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Thomas & Courtney Lurking in the Shadows for USAC Sprint Title

#9K Kevin Thomas, Jr. – 3rd in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car points & 23c Tyler Courtney (4th) enter this weekend’s Nov. 9-10-11 “Oval Nationals” still with a chance to win to win the title. (David Nearpass Photo)

From Richie Murray

PERRIS, Ca. (November 8, 2017) — Much of the attention throughout the 2017 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season has focused on the only two men who have held down the top-spot in the standings: Chris Windom and Justin Grant.

While those two have undoubtedly been the class of the standings for the majority of the season, there are, in fact, five drivers who remain mathematically eligible to win the title. Although, realistically, four drivers: Windom, Grant, Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Tyler Courtney have a shot coming into this weekend’s final three events Nov. 9-10-11 in the Budweiser “Oval Nationals” presented by All Coast Construction at Perris Auto Speedway.

The race at the top has been well documented. The three-point separation between point leader Windom and second-place Grant at this juncture is the closest the standings have been in the last 20 seasons. But, the margin between the drivers who can potentially walk away with the title this weekend is just as unprecedented.

In fact, the differential from first through fourth in this year’s standings with three races left is 102. That may seem like a large amount at first glance. However, consider this. Since 1997, no points race has been as tight as this year’s. Only the years 2001 and 2008 even come close at 144, 32 more than this year’s points chase.

To illustrate this fact, consider the points difference between first and fourth in the USAC National Sprint Car standings in that time frame: 1997: 528, 1998: 458, 1999: 707, 2000: 245, 2001: 144, 2002: 453, 2003: 580, 2004: 227, 2005: 254, 2006: 263, 2007: 336, 2008: 144, 2009: 329, 2010: 293, 2011: 207, 2012: 159, 2013: 229, 2014: 175, 2015: 195, 2016: 415, 2017: 102.

Sure, Thomas and Courtney will have their work cut out for them. Yet, nobody has put their car in victory lane more than these two in USAC competition this season at five times a piece. A maximum of 84 points are available to a driver if he sweeps the night’s racing card on Thursday and Friday at Perris if he records fast time (6 points), wins his heat race (8 points) and captures the feature victory (70 points). Saturday night’s format will reward only feature starting points as well as appearance points (to those who miss the feature) for a max of 70.

For instance, Grant’s mechanical trouble last Friday at Arizona Speedway put him 19th at the checkered, resulting in a gain of 25 points. The race winner, meanwhile, was +45 on Grant that night. Ground can be made up in a hurry if mechanical trouble befalls a team throughout the weekend or if a driver gets caught up in an accident. While these are not unusual occurrences during a long, arduous season, each position and each setback is magnified at this juncture.

The season-opening events in Ocala, Florida seemed to have had a profound effect on setting the tone in the points race. Cullman, Alabama’s Thomas has been superb since rejoining the series in April, but his absence at Ocala while racing elsewhere did not provide any points to help his cause. Likewise, Indianapolis, Indiana’s Courtney struggled mightily, to begin the season, recording five-straight finishes of 12th or worse to begin the season. Since then, he’s only had five total that were 12th or worse.

At this point, nearly everything needs to be perfect to win a title. With everything on the line, mistakes can be ultra-costly. And with four drivers in the hunt, that means, more than likely, one of those guys will be in a position to capitalize if another falters. On the flip side, the driver needs to be aggressive. In sprint car racing, “riding around” isn’t much of an option, especially those with nothing to lose and $25,000 to gain as Perris is this weekend.

That’s what makes this coming weekend so special. So many storylines are contained within a single event: a “marathon” that rewards those who were the best throughout the entire season as well as a “sprint” that brings riches to the best on one particular night. The best will emerge at the forefront at Perris and we are the fortunate ones who will get to witness history regardless of how it plays out. Absolutely nothing can be counted out this weekend. Although, counting points will play a major role throughout the weekend. Count on it.

Practice night on Wednesday, Nov. 8 from 5-9pm begins the festivities for the 22nd “Oval Nationals” at Perris. Complete programs with 30-lap features hit the track on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 9-10. Pits open at noon both nights with front gates opening at 4pm. The drivers meeting takes place at 4:30 with cars set for on-track activities at 5pm. For Saturday’s $25,000-to-win main event, pits open at noon, front gates at 3pm, an autograph session at 3pm, drivers meeting at 4:15pm with cars set to hit the track at 4:45pm.

All three nights of racing at the “Oval Nationals” will be streamed LIVE on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/. If you miss it or want to re-watch it again, http://www.Loudpedal.TV/ will have flag-to-flag on-demand coverage of each night posted a day following the event.