Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thomas Repeats $25K Oval Nationals Win; Courtney Wins USAC Sprint Title On Tiebreaker

Kevin Thomas, Jr. captured his second consecutive "Oval Nationals" victory Saturday night at California's Perris Auto Speedway. (Photo Courtesy Michael Fry)

By: Richie Murray - USAC Media

Perris, California.........It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

That about sums of the rollercoaster of emotions Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Tyler Courtney endured at the conclusion of Saturday night's Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction at Perris Auto Speedway.

Kevin Thomas, Jr. notched his second-straight "Oval Nationals" win worth $25,000, but lost the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car championship on a tiebreaker to Tyler Courtney who gained the one spot he needed on the final lap after it appeared as if his title chances had slipped through his fingertips just moments before.

After 40 races from coast-to-coast, and 40 laps around Perris, the 2018 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season concluded in the most dramatic of fashion, deadlocked at the top of the standings for the first time in the 63-year history of the series. It's a record that will never be eclipsed, breaking the previous closest title race from 1965 when Johnny Rutherford defeated Greg Weld by 2.5 points.

Drama, agony, ulcers, heartbreak and, ultimately, joy were just a few of the ingredients in the mix during the final lap of the 23rd annual affair, which provided us with a nail-biter of a race on the track and on the Xcel Spreadsheet which was unlike any we've seen in recent times.

As he did Friday night, Courtney jumped out front once again at the start of the main event, although it was short-lived as Dave Darland escaped unscathed after a turn four flip on the opening lap.

On the complete restart, Courtney checked out from his outside front row starting spot while polesitter C.J. Leary cleared a charging Chase Stockon in turn two to lock up the second spot where he'd remain for much of the first half. That is until A.J. Bender became the second casualty of the young feature, flipping between turns three and four on the 14th lap before walking away under his own power.

Leary was salivating with thoughts of racing fortune when action resumed, sticking right to the bumper of Courtney until lap 16 when the two went wheel-to-wheel with Leary making the pass in turn two and narrowly leading before Courtney came right back at him for the spot on the following lap. Courtney made his move for the lead on the back straight, but Leary made a charge between three and four with Courtney just barely nipping Leary for the lead at the line this time.

On the 18th circuit, Leary was able to clear Courtney again in turn two to retake the lead and instantly began to widen the gap between he and Courtney to nearly a second and looked to be the head of the class.

With 14 laps remaining, Leary led the field entering turn one, but his ride appeared to be a handful as he wrestled with his steering wheel to get the car to turn. Courtney and Thomas, running second and third at the time, ate his lead up in the flick of a switch. Just moments later, the car of 22nd running Chris Gansen slowed to a stop at the inside of turn four to bring out the yellow. During the caution, Leary pulled into the work area to replace the right rear rubber. Though he returned to the track, his bid for a win was quashed for all intents and purposes and he'd soldier on to a 15th place finish.

That now placed the top-two in points in first and second on the track. Courtney came into the feature with a nine-point advantage and the objective was clear - finish fourth or better and the title was his regardless of what Thomas did. However, at the moment, the biggest single race payday of the year was just within reach and he was keen on putting that cherry on top of the pie with just 13 laps remaining.

Thomas worked on Courtney over the next handful of laps and, on lap 33, made his move around the outside of Courtney to grab the lead. Courtney was still in decent shape as he ran second, but one lap later, Chris Windom also scooted by and, suddenly, Courtney's title bid was in a perilous state.

With four laps remaining, Stockon slipped by the suddenly fading Courtney for third while Bacon was suddenly breathing down his neck for fourth. Courtney was able to take a deep breath for a moment during the red with three laps remaining that resulted when R.J. Johnson flipped between turns one and two from which he'd walk away.

With three to go, leader Thomas and fourth-running Courtney were locked up at the top of the standings as they stood in the moment. Courtney's role was clear. Do not let Bacon get by! However, Bacon put his ride up a lane higher than Courtney on the restart and drove around him in turn two to move into fourth and put Courtney on the outside looking in from fifth. One lap later, with 38 of the 40 laps complete, three-time "Ovals" winner Bud Kaeding slowed to a stop on the inside of turn four. The ensuing restart attempt also didn't take as Max Adams stopped at the bottom of turn two.

Two laps remained for the final round of this yearlong boxing match that's seen the point lead switch nine times among three drivers. As it stood on the lap 39 restart, Thomas was up on Courtney by three markers. Once the green flag fell, two distinct races were occurring for the race win and for fourth. Thomas held Stockon and Windom in check behind him for the race lead while Bacon handled Courtney as the field passed under the white flag.

Entering the first turn, suddenly, Bacon began to slow as his fuel tank began to run dry. Courtney was right there to capitalize and miraculously moved back into fourth and into the safe zone that he needed to be in to win the title.

Thomas finished the final lap of the final race of the season in grand fashion, winning the finale for the second consecutive season and becoming the first driver since Dave Darland in 2005-06 to win the "Oval Nationals" in successive years, while Stockon and Windom finished second and third, respectively.

"Two in a row here at the Oval Nationals! To come out of this place as the winner, that's pretty humbling," Thomas exclaimed. "It's hard whenever you get those cautions late in the race. You just have to struggle on hitting the bottom. I knew I got the lead around Sunshine running the middle. On the last lap, I saw Stockon up there and I knew with the way his stuff rolls and with the way our car was working, I just straight gave up on the bottom. I was just ripping right through the middle."

Meanwhile, Courtney clawed his way back to fourth to win the title via a tiebreaker. Both Courtney and Thomas finished with 2733 points, but Courtney's 11 victories trumped Thomas' 7, thus earning him the title in the closest points race in series history. Another 2018 champion, Damion Gardner, rounded out the top-five in the finish to collect his sixth-straight USAC/CRA Sprint Car crown and seventh overall.

Tyler Courtney won the 2018 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car championship, equaling the number of points that Kevin Thomas, Jr. scored, but held the tiebreaker with 11 victories compared to 7 for Thomas. (Photo Courtesy Michael Fry)

"I didn't want to make it that close," Courtney said with a laugh. "We had a really good racecar tonight. It just kind of went away on us there. I couldn't stick the middle like those guys were doing, but I'd rather have luck on our side than be good sometimes. I think we had a guy upstairs looking on us tonight. We're doing all this in honor of Bryan Clauson. I'm honored to be a part of this. To come out our first year as a sprint car team and be the national champions is truly something special. It's not something many people can do, and I've got a great group behind me. I've been busting my tail to get to this step and it took a lot of people believing in me along the way. It feels like everything's paying off."

Thomas was matter of fact when it came to the title race. Just one more win - one more position, even - would have provided him just enough points toward the championship.

"For this to come all the way down to the wire and actually tie in points, that's pretty nuts," Thomas reflected. "It was a hard-fought battle all year. We tied, but he won more races. That's what got him here."

At the beginning of this season, Courtney entered new territory, exiting the TOPP Motorsports team that he had accrued so much success with over the past two seasons, to join the newly-created sprint car team owned by Tim Clauson, Richard Marshall and 1999 USAC Silver Crown champion driver Ryan Newman. The goals may have been lofty to some, but this team meant business from day one and there's no resting on their laurels according to Courtney.

"One of our goals was to be on the podium at the end of the year," Courtney remembered. "Obviously, we try to exceed our goals and we came out with 11 wins and a championship. We're going to go back to the drawing board, reset our goals, and come back and defend this title."

Contingency award winners Saturday night at Perris Auto Speedway were R.J. Johnson (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner) Chris Windom (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Dave Darland (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Max Adams (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier), Isaac Chapple (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Logan Seavey (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Logan Williams & Danny Faria, Jr. (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfers).

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USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL & CRA SPRINT CAR RACE RESULTS: November 10, 2018 - Perris Auto Speedway - Perris, California - 23rd Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction

WOODLAND AUTO DISPLAY QUALIFYING: 1. Thomas Meseraull, 77m, Michael-16.626; 2. Austin Williams, 2, Jory-16.636; 3. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-16.649; 4. Dave Darland, 12, Ballou-16.769; 5. Jason McDougal, 19s, Reinbold/Underwood-16.810; 6. Logan Seavey, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-16.823; 7. Bud Kaeding, 16, Martin-16.865; 8. Richard Vander Weerd, 10, Vander Weerd-16.904; 9. R.J. Johnson, 92, Sertich-16.907; 10. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-16.968; 11. Chase Johnson, 36D, Goodnight/Thomas/Curb-Agajanian-16.971; 12. Logan Williams, 5J, Jory-17.049; 13. Max Adams, 5m, Adams-17.055; 14. Danny Sheridan, 15, Johnson-17.075; 15. Jace Vander Weerd, 88, Vander Weerd-17.090; 16. Brody Roa, 91R, BR-17.158; 17. Charles Davis, Jr., 50, Davis-17.171; 18. A.J. Bender, 21, Bender-17.198; 19. Tommy Malcolm, 5x, Napier-17.206; 20. Chris Gansen, 4G, Gansen-17.216; 21. Danny Faria, Jr., 42, Cheney-17.289; 22. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-17.317; 23. Austin Liggett, 83, Liggett-17.334; 24. Cody Williams, 44, Jory-17.344; 25. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-17.497; 26. Randy Waitman, 90, Waitman-17.614; 27. Tye Mihocko, 5T, Mihocko-17.666; 28. Verne Sweeney, 98, Tracy-17.675; 29. Kyle Edwards, 39E, Edwards-17.699; 30. Matt McCarthy, 28m, McCarthy-17.766; 31. Jake Swanson, 34AZ, Grau/Burkhart-18.003; 32. Austin Ervine, 51, AJ-18.505; 33. Gary Marshall, Jr., 72, Marshall-19.794; 34. Frank Rodgers, 11x, Rodgers-19.942.

SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS / EXTREME MUFFLERS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. R.J. Johnson, 2. Adams, 3. Davis, 4. Hodges, 5. Faria, 6. Edwards, 7. McDougal, 8. Marshall, 9. Meseraull. NT

COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) / CIRCLE TRACK PERFORMANCE / ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Windom, 2. A. Williams, 3. Sheridan, 4. Seavey, 5. McCarthy, 6. Bender, 7. Chapple, 8. Rodgers, 9. Waitman. 2:53.25

CHALK STIX / KEIZER ALUMINUM WHEELS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Bacon, 2. C. Johnson, 3. J. Vander Weerd, 4. Kaeding, 5. Liggett, 6. Malcolm, 7. Mihocko, 8. Swanson. 2:54.56

INDY RACE PARTS / BUTLERBUILT SEATS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Darland, 2. Roa, 3. C. Williams, 4. Gansen, 5. Sweeney, 6. Ervine, 7. L. Williams, 8. R. Vander Weerd. NT

BR MOTORSPORTS / KING RACING PRODUCTS SUPER SIX DASH: (6 laps, finish order sets feature lineup) 1. C.J. Leary (#30 Leary), 2. Tyler Courtney (#7BC Clauson Marshall Newman), 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (#69 Dynamics), 4. Chase Stockon (#32 32 TBI), 5. Justin Grant (#4 TOPP), 6. Damion Gardner (#4x Alexander). NT

COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) FIRST SEMI: (12 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Hodges, 2. Seavey, 3. Liggett, 4. J. Vander Weerd, 5. Bender, 6. L. Williams, 7. Malcolm, 8. McCarthy, 9. Sweeney, 10. Sheridan, 11. Ervine, 12. R. Vander Weerd. NT

PYROTECT RACING CELLS / ROD END SUPPLY SECOND SEMI: (12 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Kaeding, 2. McDougal, 3. Chapple, 4. C. Williams, 5. Gansen, 6. Faria, 7. Edwards, 8. Mihocko, 9. Rodgers, 10. Davis. 3:31.71

FEATURE: (40 laps - starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (3), 2. Chase Stockon (4), 3. Chris Windom (8), 4. Tyler Courtney (2), 5. Damion Gardner (6), 6. Logan Seavey (15), 7. Austin Williams (14), 8. Justin Grant (5), 9. Brody Roa (10), 10. Chase Johnson (13), 11. Brady Bacon (7), 12. Danny Faria, Jr. (26), 13. Isaac Chapple (19), 14. Jace Vander Weerd (23), 15. C.J. Leary (1), 16. Logan Williams (25), 17. Chris Gansen (20), 18. Max Adams (11), 19. Bud Kaeding (18), 20. R.J. Johnson (12), 21. Cody Williams (22), 22. Jason McDougal (16), 23. Josh Hodges (17), 24. A.J. Bender (24), 25. Austin Liggett (21), 26. Dave Darland (9). NT
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**Meseraull flipped during the first heat. Gardner flipped during the Super 6 Dash. Darland flipped on the opening lap of the feature. Bender flipped on lap 14 of the feature. R.J. Johnson flipped on lap 38 of the feature.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-15 Courtney, Lap 16 Leary, Lap 17 Courtney, Laps 18-26 Leary, Laps 27-32 Courtney, Laps 33-40 Thomas.

KSE RACING PRODUCTS / SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS / RACING OPTICS HARD CHARGER: Logan Seavey (15th to 6th)

WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Isaac Chapple

ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Max Adams

SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFERS: Logan Williams & Danny Faria, Jr.

FINAL USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Courtney-2733, 2-K. Thomas-2733, 3-Windom-2651, 4-Stockon-2343, 5-Bacon-2331, 6-Leary-2328, 7-Darland-2292, 8-Grant-2290, 9-Robert Ballou-1771, 10-Chapple-1572.

FINAL AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR POINTS: 1-Gardner-1643, 2-Roa-1598, 3-A. Williams-1354, 4-C. Williams-1189, 5-Swanson-1173, 6-R.J. Johnson-1113, 7-Max Adams-1044, 8-L. Williams-976, 9-Faria-972, 10-Gansen-872.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Grant Strikes Twice For Oval Nationals Night Two Victory

Justin Grant captured his second-straight win in as many nights Friday at the "Oval Nationals" in Perris, Calif. (Photo Courtesy Michael Fry)

By: Richie Murray - USAC Media

Perris, California......... When it comes to the first two nights of the 23rd annual Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction at Perris Auto Speedway, it seems you just can't keep Justin Grant and Tyler Courtney away from each other in late-race situations.

It also appears that down the stretch of the season, you just can't keep Justin Grant out of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory lane as he collected his fifth win in the past seven races.

Lightning does in fact strike the same spot twice when it comes to the final two laps of the first two nights of the "Ovals." Just like he did in Thursday's opener, Justin Grant chased down Tyler Courtney in traffic coming to the white flag with the two making contact while battling for the lead in turn three.

For the second-straight night, Grant got the upper hand in the end with Courtney settling for a runner-up finish despite a dominant performance up to that point.

It led to a subdued victory lane celebration in which Grant chided himself for how it all went down in the end as he was gunning for race wins while Courtney was in the midst of a seriously tight points race on the final weekend of the season.

"I'm pretty disappointed in myself," Grant admitted. "That's not how I wanted to win that thing. I got tight against the cushion going into three right when he was getting sideways - my mistake. I'm really glad he didn't get turned around and lose many points. The last thing I wanted to do was mess that up. That's not how I wanted to win that race. My guys deserve it, but I feel really bad about it. It's hard racing in traffic like that. There's not a lot of options, but I certainly didn't want to do that."

Grant set fast qualifying time earlier in the evening while Courtney and fellow title contender Kevin Thomas, Jr. occupied the front row for the 30-lap feature. Courtney slotted himself into the lead ahead of Thomas on the opening lap when a melee ensued involving five cars: Brady Bacon, Dave Darland, Richard Vander Weerd, Brody Roa and Isaac Chapple, who tipped upside down. Chapple climbed out of the wreckage unscathed, but was finished for the night as was Roa, who saw his opportunity at a first USAC/CRA crown take a major blow.

Once action resumed, Courtney checked out, lifting the front wheels to the heavens as he ripped down the back straightaway. Meanwhile, Grant was already on the assault, jetting from fifth to fourth to third on laps two, three and four to settle in behind Chase Stockon and leader Courtney in the early going.

By lap nine, Grant and Stockon were exchanging recipes for sliders at both ends of the racetrack, ultimately securing the second spot on the 11th lap. However, Courtney used that opportunity to construct a six second lead as the race neared the midway point.

Simultaneously, Courtney began his approach of lapped traffic, setting a torrid pace as he avoided close calls with a pair of past USAC champs, first with bumper-to-bumper contact of Danny Faria, Jr. between turns three and four and near wheel-banger with R.J. Johnson at the flag stand. Grant munched more than a third out of Courtney's lead in the process.

Courtney had no intention of being timid as he charged through traffic, slicing high and low between the tail end of the field. But, so was Grant. With ten to go, Grant on the scene trying his hand at a pair of sliders in turn three on laps 21 and 22 that he very nearly pulled off.

At some points, it appeared to be over, especially after smacking the concrete between turns three and four with six laps remaining that cost him valuable ground as the clock, and the laps, ticked away. But sand still remained in the hourglass for Grant as Courtney met a three-wide group of Josh Hodges, Max Adams and Damion Gardner involved in their own race for 13th, allowing Grant to reel Courtney in for one more run.

With the victory, Grant set a new, personal season-high of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car wins with five, moving him into a three-way tie for 42nd on the all-time series win list alongside Don Branson & Steve Chassey at 13 wins.
(Photo Courtesy Rich Forman)

As the two raced to the white flag, Grant followed Courtney down the back straight with less than two car lengths separating the pair. Courtney entered high in turn three around the outside of Hodges. Grant followed suit with a big run on the cushion when Grant's front bumper and Courtney's rear bumper collided, resulting in Courtney performing a 90-degree angle turnabout while Grant escaped by the skin of his teeth between Courtney and the outside wall. Courtney miraculously gathered it up and carried on his merry way, albeit in second, with a championship-salvaging save considering the implications that would've transpired had he stalled it.

Grant finished off the final lap unchallenged, winning his fourth-straight feature event at Perris in as many starts this year. Courtney took second ahead of Kevin Thomas, Jr., Chris Windom and Stockon.

With the victory, Grant set a new, personal season-high of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victories with five, moving him into a three-way tie for 42nd on the all-time series win list alongside Don Branson and Steve Chassey at 13 wins.

Courtney's second-place run did allow him to open up his National point lead over Thomas from seven to nine heading into Saturday's season finale. Meanwhile, in the CRA title race, Gardner and Roa had less than desirable finishes of 16th and 25th respectively. Gardner extended his lead to 33 as he aims to lock down his sixth-straight series crown and seventh overall.

Contingency award winners Friday night at Perris Auto Speedway were Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), R.J. Johnson (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Damion Gardner (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Chase Stockon (Angle Buildings Fifth Heat Winner), Austin Williams (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier & Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Chris Windom (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger).

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USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL & CRA SPRINT CAR RACE RESULTS: November 9, 2018 - Perris Auto Speedway - Perris, California - 23rd Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction

WOODLAND AUTO DISPLAY QUALIFYING: 1. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-16.868; 2. Jason McDougal, 19s, Reinbold/Underwood-16.881; 3. Thomas Meseraull, 77m, Michael-16.944; 4. Bud Kaeding, 16, Martin-16.974; 5. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-16.978; 6. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-16.994; 7. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-17.063; 8. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-17.066; 9. Brody Roa, 91R, BR-17.069; 10. Jake Swanson, 34AZ, Grau/Burkhart-17.115; 11. Jace Vander Weerd, 88, Vander Weerd-17.126; 12. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-17.127; 13. Austin Williams, 2, Jory-17.146; 14. Dave Darland, 12, Ballou-17.205; 15. Richard Vander Weerd, 10, Vander Weerd-17.211; 16. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-17.217; 17. Chase Johnson, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-17.255; 18. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-17.299; 19. Damion Gardner, 4x, Alexander-17.300; 20. Max Adams, 5m, Adams-17.309; 21. Logan Seavey, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-17.310; 22. Logan Williams, 5J, Jory-17.335; 23. R.J. Johnson, 92, Sertich-17.350; 24. Cody Williams, 44, Jory-17.374; 25. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-17.438; 26. Danny Sheridan, 15, Johnson-17.471; 27. Austin Liggett, 83, Liggett-17.522; 28. Charles Davis, Jr., 50, Davis-17.629; 29. A.J. Bender, 21, Bender-17.713; 30. Kyle Edwards, 39E, Edwards-17.773; 31. Dennis Gile, 13, Gile-17.812; 32. Verne Sweeney, 98, Tracy-17.864; 33. Danny Faria, Jr., 42, Cheney-17.877; 34. Chris Gansen, 4G, Gansen-17.898; 35. Matt McCarthy, 28m, McCarthy-17.917; 36. Tommy Malcolm, 5x, Napier-18.027; 37. Tye Mihocko, 5T, Mihocko-18.096; 38. Randy Waitman, 90, Waitman-18.167; 39. Austin Ervine, 51, Ervine-18.752; 40. Gary Marshall, Jr., 72, Marshall-19.169; 41. Frank Rodgers, 11x, Rodgers-NT.

SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS / EXTREME MUFFLERS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas, 2. Seavey, 3. Bacon, 4. Grant, 5. Rodgers, 6. Sheridan, 7. J. Vander Weerd. NT

COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) / CIRCLE TRACK PERFORMANCE / ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Courtney, 2. L. Williams, 3. McDougal, 4. Liggett, 5. C. Johnson, 6. Chapple, 7. Sweeney, 8. Mihocko. 2:54.17

CHALK STIX / KEIZER ALUMINUM WHEELS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. R.J. Johnson, 2. A. Williams, 3. Windom, 4. Leary, 5. Davis, 6. Faria, 7. Meseraull, 8. Waitman. 2:54.73

INDY RACE PARTS / BUTLERBUILT SEATS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Gardner, 2. Darland, 3. Roa, 4. Kaeding, 5. Bender, 6. C. Williams, 7. Gansen, 8. Ervine. 2:54.43

ANGLE BUILDINGS / ULTRA SHIELD RACE PRODUCTS FIFTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Stockon, 2. Hodges, 3. R. Vander Weerd, 4. Adams, 5. Swanson, 6. McCarthy, 7. Edwards, 8. Marshall. 2:55.46

COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) SEMI: (12 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Meseraull, 2. Swanson, 3. Chapple, 4. C. Johnson, 5. J. Vander Weerd, 6. Faria, 7. McCarthy, 8. Bender, 9. Edwards, 10. Gansen, 11. Mihocko, 12. Sweeney, 13. Waitman, 14. Marshall, 15. Rodgers, 16. Ervine, 17. Davis, 18. Sheridan, 19. C. Williams. NT

EVELYN PRATT FEATURE: (30 laps - starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (6), 2. Tyler Courtney (1), 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (2), 4. Chris Windom (17), 5. Chase Stockon (3), 6. Brady Bacon (15), 7. C.J. Leary (8), 8. Thomas Meseraull (7), 9. Bud Kaeding (4), 10. Jason McDougal (5), 11. Logan Seavey (20), 12. Jake Swanson (10), 13. Austin Williams (12), 14. Max Adams (19), 15. Josh Hodges (23), 16. Damion Gardner (18), 17. Richard Vander Weerd (14), 18. Chase Johnson (16), 19. Austin Liggett (24), 20. Dave Darland (13), 21. Logan Williams (21), 22. R.J. Johnson (22), 23. Danny Faria, Jr. (26), 24. Cody Williams (25), 25. Brody Roa (9), 26. Isaac Chapple (11). 9:01.84
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**Gile flipped during qualifying. Malcolm flipped during qualifying. Davis flipped during the semi. Chapple flipped on the opening lap of the feature.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-28 Courtney, Laps 29-30 Grant.

KSE RACING PRODUCTS / SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS / RACING OPTICS HARD CHARGER: Chris Windom (17th to 4th)

WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Austin Williams

ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Austin Williams

SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Jace Vander Weerd

NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Courtney-2672, 2-K. Thomas-2663, 3-Windom-2587, 4-Leary-2295, 5-Bacon-2290, 6-Stockon-2276, 7-Darland-2269, 8-Grant-2241, 9-Robert Ballou-1771, 10-Chapple-1535.

NEW AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR POINTS: 1-Gardner-1585, 2-Roa-1552, 3-A. Williams-1302, 4-C. Williams-1166, 5-Swanson-1163, 6-R.J. Johnson-1090, 7-Max Adams-1017, 8-L. Williams-945, 9-Faria-933, 10-Gansen-843.

NEXT USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL & CRA SPRINT CAR RACE: November 10 - Perris Auto Speedway - Perris, California - 23rd Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction

Friday, November 9, 2018

Resilient Grant Grabs Oval Nationals Opener At Perris

Justin Grant was victorious in Thursday night's "Oval Nationals" opener at California's Perris Auto Speedway. (Photo Courtesy Rich Forman)

By: Richie Murray - USAC Media

Perris, California.........For better or worse, Justin Grant and TOPP Motorsports have learned how to be resilient this year.

They've successfully overcome their season-long, mountainous valley of struggles that kept them winless through their first 33 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car starts of 2018.

And, on Thursday night, the pair overcame humble beginnings that forced them to start from the fifth row in the A-Main for the opener for the 23rd annual Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction at Perris Auto Speedway.

There was no head-hanging with this bunch as they went to work with Grant methodically picking his way through the field and, with two laps remaining, came to a fork in the middle of the road. So, he took it.

After a brief tussle with Tyler Courtney, Ione, California's Grant grabbed the lead in late-race fashion in much the same manner as he did in the "Western World" opener one week ago to score his fourth series win in the past six races.

In each of those previous three triumphs, he started from the front row. This one, however, feature the extra element of traffic to wade through on the way to the front.

"We started so far in the back, I got to see it all," Grant said. "I kind of buried these guys tonight. I didn't qualify well, and we weren't very good in the heat race. They made some changes, got us dialed in and this thing was a rocket ship in the feature."

Granted started 10th in the 26-car field, finding his rhythm early on as last year's "Ovals" opening night winner Chase Stockon drove off to the lead after narrowly squeezing around Brady Bacon on the back straight for the point on the first of 30 circuits.

The night's only red flag came on the fourth lap when C.J. Leary, Grant and Thomas Meseraull got stacked up off turn two while running 9th-10th-11th. Meseraull ramped over the back end of Grant and double barrel-rolled before walking away uninjured.

Through the middle stages, it appeared to be Courtney's show once again as he slid Damion Gardner for second on the eighth lap, then began his pursuit of Stockon. Courtney presented his presence in turn three on the 12th lap, giving a sneak peak of his front bumper to Stockon who clung to the lead for just one more half a trip around the PAS. Courtney came right back at Stockon in turn one on lap 13 and slid to the front with ease and appeared to be gonzo, darting off to a 2.5-second lead past the midway point when the yellow fell for a flat left rear by Cody Williams.

At that point, most eyes were on Courtney at the top of the heap while Grant scrapped his way from seventh to second in succession, passing one car each lap from lap 12 through 17 as he swiftly bolted by Stockon in turn three following the lap 17 restart.

Grant closed rapidly toward Courtney who was seeking to extend his series-leading win tally to 12 this season. Grant gained ground, then lost some, as he hustled his ride around the half-mile, sometimes tapping the wall and banging the cushion as he laid it on the line with no championship implications like he did last year and, thus, had practically nothing to lose.

Once a strip of rubber began to appear on the surface in the late stages, it looked to be lights out for Grant's opportunities. For it was easier to catch than it was to pass at the moment. With three to go, though, the car of Tommy Malcolm bounced off the turn two wall. As he was gathering it up, Courtney and Grant quickly swarmed. Courtney followed Malcolm into turn three, but Grant went right for the jugular, diving to the bottom and sliding wheel-to-wheel with Courtney when the two made contact - Grant's right rear and Courtney's left rear - which sent Courtney scooting up to the outside wall before he grabbed the wheel, punched the gas and motored onward, albeit in the runner-up position now.

Justin Grant's 12th career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory tied him with Eric Gordon for 44th on the all-time win list. (Photo Courtesy Rich Forman)

On the final lap, Grant found himself in a similar position as Courtney the lap before. He pulled no punches, diving to the bottom of turn three and sliding across the nose of Malcolm to put his destiny into his own grasp. Courtney drove a line lower than both Grant and Malcolm through three and four, making one last run, but came up just two car lengths short as Grant continued his undefeated streak at Perris in 2018 for his third win of the season at the So Cal dirt oval. Courtney came home second ahead of Damion Gardner, Stockon and Kevin Thomas, Jr.

"I thought when it started laying rubber there, we were probably done, and we wouldn't be able to get by Tyler there," Grant admitted. "But he got caught behind the lapper and we fired it in there. He tried to drive around it at the last minute, but when you're sliding across coming back to rubber, there's not a lot you can do."

It's not ideal to get behind the proverbial eight-ball on a race night, or a season for that matter. But, that's where Grant and TOPP have seemed to thrive the most. Now, they're world beaters and the sky seems to be the limit for this pair moving forward in the TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink - TOPP Performance Race Parts - The Bow Foundation/Maxim/TOPP.

Though disheartened about the finish, Courtney did manage to take over the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point lead by seven points over Thomas with two races remaining at Perris these next two nights. On the CRA side, Gardner extended his lead to 23 over Brody Roa.

Of note, to begin the night, Kevin Thomas, Jr. set a new USAC National Sprint Car single-season record for fast qualifying times, laying down his 15th fast time of the year to break Tom Bigelow's mark of 14 in 1978.

Contingency award winners Thursday night at Perris Auto Speedway were Chris Windom (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Damion Gardner (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Max Adams (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier), Justin Grant (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Richard Vander Weerd (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).

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USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL & CRA SPRINT CAR RACE RESULTS: November 8, 2018 - Perris Auto Speedway - Perris, California - 23rd Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction

WOODLAND AUTO DISPLAY QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-16.455; 2. Jake Swanson, 34AZ, Grau/Burkhart-16.504; 3. Damion Gardner, 4x, Alexander-16.524; 4. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-16.612; 5. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-16.625; 6. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-16.664; 7. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-16.683; 8. Austin Williams, 2, Jory-16.715; 9. Logan Seavey, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-16.804; 10. Brody Roa, 91R, BR-16.820; 11. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-16.877; 12. Richard Vander Weerd, 10, Vander Weerd-16.931; 13. Max Adams, 5m, Adams-16.935; 14. Thomas Meseraull, 77m, Michael-16.939; 15. Jason McDougal, 19, Reinbold/Underwood-16.950; 16. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-16.988; 17. Danny Faria, Jr., 42, Cheney-17.052; 18. Dave Darland, 12, Ballou-17.063; 19. Chase Johnson, 36D, Goodnight/Thomas/Curb-Agajanian-17.091; 20. Cody Williams, 44, Jory-17.125; 21. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-17.146; 22. Jace Vander Weerd, 88, Vander Weerd-17.159; 23. Danny Sheridan, 15, Johnson-17.172; 24. A.J. Bender, 21, Bender-17.200; 25. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-17.235; 26. Matt McCarthy, 28m, McCarthy-17.292; 27. Chris Gansen, 4G, Gansen-17.324; 28. R.J. Johnson, 92, Sertich-17.349; 29. Logan Williams, 5J, Jory-17.357; 30. Kyle Edwards, 39E, Edwards-17.377; 31. Bud Kaeding, 16, Martin-17.445; 32. Austin Liggett, 83, Liggett-17.604; 33. Charles Davis, Jr., 50, Davis-17.636; 34. Randy Waitman, 90, Waitman-17.642; 35. Dennis Gile, 13, Gile-17.700; 36. Tommy Malcolm, 5x, Napier-17.765; 37. Verne Sweeney, 98, Tracy-17.783; 38. Tye Mihocko, 5T, Mihocko-17.835; 39. Gary Marshall, Jr., 72, Marshall-18.419; 40. Austin Ervine, 51, Ervine-18.519; 41. Frank Rodgers, 11x, Rodgers-19.459; 42. Michael Faccinto, 8, Richardson-NT.

SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS / EXTREME MUFFLERS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Windom, 2. Hodges, 3. Grant, 4. Thomas, 5. Leary, 6. Malcolm, 7. McCarthy, 8. Kaeding, 9. Rodgers. 2:53.44

COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) / CIRCLE TRACK PERFORMANCE / ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Bacon, 2. Gansen, 3. R. Vander Weerd, 4. Swanson, 5. Faria, 6. J. Vander Weerd, 7. Liggett, 8. Sweeney. 2:55.32

CHALK STIX / KEIZER ALUMINUM WHEELS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Gardner, 2. Sheridan, 3. R.J. Johnson, 4. Darland, 5. Adams, 6. Davis, 7. A. Williams, 8. Mihocko. 2:53.39

INDY RACE PARTS / BUTLERBUILT SEATS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Courtney, 2. Meseraull, 3. L. Williams, 4. C. Johnson, 5. Seavey, 6. Bender, 7. Waitman. NT

ULTRA SHIELD RACE PRODUCTS FIFTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Chapple, 2. Stockon, 3. Roa, 4. McDougal, 5. C. Williams, 6. Gile, 7. Edwards, 8. Ervine. 2:55.78

COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) SEMI: (12 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Leary, 2. C. Williams, 3. Seavey, 4. Adams, 5. A. Williams, 6. J. Vander Weerd, 7. Bender, 8. Liggett, 9. Kaeding, 10. Davis, 11. McCarthy, 12. Faria, 13. Malcolm, 14. Gile, 15. Sweeney, 16. Waitman, 17. Mihocko, 18. Edwards, 19. Rodgers. NT

BILL PRATT FEATURE: (30 laps - starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (10), 2. Tyler Courtney (3), 3. Damion Gardner (4), 4. Chase Stockon (2), 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (6), 6. C.J. Leary (7), 7. Brody Roa (9), 8. Logan Seavey (8), 9. Brady Bacon (1), 10. Jake Swanson (5), 11. Chris Windom (19), 12. Dave Darland (16), 13. Richard Vander Weerd (11), 14. Isaac Chapple (21), 15. Max Adams (12), 16. Danny Sheridan (20), 17. Chase Johnson (17), 18. Logan Williams (24), 19. Cody Williams (18), 20. R.J. Johnson (23), 21. Tommy Malcolm (26), 22. Chris Gansen (22), 23. Josh Hodges (15), 24. Austin Williams (25), 25. Thomas Meseraull (13), 26. Jason McDougal (14). NT
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**Meseraull flipped on lap 4 of the feature.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-12 Stockon, Laps 13-28 Courtney, Laps 29-30 Grant.

KSE RACING PRODUCTS / SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS / RACING OPTICS HARD CHARGER: Justin Grant (10th to 1st)

WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Richard Vander Weerd

ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Max Adams

SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Austin Williams

NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Courtney-2597, 2-K. Thomas-2590, 3-Windom-2520, 4-Darland-2239, 5-Leary-2238, 6-Bacon-2229, 7-Stockon-2208, 8-Grant-2160, 9-Robert Ballou-1771, 10-Chapple-1510.

NEW AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR POINTS: 1-Gardner-1546, 2-Roa-1523, 3-A. Williams-1258, 4-C. Williams-1143, 5-Swanson-1121, 6-Johnson-1059, 7-Max Adams-977, 8-L. Williams-915, 9-Faria-910, 10-Gansen-833.

NEXT USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL & CRA SPRINT CAR RACES: November 9-10 - Perris Auto Speedway - Perris, California - 23rd Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Darland Moves Into Tie For Second-Most USAC Sprint Fast Times

Dave Darland (Photo Courtesy David Nearpass)

By: Richie Murray - USAC Media

Perris, California.........Qualifying is an essential aspect in the sport of auto racing, usually setting the tone for the night and putting a driver in position to claim the checkered flag at the end of the night.

Perhaps it's no surprise that the top-three drivers in terms of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victories are also one-two-three on the all-time list for most fast qualifying times with the series.

Tom Bigelow remains at the top with a staggering 65 fast qualifying times in his career, but with his fast time at Arizona Speedway's "Western World Championships" last Saturday, Dave Darland moved into a tie for second with Tracy Hines at 60 fast times.

Darland is the series' winningest driver at 62 feature victories and owns the most starts in series history at 731, but soon could be closing in another record in the 2019 season. Three races remain this week, November 8-9-10 in conjunction with the USAC/CRA Sprints in the 23rd annual Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction at California's Perris Auto Speedway.

On Thursday and Friday, the pits open at noon, front gates open at 4pm, drivers meeting at 4:30pm and cars on track at 5:30pm. On Saturday, the pits open at noon, front gates open at 3pm, autograph session from 3-4pm, drivers meeting at 4:30pm and cars on track at 5:15pm.

All three nights will be live on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/ with live audio also available on the USAC app. You can also catch all the action a day later, on-demand, at http://www.Loudpedal.TV/.

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ALL-TIME USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CAR FAST QUALIFYING TIMES
(1961-Present)

1. (65) Tom Bigelow

2. (60) Dave Darland & Tracy Hines

4. (39) Levi Jones

5. (37) Larry Dickson

6. (36) Bryan Clauson

7. (35) Rich Vogler

8. (32) Brady Bacon

9. (31) Sheldon Kinser

10. (30) Pancho Carter

11. (27) Dave Steele

12. (26) Jay Drake & Kevin Thomas, Jr.

14. (24) Gary Bettenhausen, Chase Stockon & J.J. Yeley

17. (23) Jon Stanbrough

18. (22) Steve Butler

19. (20) Jerry Coons, Jr. Tony Elliott & Roger McCluskey

22. (19) Justin Grant & Greg Weld

24. (17) Don Branson & A.J. Foyt

26. (16) Rollie Beale, Jack Hewitt & Doug Kalitta

29. (15) Kenny Irwin, Jr., Sam Sessions & Brian Tyler

32. (14) Billy Cassella & Parnelli Jones

34. (13) Bobby East & Bruce Walkup

36. (12) Steve Chassey, Damion Gardner, Rick Hood, C.J. Leary, Bill Puterbaugh & Joe Saldana

42. (11) George Snider

43. (10) Sonny Ates

44. (9) Jim Hurtubise, Jud Larson, Eddie Leavitt, Johnny Rutherford & Josh Wise

49. (8) Robert Ballou, Bubby Jones, Kelly Kinser & Chris Windom

53. (7) Marvin Carman, Mark Cassella, Cary Faas, Bud Kaeding, Jim Keeker, Cory Kruseman, Larry Rice, Hunter Schuerenberg, Mike Spencer, Bud Tingelstad & Bobby Unser

64. (6) Mike Bliss, Daron Clayton, Shane Cottle, Derek Davidson, Eric Gordon, Richard Griffin, Jac Haudenschild, Tray House, James McElreath, Thomas Meseraull, Johnny Parsons & Ken Schrader

76. (5) Chad Boespflug, Tyler Courtney, Cy Fairchild, Blake Fitzpatrick, Bob Frey, Andy Michner, Jan Opperman, Boston Reid, Tom Sneva, Robbie Stanley, Brad Sweet & Kevin Thomas

88. (4) Jeff Bloom, Kevin Briscoe, Kyle Cummins, Billy Engelhart, Chet Fillip, Darren Hagen, Chuck Hulse, Kenny Jacobs, Lee Kunzman, Jim McElreath, Don Nordhorn, Dave Peperak, Billy Puterbaugh, Jr., Joey Saldana, Terry Shepherd, Carson Short, Ron Shuman, Mitch Smith & Bob Wente

107. (3) Tommy Astone, Dave Blaney, Karl Busson, Kevin Doty, Brian Gerster, Todd Gibson, Jeff Gordon, Gary Gray, John Heydenreich, Gordon Johncock, Greg Leffler, Ralph Liguori, Steve Long, Larry Martin, Justin Marvel, Jason McCord, Larry Moore, Mat Neely, Ryan Newman, Lee Osborne, Brandon Petty, Jerry Poland, Bob Pratt, Brady Short, Danny Smith, Tony Stewart, Dean Thompson, Dick Tobias, Scotty Weir, Cole Whitt and John Wolfe

139. (2) Jarett Andretti, Mario Andretti, Keith Bloom, Chuck Booth, Don Brown, Duke Cook, Allen Crowe, Nic Faas, Larry Gates, Gene Lee Gibson, Coleman Gulick, Dave Hanna, Darl Harrison, Shane Hmiel, Josh Hodges, Marc Jessup, Brad Marvel, Max McGhee, Kevin Miller, Dustin Morgan, Brad Noffsinger, Gary Patterson, Byron Reed, Jerry Richert, Dave Roahrig, Jimmy Sills, Al Smith, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Greg Stephens, Stevie Sussex, Kody Swanson, Tyler Thomas, Jerry Weeks, Johnny White, Carl Williams & Jacob Wilson

184. (1) Pat Abold, Donnie Adams, Bobby Adamson, Mark Alderson, Chuck Amati, Dick Atkins, Terry Babb, Brent Beauchamp, Ryan Bernal, Lee Brewer, Jr., Dale Burton, Gary Cameron, Larry Cannon, Billy Cantrell, Dana Carter, Rob Chaney, Bob Cicconi, Leon Clum, Peter Cozzolino, Don Davis, Doc Dawson, Brad Doty, Cotton Farmer, Dave Feese, Braylon Fitzpatrick, Brad Fox, Jared Fox, Joe Gaerte, Harry Garrett, Rickie Gaunt, Elmer George, Bobby Grim, Chuck Gurney, Norm Hall, Jerry Hansen, Brian Hayden, Jonathan Hendrick, Hank Henry, Tyler Hewitt, Ted Hines, Jesse Hockett, Bob Hogle, Danny Holtsclaw, Kevin Huntley, Gary Irvin, Mike Johnson, Dee Jones, Page Jones, Todd Kane, Ray Kenens, Joey Kerr, Rich Leavell, Jason Leffler, Michael Lewis, John Logan, Ed Lynch, Jr., Critter Malone, Louie Mann, Mike Mann, Charlie Masters, Rusty McClure, Wes McIntyre, Blake Miller, Jerry Miller, Jr., Ron Milton, Hal Minyard, Matt Mitchell, Warren Mockler, Mike Mosley, Mike Murgoitio, Paul Pitzer, Gary Ponzini, Ande Possman, Roger Rager, Davey Ray, Jerry Richert, Jr., Red Riegel, Travis Rilat, Manny Rockhold, Bill Rose, Joe Roush, Jerry Russell, Bobby Santos, Don Schilling, John Sernett, Neil Shepherd, Jeremy Sherman, Dean Shirley, Eric Shively, Randy Smith, Wib Spalding, Ned Spath, Greg Staab, Steve Stapp, Richard Summers, Jake Swanson, Jeff Swindell, Kevin Swindell, Sammy Swindell, Tom Tepe, Leon Thickstun, Richard Vander Weerd, Jonathan Vennard, Billy Vukovich, Billy Vukovich III, Lennie Waldo, Gus Wasson, Shawn Westerfeld, Tony Weyant, Austin Williams, Rip Williams, Eddie Wirth & Mitch Wissmiller

Reigning USAC Sprint Champ Windom Bids For Another Title Shot At Oval Nats

#5 Chris Windom, reigning USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champ. (Photo Courtesy Adam Mollenkopf)

By: Richie Murray - USAC Media

Perris, California.........Chris Windom is one of three contenders for the 2018 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car crown coming into this week's "Oval Nationals" at Perris Auto Speedway, which marks the conclusion of a heated battle between he and first-time title hopefuls Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Tyler Courtney who are separated by just two.

Though Windom, of Canton, Ill., stands third in the standings at the moment, 50 points behind the leader, he's in a unique position. Not only has he won the Oval Nationals before, but the 2010 race winner arrives for the Nov. 8-9-10 races as the series' reigning champ. Although Windom is reliably cool under pressure, he's already experienced this moment and conquered it as recently as last year, erasing a deficit late in the season to win his first USAC National Sprint Car championship.

With that scenario in mind, one can't help but think how he will fare this year in the role as the champ. It begged the question. How have past USAC National Sprint Car champions fared in the standings the year following their title?

Forty-seven years have gone into the books since the first "National" schedule was put into place in 1961. There have been 11 occasions in which the driver winning the title the previous year repeated the feat the following year: Parnelli Jones (1961-62), Sheldon Kinser (1981-82), Rick Hood (1984-85), Steve Butler (1986-87-88), Robbie Stanley (1991-92-93), Brian Tyler (1996-97), Levi Jones (2009-10-11) and Bryan Clauson (2012-13).

A handful of others endured injuries in competition that severely hindered their championship prospects: Johnny Rutherford in 1966, Butler in 1989 and Robert Ballou in 2016. There've also been a pair we've lost to tragic accidents in the midst of the season as they were seeking their respective titles: Rich Vogler in 1990 and Robbie Stanley in 1994. Others, meanwhile, made the decision to venture down south to try their hand in the NASCAR ranks following their title season: Ken Schrader, Tony Stewart, J.J. Yeley and Josh Wise.

The majority of the time, however, the defending champion ranked right in the bulk of the top-three of the standings the following season, 28 times, in fact, out of 47 seasons. Windom is guaranteed to become the 29th of those drivers to finish in the top-three as he can't slip below that threshold with three races remaining, but he still can climb to the top.

How will everything shake it out? It's going to be difficult for Windom to erase a 50-point hole in three races, but history doesn't always rule what happens in the moment. After all, that's why you and I watch and why we'll be watching again tonight.

On Thursday and Friday, the pits open at noon, front gates open at 4pm, drivers meeting at 4:30pm and cars on track at 5:30pm. On Saturday, the pits open at noon, front gates open at 3pm, autograph session from 3-4pm, drivers meeting at 4:30pm and cars on track at 5:15pm.

All three nights will be live on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/ with live audio also available on the USAC app.

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HOW THE USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CAR CHAMPS FARED THE FOLLOWING SEASON (1956-2017)

Tommy Hinnershitz: (1st in 1956 & 4th in 1957 USAC Eastern Sprint Car Driver Points)
Pat O'Connor: (1st in 1956 & 6th in 1957 USAC Midwest Sprint Car Driver Points)
Bill Randall: (1st in 1957 & 11th in 1957 USAC Eastern Sprint Car Driver Points)
Elmer George: (1st in 1957 & 3rd in 1958 USAC Midwest Sprint Car Driver Points)
Johnny Thomson: (1st in 1958 & 14th in 1959 USAC Eastern Sprint Car Driver Points)
Eddie Sachs: (1st in 1958 & 4th in 1959 USAC Midwest Sprint Car Driver Points)
Tommy Hinnershitz: (1st in 1959 & 15th in 1960 USAC Eastern Sprint Car Points)
Don Branson: (1st in 1959 & 2nd in 1960 USAC Midwest Sprint Car Driver Points)
A.J. Foyt: (1st in 1960 USAC Eastern Points & 3rd in 1961 USAC National Points)
Parnelli Jones: (1st in 1960 USAC Midwest Points & 1st in 1961 National Points)
Parnelli Jones: (1st in 1961 & 1st in 1962 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Parnelli Jones: (1st in 1962 & 12th in 1963 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Roger McCluskey: (1st in 1963 & 17th in USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Don Branson: (1st in 1964 & 6th in 1965 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Johnny Rutherford: (1st in 1965 & Unlisted in 1966 USAC National Sprint Car Points)
Roger McCluskey: (1st in 1966 & 40th in 1967 USAC National Sprint Car Points)
Greg Weld: (1st in 1967 & 3rd in 1968 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points
Larry Dickson: (1st in 1968 & 2nd in 1969 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Gary Bettenhausen: (1st in 1969 & 2nd in 1970 USAC National Sprint Car Points)
Larry Dickson: (1st in 1970 & 2nd in 1971 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Gary Bettenhausen: (1st in 1971 & 19th in 1972 USAC National Sprint Car Points)
Sam Sessions: (1st in 1972 & 5th in 1973 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Rollie Beale: (1st in 1973 & 7th in 1974 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Pancho Carter: (1st in 1974 & 4th in 1975 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Larry Dickson: (1st in 1975 & 4th in 1976 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Pancho Carter: (1st in 1976 & 3rd in 1977 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Sheldon Kinser: (1st in 1977 & 9th in 1978 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Tom Bigelow: (1st in 1978 & 5th in 1979 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Greg Leffler: (1st in 1979 & 10th in 1980 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Rich Vogler: (1st in 1980 & 2nd in 1981 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Sheldon Kinser: (1st in 1981 & 1st in 1982 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Sheldon Kinser: (1st in 1982 & 3rd in 1983 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Ken Schrader: (1st in 1983 & Unlisted in 1984 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Rick Hood: (1st in 1984 & 1st in 1985 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Rick Hood: (1st in 1985 & 2nd in 1986 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Steve Butler: (1st in 1986 & 1st in 1987 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Steve Butler: (1st in 1987 & 1st in 1988 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Steve Butler: (1st in 1988 & 9th in 1989 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Rich Vogler: (1st in 1989 & 8th in 1990 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Steve Butler: (1st in 1990 & 3rd in 1991 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Robbie Stanley: (1st in 1991 & 1st in 1992 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Robbie Stanley: (1st in 1992 & 1st in 1993 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Robbie Stanley: (1st in 1993 & 23rd in 1994 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Doug Kalitta: (1st in 1994 & 2nd in 1995 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Tony Stewart: (1st in 1995 & 50th in 1996 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Brian Tyler: (1st in 1996 & 1st in 1997 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Brian Tyler: (1st in 1997 & 8th in 1998 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Tony Elliott: (1st in 1998 & 3rd in 1999 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Dave Darland: (1st in 1999 & 6th in 2000 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Tony Elliott: (1st in 2000 & 3rd in 2001 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
J.J. Yeley: (1st in 2001 & 2nd in 2002 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Tracy Hines: (1st in 2002 & 3rd in 2003 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
J.J. Yeley: (1st in 2003 & 15th in 2004 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Jay Drake: (1st in 2004 & 4th in 2005 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Levi Jones: (1st in 2005 & 2nd in 2006 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Josh Wise: (1st in 2006 & 41st in 2007 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Levi Jones: (1st in 2007 & 2nd in 2008 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Jerry Coons, Jr.: (1st in 2008 & 5th in 2009 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Levi Jones: (1st in 2009 & 1st in 2010 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Levi Jones: (1st in 2010 & 1st in 2011 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Levi Jones: (1st in 2011 & 9th in 2012 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Bryan Clauson: (1st in 2012 & 1st in 2013 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Bryan Clauson: (1st in 2013 & 2nd in 2014 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Brady Bacon: (1st in 2014 & 4th in 2015 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Robert Ballou: (1st in 2015 & 8th in 2016 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Brady Bacon: (1st in 2016 & 9th in 2017 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)
Chris Windom: (1st in 2017 & ? in 2018 USAC National Sprint Car Driver Points)

Tyler Courtney Leads Oval Nationals Practice Night

#7BC Tyler Courtney of Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo Courtesy Adam Mollenkopf)

By: Richie Murray - USAC Media

Perris, California.........The top drivers in the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car points recorded the top-two lap times in Wednesday night's practice session at Perris Auto Speedway in preparation for the 23rd annual Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction this Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, November 8-9-10.

Tyler Courtney, who trails Kevin Thomas, Jr. in the standings by just two points, topped the charts with a lap of 16.419 seconds around the half-mile dirt oval aboard his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/NOS Energy Drink - Priority Aviation/Spike/Rider Chevy. Thomas was second fastest at 16.435, while Justin Grant, Jason McDougal and Brady Bacon rounded out the top-five among the 27 cars who took to the track.

Third in the National standings, reigning champ Chris Windom, did not partake in the practice session. He's 50 points out of the series lead coming into these final three races of the 2018 season.

Meanwhile, a tight USAC/CRA Sprint Car point race will also be decided this week with Damion Gardner holding a nine-point lead over Brody Roa. Gardner is aiming for his sixth-straight series crown and seventh overall, while Roa is gunning for his first. Neither driver participated in Wednesday's session.

A car count in the mid-40s is expected for the "Oval Nationals," which has a purse of over $131,000 and a payout of $25,000 to Saturday night's feature winner.

On Thursday and Friday, the pits open at noon, front gates open at 4pm, drivers meeting at 4:30pm and cars on track at 5:30pm. On Saturday, the pits open at noon, front gates open at 3pm, autograph session from 3-4pm, drivers meeting at 4:30pm and cars on track at 5:15pm.

All three nights will be live on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/ with live audio also available on the USAC app.

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USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL & CRA SPRINT CAR PRACTICE RESULTS: November 7, 2018 - Perris Auto Speedway - Perris, California - 23rd Budweiser "Oval Nationals" presented by All Coast Construction

PRACTICE: 1. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-16.419; 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-16.435; 3. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-16.449; 4. Jason McDougal, 19s, Reinbold/Underwood-16.452; 5. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-16.524; 6. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-16.528; 7. Thomas Meseraull, 77m, Michael-16.567; 8. Chase Johnson, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-16.569; 9. R.J. Johnson, 92, Sertich-16.615; 10. Jace Vander Weerd, 88, Vander Weerd-16.718; 11. A.J. Bender, 21, Bender-16.726; 12. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-16.734; 13. Richard Vander Weerd, 10, Vander Weerd-16.750; 14. Bud Kaeding, 16, Martin-16.782; 15. Dave Darland, 12, Ballou-16.849; 16. Charles Davis, Jr., 50, Davis-16.912; 17. Austin Liggett, 83, Liggett-16.959; 18. Dennis Gile, 13, Gile-16.967; 19. Matt McCarthy, 28m, McCarthy-17.078; 20. Randy Waitman, 90, Waitman-17.413; 21. Kyle Edwards, 39E, Edwards-17.424; 22. Gary Marshall, Jr., 72, Marshall-18.041; 23. Joel Rayborne, 12B, Blair-18.064; 24. Frank Rodgers, 11, Rodgers-18.764; 25. Danny Faria, Jr., 42, Cheney-19.266; 26. Eric Englert, 35, Englert-21.251; 27. Danny Sheridan, 15, Johnson-NT.