The concept of the Winchester 400 is simple in theory. You show up with a Super Late Model and complete 400 laps around the high-banked oval in less time than anyone else. Spend a little bit of time in victory lane, get a really cool firearm for a trophy, cash the winner’s check and write your name in the history book as a winner.
Sounds easy enough right? David Stremme even made it look easy when he won the 37th Annual Winchester 400 on Sunday afternoon. The NASCAR driver didn’t even show up to practice on Friday or Saturday. He just unloaded on Sunday, turned a few practice laps and eventually won the race.
But in reality, it wasn’t easy at all. One look at Stremme in victory lane showed just how draining those 400 laps were both physically and mentally.
“When David got out, his tongue was hanging out,” observed third-place finisher Scott Hantz. “He earned it.”
“I’m tired, I ain’t gonna lie,” admitted Stremme.
There was a lot to be tired about after the race that was run at Winchester Speedway (IN) under CRA Super Series sanction. Survival was the first key to the day, as only 10 of the 37 starters were around at the end of the race. At the halfway point, there were only 15 guys still running. Among the big guns who dropped out early due to wrecks or mechanical problems were Johnny Van Doorn, Chuck Barnes, Jeff Lane, Rick Turner, Zach Taylor, Dennis Schoenfeld, Boris Jurkovic, Jack Smith, Jeff Fultz, Justin Drawdy, Jason Dietsch, Eddie Van Meter and Mitch Cobb.
“Dude, I don’t know why everyone wants to wreck,” said Kyle Busch. “I don’t get it. I mean damn. We’re out there and trying to run 400 laps, but we’re wrecking every 10 laps. At the end, we ran 80 or so laps and that was our longest run all day. But before that, nobody was done wrecking.”
“I’ve been coming here, not 10 years straight, but 10 years trying to race this race…and I’ve learned that you’ve got to survive,” said Stremme. “Some of those guys drive over their means and their cars. You’ve just got to ride.”
Stremme did get one scare during the afternoon, when he was directly behind the wrecking car of Jack Smith on the front stretch just past the halfway point.
“With Jack Smith…that was big,” said Stremme. “I think that he had something break, I don’t know. But that was big and I was just hoping that I wasn’t going to get run over.”
At that point in the race, Stremme was just riding in the top five. It wasn’t just strategy though. He also didn’t have the car to take the lead.
“The car kept tightening up and tightening up and about halfway through I thought that there was no way that I was going to win,” admitted Stremme.
Stremme watched earlier in the race as Chris Gabehart ran away from the field and led. He watched as Zach Taylor inherited the lead due to pit stops and then pull away on his own merit. He watched Kyle Busch lead and then fight to regain that lead from Scott Hantz as the race wound down. Finally, he watched as his own pit crew put him out front first after the leaders’ final pit stops of the day with just 50 laps to go.
“They won me the race,” Stremme said of his crew. “Kyle had his Cup guys here and I had guys from my team, Steven’s team [The NASCAR Nationwide Series team of teammate Steven Wallace] and Kyle’s Truck team. We knew that starting that far back, we needed good pit stops and good strategy.”
“They probably had about the same speed of pit stop that we did, but they had a better pit selection,” said Busch. “He could stop earlier and I had to stay behind the pace car at the beginning of pit road and then when they dropped the jack, it was hammer down. They thought about it a little better than we did.”
Up to that point, Hantz had been able to run with Stremme and Busch on the racetrack. But he knew that once the final pit stops were made, he’d be in trouble.
“I knew that it was going to come down to that pit stop,” said Hantz. “They had professional pit crews and I had an amateur crew. They did good and that’s what won them the race – that pit stop.”
After the final restart, Busch reeled in Stremme. He caught him with 17 laps to go and even poked his nose under him with seven laps to go, but he just couldn’t get by to retake the lead.
“Our cars were so even that there wasn’t really anything to pass him with,” said Busch. “I could gain on him through the exit of the corner, but once we got to the straightaway where we could run wide open, he got away from me because his engine was a little better than mine.”
“We put on a big show I thought,” said Stremme. “It was wild. I saw the people in the stands standing and I thought, ‘Man! They’re going to be standing the whole time. It was crazy.”
While the Indiana fans were proud of Stremme, the home state driver was also pretty emotional himself.
“This means a lot to me,” said Stremme. I’ve closed the chapter of short track racing [in my career], but this was [unfinished business]. I’ve led so much here. I have pictures of when I was a little kid here and I’ve seen people get killed here. This place is tough. It’s one of the toughest tracks. It’s dangerous and you have to respect the place. It’s amazing some of the stuff I’ve seen here and now I get to race here.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet. I told Kyle that it meant [a lot] to beat him than to win because he’s won everything this year. He’s tough and he’s the best in the business right now.”
The victory also meant a lot to Stremme’s car owner in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – Rusty Wallace.
“He was laughing, hollering and everything else,” said Stremme about his phone call to Wallace from victory lane. “I get emotional and this means a lot because he and Mark Martin have won here.”
It will probably mean a lot to Stremme’s future car owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Roger Penske, as soon as he gets the news.
“I don’t think that Roger knew that I was racing today…but he’ll know now,” said Stremme.
Finishing behind Stremme, Busch and Hantz was Donnie Wilson – who made up three laps during the day and was the final car on the lead lap. The rest of the top 10, and the only other guys to finish the race, were Aaron Pierce, Chris Gabehart, Brent Jack, Justin Alsip, Jason Shively and Kenny Tweedy.