By Richie Murray
Rossburg, Ohio………C.J. Leary seems more than poised for a breakout performance this Saturday in the 37th running of the “4-Crown Nationals” presented by NKT.TV at Eldora Speedway.
He’s led in four of the past six races for a total of 69 laps, 38 more than any other driver during that span.* The results have been there: a 2nd, 6th, 6th, 4th and 2nd.* Yet, none of those include a 1st, a cage stand, a check or one of the other many spoils of victory.
Those “spols” were something the Greenfield, Indiana driver got to experience in full effect last year after grabbing his USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car “4-Crown” triumph at Eldoara.
Leary is among six past winners expected to compete in Saturday’s stacked field, including Dave Darland (1999), Robert Ballou (2007), Chris Windom (2013), Brady Bacon (2014) and Justin Grant (2016).
Darland, of Lincoln, Indiana, has been a revelation this year, scoring three victories and is fifth in points.* Rocklin, California’s Ballou has scored five of his 28 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car wins at Eldora, including the first three of his career back in 2007 & 2010.* Windom, of Canton, Ill., got his in 2013, then won again in the Silver Crown car at Eldora in 2016.* Ione, California’s Grant punched in a W back in 2016.
The points race is tighter than a Chinese Finger Trap, with no driver in the top-three able to separate themselves from each other at the top.* Cullman, Alabama’s Kevin Thomas, Jr. leads the standings by 21 following his victory last Saturday at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.* His venerable Dynamics, Inc. No. 69 has scored five wins in the “4-Crown’ over the years, including 1999 with Darland, 2006 with Tracy Hines, 2009 with Jerry Coons, Jr., 2011 with Kyle Larson and 2014 with Bacon.
Tyler Courtney runs second in the standings behind Thomas and is having a banner year that includes a series-high nine wins.* A victory Saturday at Eldora would put him on an exclusive list of drivers who’ve won double-digit races in a single season along with Tom Bigelow (14), J.J. Yeley & Robert Ballou (13), Larry Dickson & Pancho Carter (12), Bubby Jones (11), Dickson, Carter & Jay Drake (10).
Courtney’s current tally of nine wins in a season is tied for the tenth winningest season in the history of the series, equaling Parnelli Jones (1961), Roger McCluskey (1966) and Rick Hood (1985).
One thing all those drivers have in common is that they’ve won a USAC National Sprint Car feature at Eldora in the very same year they accumulated double-digit wins.* Courtney has yet to win at Eldora this season and Saturday marks his last shot.* Bacon and Windom won the two most recent trips to Eldora back in May of this year.
Windom, of Canton, Ill., is third in points, only 54 out of the lead as he seeks his second career series title.
Leary’s bid for a repeat USAC Sprint Car win at the “4-Crown” has been duplicated five previous times by Steve Kinser in 1981-82, Steve Butler in 1988-89, Jack Hewitt in 1990-91 & 1997-98 and Bud Kaeding in 2001-02.
This Saturday’s event will mark the 199th USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car race held at Eldora Speedway, which is the most appearances at any track in series history.
On Saturday, pits open at 11:30am, spectator gates open at noon, a USAC autograph session will take place from 3-4pm in the fan zone, drivers meeting at 4:30pm and cars on track at 6pm.* General admission tickets are $30 for ages 13 & up and $30 for ages 12 & under.* Reserved tickets are $34 for ages 13 & up and $14 for ages 12 & under: $14.
Saturday’s full events will have LIVE audio on the USAC app along with LIVE video on http://live.eldoraspeedway.com/.
PAST “4-CROWN NATIONALS” USAC SPRINT CAR WINNERS: 1981: Steve Kinser, 1982: Steve Kinser, 1983: Jack Hewitt, 1985: Larry Rice, 1986: Rich Vogler, 1987: Tony Elliott, 1988: Steve Butler, 1989: Steve Butler, 1990: Jack Hewitt, 1991: Jack Hewitt, 1992: Danny Smith, 1993: Tony Elliott, 1994: Kevin Doty, 1995: Tony Stewart, 1996: Jimmy Sills, 1997: Jack Hewitt, 1998: Jack Hewitt, 1999: Dave Darland, 2000: Tracy Hines, 2001: Bud Kaeding, 2002: Bud Kaeding, 2004: Dickie Gaines, 2005: Levi Jones, 2006: Tracy Hines, 2007: Robert Ballou, 2008: Brad Sweet, 2009: Jerry Coons Jr., 2010: Levi Jones, 2011: Kyle Larson, 2012: Tracy Hines, 2013: Chris Windom, 2014: Brady Bacon, 2015: Thomas Meseraull, 2016: Justin Grant, 2017: C.J. Leary
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Kevin Thomas-2132, 2-Tyler Courtney-2111, 3-Chris Windom-2078, 4-Brady Bacon-1852, 5-Dave Darland-1830, 6-Chase Stockon-1810, 7-C.J. Leary-1786, 8-Robert Ballou-1739, 9-Justin Grant-1703, 10-Isaac Chapple-1167.