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Lucas Lee Outduels Kyle Strickler for East Bay UMP Modified Winternationals Championship Victory




TAMPA, FL (Feb. 3, 2024) – It was only fitting the final edition of East Bay Raceway Park’s famed UMP Modified Winternationals event gave those watching an unforgettable finish.

 

For the final 10 laps, Lucas Lee and Kyle Strickler delivered.

 

The two DIRTcar UMP Modified veterans waged war around the historic Tampa oval, battling side-by-side for the win, swapping the lead back-and-forth multiple times before the checkered flag was thrown. In the end, Lee’s lane of choice around the bottom propelled him back into the lead with three laps left and outlasted Strickler’s high-side momentum to score the $5,000 grand prize for the second year-in-a-row and third time in his career.

 

“It means a lot – I’ve been coming down here since 2011,” Lee said. “It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Keep coming back, keep coming back, then I felt like we got really good.

 

“It feels good. I’m glad to win it back-to-back.”

 

Though Strickler – who has never won the Winternationals Championship Feature – came up one spot short after leading 62 of 75 laps, he admitted Saturday was “the happiest I’ve ever been to run second.”

 

“I think that’s what all the fans wanted to come see,” Strickler said. “Lucas there catfishing on the bottom and me ripping the top.

 

“Lucas was digging too deep of ditches for me tonight.”

 

Both drivers began their 75-lap journey from inside the first three rows of the starting grid – Strickler on the pole and Lee starting sixth. Strickler took command early, pacing the field around the 1/3-mile oval for the first 31 laps before Cole Czarneski took advantage of Strickler’s mistake slipping off the bottom lane in traffic to get the lead.

 

A competition caution was thrown three laps later to allow teams to refuel, as is tradition in the Winternationals main event. Under yellow, Strickler considered his options to get the lead back.

 

“I was just getting way too loose on the bottom, so after the fuel break there, I saw there was a bunch of moisture right through the middle, and it all went to the top,” Strickler said. “We talked about it. Ryan (crew member) actually said, ‘Do you think we should restart on the top?’”

 

Living up to his nickname, Strickler shifted his focus to the high side, wound-up his Longhorn Chassis #8 and blasted back by Czarneski to retake the lead on Lap 37. While Czarneski battled back with determination, briefly taking the lead back for one circuit on Lap 47, Strickler was too quick on the top and drove back by.

 

“When Cole got past me and was leading, I could move around and try some things,” Strickler said. “[If] you go back another spot, you can just try something different.”

 

Through multiple caution periods and restarts in the second half of the race, Strickler held strong and kept Czarneski at by while Lee began to make his presence felt, taking second from Czarneski on Lap 51.

 

As the race dipped under 15 laps-to-go, Lee still trailed Strickler by over a full second in traffic. Then, the final yellow flag was displayed with 63 laps complete, putting Lee right on Strickler’s bumper for the restart.

 

Strickler, favoring the middle lane, held strong as he crossed under the flag stand with 10-to-go, but Lee was closing fast on the bottom. He reeled Strickler in, took a look underneath on Lap 66, and on Lap 67 got enough grip on the bottom out of Turn 4 to take the lead at the start/finish line.

 

“I just stayed patient,” Lee said. “I had to get into (Turns) 3 and 4 hard enough to be able to stick and turn left, and then it would. [In] 1 and 2 I wasn’t very good, but 3 and 4 I felt like it was my spot.

 

“I knew if we got to where we had to run to the line, I felt confident. I really wasn’t confident in 1 and 2; I felt like I was just waiting too long, waiting too long to get going again.”

 

While Lee would have preferred to keep his opponents in the rearview, Strickler was not done. Over the final 10 circuits, Strickler pounded the high side and Lee stuck to the bottom, swapping the lead three times before Lee finally muscled it away for good with three-to-go and went on to capture the checkered flag.

 

Strickler crossed the line only two tenths-of-a-second behind Lee. Though he was disappointed to lead so many laps and come up empty-handed, he was still in positive spirits after being part of an entertaining show.

 

“Of course, I was pissed-off that I didn’t win, but it was still an awesome race,” Strickler said. “It was fitting for the last year here. That’s why I love Modified racing so much – you just get up on the wheel and drive the hell out of them.”

 

Czarneski wrapped-up his first full week in a UMP Modified with a third-place run in the main event. The 18-year-old Wisconsin-driver was also bummed to come so close, considering how good he said his car felt early on.

 

“It was good until the second-to-last restart,” Czarneski said. “I hit the hole pretty good, and for some reason, my car went away really, really bad.”

 

UP NEXT

 

UMP Modified Florida Speedweeks continues with another weeklong racing venture starting Monday, Feb. 5 at Volusia Speedway Park in the 53rd annual Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals.

 

Tickets are on sale now at DIRTcarNationals.com. If you can’t be at the track to watch, stream every lap live on DIRTVision.

 

RESULTS

 

A Feature 1 (75 Laps): 1. 12L-Lucas Lee[6]; 2. 8S-Kyle Strickler[1]; 3. 21CZ-Cole Czarneski[2]; 4. 99J-Treb Jacoby[8]; 5. 33W-Rodney Wing[9]; 6. 09-Michael Leach[5]; 7. 2-Devin Dixon[7]; 8. 20-Brian Skaggs[10]; 9. 27T-Michael Turner[18]; 10. 25W-Allen Weisser[19]; 11. 7-Brad Deyoung[3]; 12. 8A-Austin Holcombe[11]; 13. 33-Jeff Mathews[15]; 14. 8-Jimmy Lennex[21]; 15. 88-David Pollen[12]; 16. 27G-Jason Garver[17]; 17. 26G-Ryan Gierke[4]; 18. 64-Austin Sanders[22]; 19. 17-Chris Wilson[14]; 20. 24-Zeke McKenzie[16]; 21. 0-Damian Kiefer[13]; 22. 90-Tim Gay[24]; 23. 14M-Mavrick Varnadore[23]; 24. 9-Cory Balkey[20]; 25. 205-Travis Varnadore[26]; 26. 0L-Mason Love[25]

 

Photo credit – Tyler Carr

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