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Thursday Thunder drivers ride momentum into Bandolero Nationals

Chase Purdy, left, and Ashton Winger walk to the garage at Atlanta Motor Speedway following a practice session at a recent Thursday Thunder race. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Chase Purdy, left, and Ashton Winger walk to the garage at Atlanta Motor Speedway following a practice session at a recent Thursday Thunder race. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Bandolero Nationals

When, where: Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton

Schedule: Practice sessions on Friday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. as well as on Saturday before the start of qualifying sessions from 11 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Following qualifying, heat races for all Legends and Bandolero divisions will begin at 3 p.m. with 20-lap feature races scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. start.

Admission: Free

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Ashton Winger climbs out his car at victory lane following his first Thursday Thunder Outlaw division win on Thursday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

HAMPTON — Heading into a national race, drivers hoped to have built some momentum.

Add Ashton Winger and Chandler Smith to that list of Thursday Thunder drivers that will take some much-needed momentum into Saturday’s Bandolero Nationals at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Winger, a Senoia resident, won his first Thursday Thunder race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Thursday heading into the national meet.

He called it a “big weight off” his shoulders. Last season, Winger won the Outlaw division with five wins.

“I felt like I should have won a lot more out here this year,” Winger said. “It is not always the fastest car that wins. I finally got that weight off my shoulders.”

And just in time as he looks to compete in his final race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Winger will mostly race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout for the rest of the season.

In addition to competition from fellow Outlaw drivers Jensen Jorgensen and Chase Purdy, Winger can expect some stiff competition from a host of drivers from around the country on Saturday.

Jorgensen, a Stockbridge native, is the defending Bandolero National champion. On Thursday, Jorgensen saw his four-race winning streak end at the hands of Winger.

In a caution flag-filled race, Jorgensen finished fourth with Purdy taking the runner-up spot and Joshua Hicks finishing third.

“It sort of sucks coming into the national race with a loss,” Jorgensen said. “You want to go in with some momentum. I know I have a fast car. In the end, it is no big deal because I have to be ready to race on Saturday.”

Jorgensen said the Thursday Thunder drivers will have the advantage of having competed on the track the last five weeks. Many of them also compete in the offseason Winter Flurry events.

“I know that there will be a quality field at the track,” Jorgensen said.

Smith has dominated the Bandits division with his sixth feature win of the season on Thursday. He has won 26 straight races heading into the Nationals.

On Thursday, it took Smith just two laps to move to the front of the field. Connor Younginer of Stockbridge got loose out of turn four, which left an opening for Smith to move to the inside and take the lead.

Smith, the defending National champion, then rode to the win and added to his points lead over second-place Younginer by 29 points. With a win on Saturday, he can clinch the national championship.

“I’m really excited about the Nationals,” said Smith, who celebrated his 12th birthday on Thursday with the win. “I don’t think there will be any pressure to win. I pretty much know the field.”