By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
KOKOMO, IN – Nearly one year to the day since his breakthrough USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory in late August of last year, C.J. Leary once again found “Sprint Car Smackdown” gold on the very same spot after capturing Thursday’s“Sprint Car Smackdown VI” opener at Kokomo Speedway.
In 2016, “Smackdown” weekend was owned by Leary and Kevin Thomas, Jr., who alternated victories throughout the three nights. The trend continued Thursday night when it became Leary’s turn to plant the figurative flag for the Leary Racing/Leary Construction – Highsmith Guns/DRC/1-Way Chevy at the quarter-mile dirt oval.
Earlier in the night, things didn’t appear to be as rosy for Leary as he struggled to snare a transfer spot in his heat race until misfortune found another competitor in front of him, thus moving him into position to earn a spot in the feature event. After a fortuitous series of events, Leary wound up with a starting position from the pole. From there, the Greenfield, Indiana driver knew there were no excuses for not getting the job done.
“In the heat race, we were junk,” Leary assessed. “We probably shouldn’t have transferred, but we were fortunate, which allowed us to start on the front row for the feature. By starting up front, I felt like it was my race to lose. If something was going to go wrong, it was probably going to be my fault.”
Leary set course for the lead at the drop of the green, sliding up to the top of turn one to take the spot. Outside front row starter Hunter Schuerenberg quickly countered using a high/low move off turn two to pull even with Leary on the back straightaway. However, Leary was too strong on the top and secured the position off turn four to lead lap one.
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s “#GYATK Night” winner Thomas sliced through the field from 8th to 5th on the opening lap, then became involved a tussle with series point leader Justin Grant for 4th on lap four when the left rear of Thomas and the right front of Grant greeted each other at the flag stand. The contact damaged Grant’s steering as he drove straight up the track in turn one where he came to a complete stop. Thomas continued while Grant was relegated to a last-place result of 22nd.
On the ensuing restart, as he did time-and-time again throughout the feature, Leary shot out of the starting blocks to pull away from the rest of the field. Brady Bacon used the restart to get past Schuerenberg with an inside move between turns three and four to put himself in the second position.
Leary’s lead began to dwindle through the middle stages as Bacon closed the gap to just a few car lengths when the leaders encountered visions of lapped traffic within plain sight. Simultaneously, Shane Cottle appeared backwards against the turn three wall with his front wheel disconnected and bouncing through the infield grass to bring out the yellow, therefore removing the role of the lapped cars in the contest down the stretch.
“Lapped traffic was going to be hairy for sure,” Leary believed. “They were all running side-by-side. Luckily, the cautions kept me out of lapped traffic, which was a blessing I think because it let the field bunch up and made it more interesting, I’d say.”
A pair of restarts in the second half of the 30-lapper didn’t rattle Leary’s nerves a bit as he pulled away each time. Bacon ran the middle in pursuit of Leary, pulling alongside multiple times to no avail while Leary ripped the top – a place in which he had no intentions of leaving.
“We set the car up looser than it had been during the last couple of times here,” Leary explains. “I knew if I departed from the cushion, we’d probably end up losing the race with how free we had the racecar. The top’s my go-to place and, when we had the lead, I felt we wouldn’t be beat in open ground. (Crew Chief) Donnie Gentry had this car on rails. This thing was ripping around the top, which is my specialty here. It made my job easy tonight.”
Leary loosened it up to finish off the nearly-flawless performance by two seconds to capture the victory over Bacon, Robert Ballou, K. Thomas and Schuerenberg.
“Donnie and I argued over the setup a little bit right before the feature,” Leary recalls. “These past eight weeks, we’ve been running up here in the weekly shows. Even in the Indiana Sprint Week race, we were tight in the feature. We’ve just been tight, tight and tight. We figured if we lost tonight, it would be because we were too loose. We got it freed up and I ran it hard. I felt like I could run it as hard as I wanted to up there.”
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Bacon took second in his Dooling-Hayward/B & H Contractors – Dooling Machine/Spike/Stanton Mopar, his third consecutive top-two finish in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point races. It was also the third time this season he and Leary have run first and second with the series.
Following a third-place result the night before at Kokomo’s prelude to “Smackdown” – the non-points “GYATK Night” – Rocklin, California’s Robert Ballou ran third again in his Robert Ballou Motorsports/Deaton’s Waterfront Services – Dickinson Farms/Boss/Ott.
Contingency award winners Thursday night at Kokomo included Justin Grant (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Aaron Farney (Simpson Race Products Heat 1 Winner & Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Jarett Andretti (Competition Suspension, Inc. Heat 2 Winner), Dave Darland (Chalk Stix Heat 3 Winner), Josh Hodges (Indy Race Parts Heat 4 Winner) and Brady Short (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 24, 2017 – Kokomo, Indiana – Kokomo Speedway – “Sprint Car Smackdown VI”
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Justin Grant, 11, McGhee-12.685; 2. Tyler Thomas, 17GP, Dutcher-12.713; 3. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-12.724; 4. Brady Bacon, 63, Dooling/Hayward-12.740; 5. Scotty Weir, 17G, On The Gass-12.752; 6. Hunter Schuerenberg, 19, Reinbold/Underwood-12.785; 7. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-12.801; 8. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 9K, KT-12.831; 9. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-12.832; 10. Chad Boespflug, 69, Dynamics-12.874; 11. Shane Cottle, 57, Hazen-12.928; 12. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-12.953; 13. Kody Swanson, 2E, Epperson-12.968; 14. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-12.970; 15. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-12.979; 16. Tyler Courtney, 23c, TOPP-13.008; 17. Mario Clouser, 6, MCM-13.015; 18. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-13.054; 19. Dave Darland, 40, Hery-13.084; 20. Brady Short, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-13.089; 21. Aaron Farney, 15F, Farney-13.116; 22. Logan Jarrett, 29, Jarrett-13.200; 23. Colten Cottle, 1RL, Lambertson-13.228; 24. Kyle Robbins, 17R, Robbins-13.278; 25. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-13.299; 26. Brian Karraker, 23, Karraker-13.449; 27. Cole Ketcham, 41, Ketcham-13.474; 28. Travis Hery, 21H, Hery-13.477; 29. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-13.554; 30. Jamie Frederickson, 58, Frederickson-13.625; 31. Josh Spencer, 66J, Spencer-13.787; 32. Tyler Hewitt, 97x, One More Time-13.826; 33. Chet Williams, 38, Williams-13.876; 34. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-14.120; 35. Tom Harris, 5E, Harris-14.145; 36. Parker Frederickson, 34, Frederickson-14.173; 37. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-14.843; 38. Thomas Meseraull, 5B, Briscoe-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Farney, 2. Weir, 3. Ballou, 4. Grant, 5. Swanson, 6. Clouser, 7. Chapple, 8. Mattox, 9. Williams, 10. Bell. 2:15.38
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Andretti, 2. Stockon, 3. Schuerenberg, 4. Boespflug, 5. Jarrett, 6. Karraker, 7. Goodnight, 8. J. Frederickson, 9. T. Thomas. 2:13.40
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Darland, 2. Windom, 3. Cummins, 4. Leary, 5. S. Cottle, 6. Ketcham, 7. Harris, 8. C. Cottle, 9. Spencer. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Hodges, 2. Courtney, 3. Bacon, 4. K. Thomas, 5. Short, 6. Hewitt, 7. Robbins, 8. Hery, 9. P. Frederickson. 2:13.21
SEMI: (12 laps) 1. T. Thomas, 2. S. Cottle, 3. Clouser, 4. Short, 5. Swanson, 6. Karraker, 7. C. Cottle, 8. Mattox, 9. Ketcham, 10. Hewitt, 11. Williams, 12. Spencer, 13. Goodnight, 14. Harris, 15. Hery, 16. Robbins, 17. J. Frederickson, 18. P. Frederickson, 19. Bell, 20. Jarrett, 21. Chapple. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. C.J. Leary, 2. Brady Bacon, 3. Robert Ballou, 4. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5. Hunter Schuerenberg, 6. Chad Boespflug, 7. Kyle Cummins, 8. Kody Swanson, 9. Chris Windom, 10. Josh Hodges, 11. Jarett Andretti, 12. Brady Short, 13. Aaron Farney, 14. Tyler Thomas, 15. Scotty Weir, 16. Chase Stockon, 17. Tyler Courtney, 18. Dave Darland, 19. Brian Karraker, 20. Mario Clouser, 21. Shane Cottle, 22. Justin Grant. NT
**Meseraull flipped during qualifying. Jarrett & Chapple flipped at the finish of the semi.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: 1-30 Leary.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Brady Short (20th to 12th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Aaron Farney
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1-Grant-1552, 2-Windom-1492, 3-Boespflug-1401. 4-K. Thomas-1391, 5-Courtney-1345; 6-Stockon-1335; 7-Leary-1205, 8-Bacon-1146, 9-Ballou-1041, 10-Andretti-1004.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: August 25-26 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – “Sprint Car Smackdown VI”