In the 46-year history of the USAC Silver Crown Championship, only six times has the race for the series title been separated by ten points or less heading into the final event of the season.
That scenario is the story that headlines this Saturday night’s 35th running of the “4-Crown Nationals” at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
On the strength of a season-high three wins this season, Kingsburg, California’s Swanson leads Canton, Illinois driver Chris Windom in the Silver Crown Championship standings heading into the final race. Yet, Windom sits only ten points behind Swanson by virtue of no finishes outside of the top-five in 2016.
Swanson is on the verge of becoming the Silver Crown series’ first driver to win three consecutive championships. In 2014, the points race went right down to the wire at the final race in Syracuse, New York, with Swanson holding on to take his first title.
One year later in 2015, it was a completely different story as Swanson had already clinched the title before his DePalma Motorsports team had even rolled the No. 63 out of the hauler at the last race.
This time around, it’s another tight title battle for Swanson who’s seen the points race play in his favor from multiple angles based on his past experience.
“Our first championship in 2014 was very nerve-wracking because of how close it was,” Swanson admitted. “Since it worked out, it was a great feeling to have won it and to finally have that relief. On the other hand, 2015 was fun going into (the final race at) Syracuse because we finally got a chance to race without having to consider any championship effects; we just got to race to win.”
“It is definitely a tough race mentally,” Swanson continued. “Knowing that the points are so close, and that it’s the finale, it means there are no more second chances. Throughout the race, you never feel safe, no matter where you’re running, you hear every noise, feel every vibration and you’re just nervous about the finish until it’s finally over.”
Conversely, Windom is seeking his first USAC National Championship and feels that being the “chaser” at the finale gives him a “nothing to lose” mentality.
“In this position, I’m the one chasing and Kody is being chased,” Windom explained. “So, I think you just have to go for it and race to win like you would any other night. There may always come a time, especially late in the race, where you may take a risk or a chance you normally wouldn’t if it means a championship.”
Bobby Olivero (1979), Dave Darland (1995 & 2000), Bud Kaeding (2010) and Bobby East (2012 & 2013) are among the drivers who’ve entered the season finale hanging by a thread with a less than ten-point lead. Three of those drivers were able to retain their lead and hang on for the title; three did not (Darland twice and Kaeding).
The odds are not impossible for Windom to overcome the ten-point deficit Saturday night. There’s been nine occasions when the point lead changed hand in the final event, but none since 2010 when Levi Jones overtook Kaeding in the finale at Toledo Speedway by a single position!
Others include Al Unser over both Mario Andretti and Tom Bigelow in 1973, Billy Cassella over Johnny Parsons in 1976, Mike Bliss over Ron Shuman in 1993, Tony Stewart over both Darland and Jack Hewitt in 1995, Jimmy Sills over Kenny Irwin, Jr. in 1996, Jason Leffler over Brian Tyler in 1998 and Tracy Hines over Darland in 2000.
The last season finale held at Eldora that involved a lead change at the top of the standings came back in 1992 when Steve Butler erased an 18-point deficit behind Jeff Swindell to take the championship.
“It would be a major accomplishment for me,” Windom said. “I’ve been so close in both the Sprint Car and Silver Crown series. I also know how much it would mean to my team owners Fred and Gloria (Gormly). I’ve been working hard toward this the last few years and I believe we have a great combination with Evan (Avart) and the RPM Motorsports team to come in and steal this championship.”
Saturday’s fifty-lap race on the half-mile differs from all others on the schedule based on its distance – 25 miles. The majority of Silver Crown races are determined by who best manages the balance between conservation and aggression. The shorter race eliminates those elements, which makes it a different ballgame for the competitors.
“I feel like it is more like a sprint car race,” Swanson said. “The physical length of the race being shorter changes things. You don’t have to worry about saving equipment as much, but you don’t have time to let passes go and just plan on getting them back later. Since we don’t run a full load of fuel, the car handling doesn’t change as much either, so you lose that element too.”
“Eldora does seem to go by quicker than any other Crown race,” Windom acknowledged. “Typically, tire wear isn’t an issue, so it allows you to go all out more like a sprint car race. I personally enjoy being able to attack a Crown car for the full 50 laps.”
Swanson and Windom will have to compete against a hungry field of drivers who make up Saturday’s 26-car Silver Crown entry list for Eldora.
Spectator Gates open at noon, while hot laps are set to begin at 4:30pm with qualifications and racing to immediately follow.
Saturday night’s card at Eldora also features the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, the USAC Midget National Championship and the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.