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Stephens Completes East Bay Sweep

Stephens Completes East Bay Sweep

GIBSONTON, Fla (Feb. 6) — Richie Stephens’ biggest obstacle on the way to a weekend sweep at East Bay Raceway Park was a steady rain that delayed the Crate Racin’ USA Late Model Sportsman feature he was leading Saturday night when rain arrived at the third-mile oval.

The popular division was part of the card all three nights during the 46th version of the Florida Winternationals, which also featured Crate Racin’ USA’s wildly-successful Winter Shootout Series for a three-day weekend at the Al Varnadore-promoted speedplant.

Stephens, with two victories already under his belt and heading for a possible third one, had to wait until the next afternoon when inclement weather arrived, postponing the main event until the next day. After track workers whipped the oval into raceable shape using heavy equipment and a strong effort, the race was restarted on lap six with Stephens leading the field to the green flag in daytime racing conditions.

Four cautions had slowed the field the previous evening, including the one on lap six that forced the rest of the event to be postponed. The remainder of the race was completed without a caution, and Stephens quickly grabbed the lead and paced the entire distance without serious challenge.

He was trailed to the stripe by Seth Wimpey, Tucker Anderson, Mario Gresham and Brandon Yates.

“It’s great to win three in a row here,” Stephens said. “We had planned to race in the 604 Late Model class, but we lost a motor down here in Florida last weekend, and switched back to our 602 Late Model Sportsman car. We’ve now run 11 races in this car, and won ‘em all. I love racing here. The place is magical…it’s a great racetrack and I like the people, and I like the owners. Whenever they open the gates here for a big race, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to be here.”

Stephens faced the postrace scrutiny of series officials, who pulled his car’s motor after three victories in a row worth a collective $4,000. The series had it checked the following week by a certified engine builder with the organization, which produced a clean bill of health for the powerplant.

Tire samples were also sent away to a lab for postrace inspection and testing, and those results were negative. Additionally, Stephens’ MSD box was protested, and his shocks were purchased by runnerup finisher Seth Wimpey, which is allowed in that division per the Eastaboga, Ala-based organization’s rules.

“It’s a little aggravating, and I’m getting a little tired of being picked on with this kinda stuff all the time,” Stephens said. “I’m not mad about the engine protest, but all this buying my stuff kinda bothers me, and just the way they did it. It’s fine, though. We’ve won a bunch of races, and all we can do is put our stuff back together, and maybe win a few more races. I understand it, but I don’t have to like it.”

Stephens’ trio of victories during the weekend occurred in a car that included sponsorship from Knott’s Towing, Fox Shocks, Central Pumps and Compressors, AGS Auto Glass, TMT Utilities, Hurst Construction, The Hooch, The Black Cow, Allstar Graphix, Southeastern Performance, Car Tek and Keller-Williams Realty (Ashley Stephens).

Florida Winternationals 602 (Night Three): 1. Richie Stephens, 2. Seth Wimpey, 3. Tucker Anderson, 4. Mario Gresham, 5. Brandon Yates, 6. Austin Leamon, 7. Quentin Steedley, 8. Troy Dixon, 9. David Showers Jr., 10. Wyatt Gainey, 11. Craig Montesi Jr., 12. Kyle Beck, 13. Zack Owens, 14. Justin Rabon, 15. Chuck Hargrove, 16. Jamie Anderson, 17. Micha McCall, 18. Matt Thompson, 19. Joe Denby, 20. Jason Hayes, 21. John-Wayne Haynes.

Entries: 21
Fast Qualifier: Richie Stephens, 15.675 seconds
Lap leaders: Richie Stephens 1-30.
Cautions: 4
Heat winners: David Showers Jr., Richie Stephens.

Article Credit: Brian McLeod