By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
OCALA, FL – Strong finishes lead to strong beginnings in the case of Chase Stockon.
After finishing last season with two USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National victories in the final four races, the 29-year-old Fort Branch, Indiana racer has seemingly carried the momentum gracefully into the new year, winning the season opener for the series Thursday on night one of “Winter Dirt Games 9” at Bubba Raceway Park.
When the proverbial ball gets rolling downhill, the last thing you’d think you want to do is change it up, but Stockon felt he had to stay ahead of the game rather than play it safe and stand pat. Now what’s old is new and what’s new is working splendidly for Stockon and his 32 TBI Racing/Superior Tank & Trailer – Angle Buildings/DRC/Fisher Chevy.
“A lot is different from last year,” Stockon confided. “We struggled so badly through the middle part of last year, we went through everything. We went through old notes and found something we thought we were missing out on. We went back to our shock setup that we ran five or six years ago and that seemed to work really well for us. It seems like the tires have been changing for us a little bit. We were pretty quick out of the gate when we switched to this tire. Again, we went back to our old notes on those and stuck with it.”
“We ended this thing last year with two wins and, throughout the offseason, we knew we didn’t want to change a dang thing,” Stockon continued. “Joe (Devin) from DRC built us two new cars and they’re just as good as the one we ended last season with. Whenever you get things rolling and you’ve got a car you like, you don’t want to get rid of it, but it was time to start fresh and I think we’ve got good pieces this year.”
At the drop of the green, Stockon raced around the outside of pole sitter Dave Darland to take the early advantage as a mad scramble ensued for the runner-up position between Darland and second row combatants Carson Short and Justin Grant.
Seven cautions disrupted the first half of the 30-lapper and hindered Darland’s approach to the front. Patience was a virtue for Darland who, on multiple occasions in the early going, appeared he had the chops to possibly become the eventual successor to the point from as he relentlessly hounded Stockon, captaining his way to within a whisker of Stockon when the yellow flag flew for a pair of spins of laps eight and 11.
When racing ultimately resumed, Darland’s impressive bid for his first series win since 2016 came to an abrupt conclusion when his car slowed suddenly exiting turn two on lap 13 to bring out the yellow flag. He would not restart.
Just before halfway, the surface of the 3/8-mile D-shaped oval began to change. Stockon quickly took note and adapted to the new terrain.
“The first part of the race, I was running the top in (turns) one and two and kind off diamonding off (turns) three and four,” Stockon recalled. “I felt pretty decent there and I could see Dave (Darland) kept putting his nose underneath me. I kind of knew the bottom was pretty good there, especially with Dave down there. He likes to run the top, so when he was getting good runs on me like that, I kind of knew something was happening.”
A new contender to dethrone Stockon emerged in the early portion of the second half in the form of Justin Grant, winner of last year’s opener in Ocala. Grant ducked underneath Stockon on multiple occasions, but was unable to make the pass stick as the front two separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
With six to go, Kevin Thomas, Jr. emerged at the forefront in his debut in the famed Dynamics, Inc. machine, applying pressure to Stockon for the race lead. The ever-changing track surface required such precision that a single misstep could prove costly for Stockon. You can increase the pressure ten-fold when someone who has been as red-hot as Thomas is closing in on you. Thomas was the winner of a pair of POWRi Midget races less than a week ago at the very same track.
“We kept having so many yellows there at the start of the race, (my crew) was giving me a few pointers on where we needed to maneuver,” Stockon explained. “When we had the long green flag run in the middle part of the race, I felt my exit speed slowing up so much that, on that last restart, I decided to move back up to the top and see if I could keep my momentum built up to stay out front. I kind of noticed there, with probably five or six laps to go, it was taking rubber in the middle through the exit of (turn) four. I kind of found that and, luckily, had enough momentum once KT got to me to get back down to the bottom and get down in the rubber in (turns) one and two. The track conditions changing from slimy/greasy at the beginning to what it ended up being was kind of unique. When you lead the whole race like that, you feel like a sitting duck out there and don’t really know where to go. Luckily, everything went our way tonight.”
“He doesn’t make many mistakes,” Stockon said of Thomas. “He was back there where he could kind of maneuver and knew where the track was changing at and where to be. When it took rubber and I finally moved down there, you didn’t really want to cheat it too much and be in the slick and have a guy drive around on the top or bottom. I tried to pay attention to where the sheen was on the racetrack and put the right rear where it needed to be.”
Thomas threw the kitchen sink at Stockon, but coming to the white flag, drifted slightly high on the entry into turn one and, on the final lap, lost momentum in turn two as Stockon battened the hatches to tie board up the number one spot and take his first “Winter Dirt Games” victory in 20 tries, winning by a half-second over Thomas, Chris Windom, Grant and Robert Ballou.
“Winter Dirt Games” has been a strong suit for Stockon over the years with 11 top-five finishes in 20 starts. In fact, his 8.05 average finishing position was the best of any active driver without a “Winter Dirt Games” win coming into Thursday’s event.
“I’m just a late bloomer I guess,” Stockon said with a laugh. “We’ve always been pretty strong down here. I don’t really know why. I like this racetrack. It’s different. I wouldn’t say we do anything completely out of the norm down here. I don’t know if it just suits my style, diamonding off and exiting straight. But I really like this place and, before I came down here, I told my wife that we’ve won at least one race in almost every state that we run regularly in non-wing sprint cars. Florida was one of those states we’d yet to do it, so I know she’s definitely happy back home right now.”
Contingency award winners Thursday night at Bubba Raceway Park include Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Indiana Mafia Fast Qualifier), Tyler Courtney (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Chad Boespflug (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), C.J. Leary (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Carson Short (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Chad Boespflug (KSE Racing Products/ProSource Hard Charger), Brandon Mattox (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer), Brady Bacon (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Jarett Andretti (ProSource Hard Work Award) and Logan Seavey (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: February 15, 2018 – Ocala, Florida – Bubba Raceway Park – “Winter Dirt Games 9”
QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-13.750; 2. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-13.915; 3. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.981; 4. Carson Short, 21, RCM-14.007; 5. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-14.077; 6. Nick Bilbee, 2E, Epperson-14.145; 7. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-14.
174; 8. Brady Bacon, 63, Dooling-Hayward/RCR-14.286; 9. Garrett Aitken, 32A, Aitken-14.341; 10. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-14.386; 11. Kyle Cummins, 3c, EZR/Cummins-14.395; 12. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-14.406; 13. Logan Seavey, 5B, Briscoe-14.407; 14. Tyler Clem, 14c, Clem/TSR-14.411; 15. Kody Swanson, 3R, Rock Steady-14.411; 16. Kent Schmidt, 5K, Schmidt-14.431; 17. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-14.436; 18. Chad Boespflug, 98, NineEight-14.443; 19. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, LNB-14.452; 20. Landon Simon, 24, LSR-14.500; 21. Mario Clouser, 6, MCM-14.591; 22. Coleman Gulick, 14, Scorpion-14.669; 23. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-14.699; 24. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-14.731; 25. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-14.804; 26. Mike Martin, 16, Martin-14.980; 27. Johnny Petrozelle, 59, Petrozelle-15.055; 28. Slater Helt, 22s, Helt-15.151; 29. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-15.535; 30. Frank Carlsson, 20, Carlsson-16.129; 31. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-NT
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Courtney, 2. Thomas, 3. Stockon, 4. Seavey, 5. Aitken, 6. Mattox, 7. Bell, 8. Clouser. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Boespflug, 2. Ballou, 3. Windom, 4. Clem, 5. Bilbee, 6. Gulick, 7. Martin, 8. Carlsson. 2:01.46
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Leary, 2. Swanson, 3. Grant, 4. Darland, 5. Cummins, 6. Buckwalter, 7. Petrozelle. 2:02.91
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Short, 2. Simon, 3. Bacon, 4. Chapple, 5. Schmidt, 6. Goodnight, 7. Helt. 2:05.09
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer) 1. Bilbee, 2. Cummins, 3. Aitken, 4. Andretti, 5. Buckwalter, 6. Schmidt, 7. Mattox, 8. Martin, 9. Goodnight, 10. Petrozelle, 11. Bell, 12. Gulick, 13. Carlsson. 3:08.79
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Chase Stockon (2), 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (6), 3. Chris Windom (5), 4. Justin Grant (4), 5. Robert Ballou (10), 6. Kyle Cummins (11), 7. Isaac Chapple (12), 8. Chad Boespflug (18), 9. Logan Seavey (13), 10. Nick Bilbee (7), 11. Tyler Courtney (17), 12. Kody Swanson (15), 13. Brady Bacon (8), 14. Carson Short (3), 15. C.J. Leary (20), 16. Tyler Clem (14), 17. Jarett Andretti (21), 18. Landon Simon (19), 19. Garrett Aitken (9), 20. Dave Darland (1), 21. Kent Schmidt (16), 22. Timmy Buckwalter (22). NT
**Clouser flipped during the first heat.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Stockon.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/PROSOURCE HARD CHARGER: Chad Boespflug (18th to 8th)
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Brandon Mattox
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Brady Bacon
PROSOURCE HARD WORK AWARD: Jarett Andretti
INDIANA MAFIA FAST QUALIFIER AWARD: Kevin Thomas, Jr.
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Logan Seavey
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Thomas-80, 2-Stockon-78, 3-Windom-75, 4-Grant-71, 5-Ballou-65, 6-Cummins-58, 7-Chapple-57, 8-Boespflug-57, 9-Seavey-51, 10-Courtney-49.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: Feb. 16-17– Ocala, Florida – Bubba Raceway Park – “Winter Dirt Games 9”