MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Zach Chappell jumped out to a large lead then had to hang on at the finish to win the fifth annual Harold Leep Classic presented by Carter-Maxwell Friday at Thunderbird Speedway.
It was the third Ameri-Flex / OCRS victory of the season for the 2017 series champion. Chappell won by just a 0.940-second margin over a hard-charging Whit Gastineau who ran him down from a half-a-lap deficit on the half-mile oval.
“We were quick, but not as quick a Whit. We were a little tight,” Chappell said of the setup on his Ameri-Flex Hose and Accessories, Maxim chassis sprinter powered by DSO Racing Engines. “We changed a tire before the A (feature). I thought it was a little slicker then it was.”
The first time Chappell realized Gastineau was on his tail was in the final five laps.
“I saw his nose wing getting into (turn) one and that is when I went ahead and split the lapped cars,” Chappell said. “He is fast here. He has this place figured out. To beat him, I’ll take it.”
The race went the distance without a yellow causing lapped traffic to become a factor for both Chappell and Gastineau.
“Once we got in lapped traffic and dicing with them it was hard to pass because it was two and three wide sometimes,” Chappell said. “I was trying to pick and choose my battles wisely. But I could not slow down much because I knew someone was going to be coming.”
The 25-lap feature got underway with Chappell leading Andrew Deal, Robert Sellers and Gastineau through the first lap. Gastineau drove past Sellers for third on lap two but could not get around Deal for second until lapped traffic came into play on lap 8. For the next 17 laps, Gastineau stood on the gas chipping away at Chappell’s lead as the laps ran down.
“We were better than him,” Gastineau said of his efforts to catch Chappell. “We ran him down from half a straightaway (back).
“The cushion kind of saved all these cars. A lot of people can be fast on the cushion, but if it had slicked off we would have had the lead.”
The impressive run toward the front came despite fuel issues that plagued Gastineau in his heat race and again in the feature.
“We were catching him but the last five laps the motor was not running right,” Gastineau said. “We have some fuel issues, the magneto or something. We fixed it in the heat then in the A (feature) it was not 100 percent.”
At the finish Gastineau was a close second followed by Deal, Sellers and son Shane Sellers in fifth.