs Performance Parts Crate Racin’ USA Winter Shootout Series HTF season finale at Southern Raceway in front of a near standing-room-only crowd at the high-banked facility.

Going from third to first on a lap-14 restart, Leyendecker powered around both second-running Jernigan and Neil, the race-long leader, to grab a lead he’d never relinquish. The 31-year-old Leyendecker then controlled taut restarts on seven more occasions while leading the final 36 laps to keep Neil at bay en route to a $10,000 payday and his first-ever victory on the Adam Stewart-managed winter miniseries.

“On previous restarts I wasn’t able to shake loose from [Steven] Jernigan enough to get a decent run, but on that restart I got beside him a little better and rolled ‘er off into turn one pretty hard,” Leyendecker said. “The momentum I had on the outside carried down the backstretch into turn three, and I sailed ‘er off in there and squeezed ahead of Jernigan to grab the lead. I decided to stay out there on the outside—and that’s pretty tough to pass that way here–because of the momentum we gained on that restart. It was either that, or run into the back of him going down the backstretch.”

It was an important win for the locally-based competitor, who has raced 604 Chevrolet Performance Circle Track Engines-powered machines for three years, and traveled periodically with the organization while learning the various tracks visited by the Eastaboga, Ala-based sanctioning body. Leyendecker lives approximately 20 minutes from the high-banked oval, and started his career in support divisions there before taking the plunge into Late Model-style machines.

“Huge deal for us…yeah,” Leyendecker said. “Heck yeah. In a sense I’d rather have won elsewhere because I’ve got a lot of laps here, and I’m more or less expected to win races here, but it’s still home and we’ve had success in weekly shows here, so it feels comfortable making laps here. A win on this series, though? We’ve never won a race this big, and there was a huge crowd here tonight, so that was good to see. We’ll take it wherever we can get it. It makes up for all of those other weekends that maybe didn’t end so well.”

After leading the first 14 laps from the pole, Neil, of Bridge City, Texas, stayed in Leyendecker’s tracks in settling for a runner-up finish, and was 0.833 seconds behind the winner. Sixth-starting Matt Henderson of Loudon, Tenn., picked up three spots to round out the podium, while Milton, Fla., driver Joseph Joiner (of Hunt the Front YouTube fame) rallied from 12th to fourth, despite significant damage to the left front of his car’s nose, a result no doubt of the many scuffles that took place during the course of the 93-minute feature. Jernigan, also of Milton, Fla., slipped to fifth, where he started, after battling inside the top three for much of the race.

While Leyendecker won the battle—and yes, it was indeed a battle—it was Will Roland of Jasper, Ga., who won the overall war. Roland entered the season finale with a 34-point lead over Tyler Millwood of Kingston, Ga. When the sand settled Saturday evening, Roland still had his 34-point advantage, though it was Henderson who emerged as series runner-up in the points standings, while Millwood dropped to third and was 36 points behind Roland in the chase for the championship. There were actually multiple points races—semifeatures during Georgia-Florida Speedweeks at both Volusia Speedway Park and East Bay Raceway Park awarded points.

With Roland, Millwood and Henderson concerning themselves with the miniseries points race, Leyendecker was focused on his first career five-figure payday. After surging into the lead, he managed to keep his Ward Built Fabrication, CJL Home Construction, CJL Homes-backed Longhorn Chassis comfortably in front of Neil over the final 18 circuits. Thanks to a bevy of cautions and a high attrition rate, Leyendecker only had to navigate his way past one backmarker, which he did with two laps remaining.

Only 10 of the 25 starters completed the distance after 13 cautions slowed the pace. The worst occurred during two separate incidents on the sixth lap.

A multicar accident in turn four—triggered when eighth-running Mario Gresham of Rome, Ga., went around—drew the third caution. It collected seven other cars, including Ryan French of Natchitoches, La., whose car came to a rest on its side on top of Austin Storm of West Monroe, La., and Trent McLeod of Baker, Fla. The melee resulted in a 22-minute red flag, which was part of a 29-minute delay that stretched the main event to more than 90 minutes.

On the lap-six restart, East Bethel, Minn., driver Larry Fitzsimmons, who was running 10th, got upside down in turn two when six cars tangled. The wreck was the accordion effect of contact between Leyendecker and Jernigan on the restart. Roland, who was running fifth, was also involved but managed to escape relatively unscathed to keep his championship hopes alive. The caution resulted in a 14-minute delay.

Other yellows waved for Cody Cook (four times), Briar Cheatham (twice), Jimmy Thomas, Cody Smith, Matthew Cain, Gresham and a five-car spin in turn two on the 32nd circuit.

The event concluded the short winter miniseries, and eyes will now focus on the organization’s regular touring series as the Rogers-Dabbs Performance Parts Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series is scheduled to open March 29-30 with the $10,000-to-win Southern Heritage Classic at Needmore Speedway in Norman Park, Ga.

The event will also be part of the nine-race Crate Racin’ USA $100,000+ Challenge circuit, which is a collection of nine races that each pay (at least) $10,000 to the winner, and carries a separate points fund from the regular touring series.

HTF Winter Shootout Finale: 1. Colton Leyendecker, 50; 2. Corey Neil Jr., 50; 3. Matt Henderson, 50; 4. Joseph Joiner, 50; 5. Steven Jernigan, 50; 6. Will Roland, 50; 7. Tyler Millwood, 50; 8. JC Wilson, 50; 9. Matt Dooley, 50; 10. John Winge, 50; 11. Trent McLeod, 41; 12. Arlan Smith, 39; 13. Austin Storm, 36; 14. Briar Cheatham, 33; 15. Bo Slay, 32; 16. Jake Rainey, 32; 17. Cody Cook, 32; 18. Mario Gresham, 32; 19. Matthew Cain, 24; 20. Jimmy Thomas, 20; 21. Tim Anderson, 19; 22. Larry Fitzsimmons, 6; 23. Cody Smith, 6; 24. Jesse Enterkin, 6; 25. Ryan French, 6.

Entries: 25
Fast qualifier: Corey Neil Jr., 15.423 seconds
Lead changes: One among two drivers
Lap leaders: Corey Neil Jr. 1-14, Colton Leyendecker 15-50.
Cautions: 13
Heat race winners: Will Roland, Colton Leyendecker, Corey Neil Jr.


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