The 81 Speedway fans roared as a victorious Rico Abreu climbed atop his wing and held up four fingers on one hand and a single finger on the other.
The St. Helena, CA native was signaling his support to the man everyone showed up to salute Saturday night, Jason Johnson.
Abreu led the entirety of the fifth Jason Johnson Classic, holding off a late rally by Carson Macedo to seal the win and $20,000 payday. The trip to Victory Lane at the Wichita, KS track was his second with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars in 2023 through only seven starts.
It’s the first time since 2018 that Abreu has claimed multiple World of Outlaws Features in the same season. The 31-year-old is now up to 11 triumphs with The Greatest Show on Dirt.
With Bobbi and Jaxx Johnson joining Abreu in his celebration on the front stretch in front of filled grandstands, emotion swelled for Abreu as he soaked in one of his most meaningful career victories.
“These wins become really emotional when you get up here on the front straightaway in front of a packed house and in front of Jaxx,” Abreu said, patting Jason’s son on the shoulder. “It’s a very cherishing moment for my team and I. We’re all our here racing for Jason Johnson’s legacy.”
Early on Abreu announced he would be tough to beat as he snatched the lead from the outside of the front row when the green flag flew. Behind him Carson Macedo and David Gravel began a war for the runner-up spot with Gravel securing it just before a yellow flag flew.
The opening stage of the race became marred by stoppages including one for championship point leader, Brad Sweet, as he was involved in a multi-car incident entering Turn 1. The four-time and defending champion was able to make repairs and rejoin.
Officials made the decision to utilize single file restarts for the remainder of the main event after the early issues, and it paid off as the yellow flag would not fly again for the balance of the race.
Once the race established a rhythm, Abreu pulled ahead on a clear track, and even in early parts of navigating traffic, Abreu kept two of the country’s best in Macedo and Gravel safely behind. Abreu credited his team, led by Ricky Warner, and their growing chemistry for the speed of his #24 machine.
“It all comes down to my team. They do an amazing job,” Abreu said. “Ricky, his critical thinking, and the way Zack adapts to Ricky’s thinking, and how Brady works through and processes things. It’s so cool to see.”
Late in the going, Abreu was forced to fend off a late challenge from the man wheeling the Jason Johnson Racing ride, Macedo. The Lemoore, CA native found some speed on the very top of Turns 1 and 2 and used it to close on Abreu as the laps waned.
Abreu crossed the start/finish line with two to go and made a decision he seldom had all race – going to the bottom of Turn 1. This allowed Macedo to get an even bigger run on the cushion and close quickly exiting Turn 2.
As they screamed down the back straightaway, Macedo ducked low with hopes of throwing a slider in turn three. But Abreu protected the spot and didn’t allow Macedo to edge ahead. The JJR #41 slipped up the track mid-corner, allowing Abreu to pull away with the white flag in his sights.
When the checkered flag flew, Abreu’s advantage had grown back to nearly a second as he became the eighth different winner at 81 Speedway through 14 Series visits and the fifth different winner of the Jason Johnson Classic.
“I knew the #41 was behind me because of the scoreboard on the front stretch, and I knew he was giving it all he had,” Abreu explained. “It’s the style of Carson racing. So, just to be up here and racing in front of the best Sprint Car fans in the world is an unbelievable feeling.”
Macedo wound up second, marking his third consecutive podium. The recent consistency paid off in elevating him into the points lead. While Macedo wanted more than anything to park the JJR ride in Victory Lane for the Jason Johnson Classic, he still walked away with his head held high with a second-place effort and sitting atop the standings.
“It would’ve been really cool to park the Jason Johnson Racing car in Victory Lane at Jason Johnson’s race, but nevertheless we were on the podium again and had a solid night,” Macedo said. “At the end there I gave it everything I had and then some to try and win it.”
Rounding out the top-three was Watertown, CT’s David Gravel. The Big Game Motorsports driver was strong during all 30 laps, even claiming the runner-up spot on multiple occasions, before taking home third. The effort equaled him with Brad Sweet (6) for the most podiums this season. He also moved into second in the standings.
“It was a good effort,” Gravel said. “I wish Carson didn’t get by me there right after that red flag and then I maybe could’ve had a shot at Rico because Rico was searching quite a bit in (turns) one and two.”
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all the action live on DIRTVision.
A Feature (30 Laps): 1. 24-Rico Abreu; 2. 41-Carson Macedo; 3. 2-David Gravel; 4. 5-Spencer Bayston; 5. 83-James McFadden; 6. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 7. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 8. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 9. 1A-Jacob Allen; 10. 7BC-Tyler Courtney; 11. 11-Michael Kofoid; 12. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 13. 15-Donny Schatz; 14. 49-Brad Sweet; 15. 7S-Robbie Price; 16. 25-Scott Bogucki; 17. 1X-Jake Bubak; 18. 21-Brian Brown; 19. 52-Blake Hahn; 20. 20G-Noah Gass; 21. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 22. 13-Justin Peck; 23. 8-Aaron Reutzel; 24. 3-Ayrton Gennetten