By RICHIE MURRAY
Since the beginning of Indiana Sprint Week in mid-summer, a handful of drivers have turned on the proverbial switch to convert themselves into prime contenders down the stretch of the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season.
With 11 races taking place since the beginning of ISW on July 8 and now 11 events remaining on the series schedule, let’s take a look at some of the biggest movers and shakers in the series over the past couple of months heading into this weekend’s pair of Indiana events Friday at the Terre Haute Action Track and Saturday at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt.
Rocklin, California’s Robert Ballou was absent for the first six events of the 2017 season, which put the 2015 USAC National Sprint Car champ in a deficit that would practically be impossible to overcome to get into title contention.
However, since the ISW opener at Kokomo Speedway, no driver has accumulated more points than Ballou, which has helped him climb all the way to ninth in the standings. He has just one win in that span since July – the ISW finale at Lincoln Park Speedway – but has finished in the top-five in seven of those 11 features, and only one result outside the top-ten, a race in which he was running third before an accident on the final lap.
Like Ballou, Kevin Thomas, Jr. missed some time at the very beginning of the season, but quickly got back into the swing of things utilizing extreme consistency, but particularly of late. In July, the Cullman, Alabama native captured his first Indiana Sprint Week title, notching one victory at Bloomington Speedway. Additionally, he picked up his second-straight “Special Event” win on #GYATK Night at Kokomo in August, which has advanced him from sixth to fourth in the series standings.
Along with C.J. Leary, the winningest driver in that span since the beginning of ISW is Tyler Courtney. Both have three wins apiece, but Courtney has the third-most points over the past two months which has shot him from 7th to 3rd in the points since then – the biggest move of any driver in the series. Courtney won at Randolph County Raceway in Moberly, Missouri to end July, then won the final two nights of “Sprint Car Smackdown VI” at Kokomo to vault himself to a season-leading five series victories.
Ione, California’s Justin Grant has been at the forefront of the standings since his season-opening win at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida. Along the way, he’s picked up four series wins, but none since the beginning of June at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway. He’s earned the fourth-most points in the series since ISW, but the National Sprint Car series point leader has managed to increase his lead from 65 coming into ISW to 93 currently with a string of strong qualifying runs, top-fives and top-tens.
Leary, of Greenfield, Indiana, has the fifth-most points since July with those three victories, including back-to-back scores during Indiana Sprint Week at Lawrenceburg Speedway and Gas City I-69 Speedway as well as a triumph on the opening night of “Smackdown” at Kokomo in August. He currently resides seventh in the overall standings.
Since the 8th of July, the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car standings appear as so: 1-Robert Ballou-719, 2-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-701, 3-Tyler Courtney-687, 4-Justin Grant-604, 5-C.J. Leary-602, 6-Chad Boespflug-591, 7-Chris Windom-576, 8-Brady Bacon-533, 9-Josh Hodges-515, 10-Chase Stockon-512.
With the title race on the line over the next two months, these next 11 stops will be crucial. With drivers like Courtney and Thomas surging at the right time, perhaps their names could enter the fray for the title if those at the top like Grant (1st) or Chris Windom (2nd) do not continue the consistency they’ve had throughout the season. It may be a long season calendar-wise, but every race does count, especially at this juncture.
On Friday night at Terre Haute, pit gates open at 3pm, grandstands at 4pm, drivers meeting at 5:30pm with cars set to hit the track at 6pm (eastern time). Adult grandstand admission tickets are $25, infield admission is $15 and children 10 and under are free.
For Saturday night at Tri-State Speedway, pit gates open at 3pm, grandstands at 4pm, drivers meeting at 5:30pm with on-track activities set to begin at 6pm (central time). Adult tickets are $25, students (age 13-18) are $20, children 12 & under are free.