Payne Rocks Winter Nationals Opener
BAYTOWN, Texas – Jeremy Payne’s last visit to the Royal Purple Raceway in February left a bad taste in his mouth, but Thursday night he returned to the clay oval in Baytown, Texas, for the 6th Annual USMTS Texas Winter Nationals presented by Ron Craft Cadillac-Chevrolet to redeem himself and this time tasted victory.
On the final night of the USMTS Spring Nationals here on Feb. 25, Payne did a solo spin coming off of turn 4 while leading comfortably and saw a $4,000 payday slip through his fingers and into the hands of Johnny Scott.
It was a moment that launched a rough start to the 2012 season for the 27-year-old from Springfield, Mo., just a few weeks after leaving Terry Phillips Racing and venturing out to form his own team. It wasn’t until Aug. 10 at the Humboldt Speedway that Payne grabbed his first win of the year during the Hunt for the USMTS Casey’s Cup.
Driving the No. 186 GRT Modified with sponsorship from SLAP Energy Drinks, it was the beginning of a strong fall season for Payne. One month later, he captured the USMTS National Championship Series finale at the Ogilvie Raceway before closing out the month of September with a win at the Featherlite Fall Jamboree.
Fresh off of winning the highest-paying IMCA Modified race of the year in Las Vegas last weekend, Payne returned to the Lone Star State on a roll and looking to put to rest some unfinished business at the Royal Purple Raceway.
Payne came from tenth to finish third in his heat race, which placed him among the top eight in passing points among the 79 entries on hand. Just like his last time here, he drew the front row for the start of the feature race and jumped out to a big lead when the green flag waved.
But this time was different. Just one mid-race caution slowed the event, but this time it wasn’t for Payne. Instead, he was racing in his own zip code and led every lap to take his fourth USMTS win of the year and pocket the $2,000 winner’s share of the purse.
“I’ve always enjoyed racing here and the track was just perfect tonight. It was really slick and just love tracks like this,” Payne said following his ninth career USMTS victory and second at the former Houston Raceway Park. “We gave one away there in February, so it’s nice to get a win here the first night out.”
Last year’s USMTS Texas Winter Nationals Thursday night winner Chris Brown of nearby Spring, Texas, settled for the runner-up spot behind Payne while Gopher State great Jason Krohn charged from 11th on the starting grid to take home a third-place finish ahead of Jason Hughes and Johnny Scott.
Rodney Sanders, Mike Steensma, Zack VanderBeek, Shane Hebert and Steve Whiteaker Jr. rounded out the top 10 finishers while USMTS national champion Ryan Gustin faded to 11th after starting third. Hebert passed 13 cars in the 30-lapper to earn the Mesilla Valley Transportation Hard Charger Award.
In USRA HotMod (Limited Mod) action, John O Whittington took the win in the 20-lap main event. He was followed across the finish line by Howard Willis, Travis Johnson, Corey Babbitt and Shane Hoefling.