From Richie Murray – USAC Media
PERRIS, Ca. (November 7, 2017) — In the last 20 years of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car racing, no points race has been closer than the one between Chris Windom and Justin Grant entering this weekend’s Nov. 9-10-11 Budweiser “Oval Nationals” presented by All Coast Construction at Perris Auto Speedway.
Grant, of Ione, California, had led the points for all but one day during the season. That is, until the opening night of last weekend’s “Western World Championships” at Arizona Speedway. After mechanical troubles hit Grant at the end of Friday’s feature, dropping him to 19th, Windom of Canton, Illinois, went on to score a 4th, launching him into the lead for the first time since the middle of July.
On Saturday night of the “Western World,” Grant was able to gain four points back on Windom with an 8th place result to cut the deficit to three, where the points battle stands today heading into the “Oval Nationals.”
The difference between three points in USAC is just one position, magnifying the fact that each and every position on-track this weekend will be critical. A glance through USAC’s history books over the last two decades shows that there has never been a points race closer than this one between Windom and Grant, right here, right now, in 2017.
With three races remaining in 1998, Kevin Thomas held a 7-point lead over Tony Elliott. With strong efforts at Eldora (3rd) and Red Hill Raceway in Sumner, Ill. (5th), Elliott surged ahead by 28 points over Thomas entering the final race at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway. However, for all intents and purposes, Red Hill would ultimately be the conclusion of the championship race as Thomas was suspended by USAC for Winchester due to actions taken following his and Elliott’s on-track skirmish at Red Hill. Elliott wound up with a 62-point advantage at year’s end to capture the first of his two series titles.
In 2001, Jay Drake was in the midst of a tight points race with J.J. Yeley entering a rare double-feature event at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track. Drake and Yeley were both strong that night with the two finishing 4th and 6th, respectively, in the first feature. For the second feature, Drake qualified 6th, which would’ve set him up for the pole position had all things gone accordingly while Yeley laid down 2nd quick time and would’ve held down a spot on the inside of the third row if everyone in the top-six transferred.
However, Drake’s season would come to a sudden end when, during the USAC Regional Midget portion of the event, the Val Verde, California driver would endure one of the worst crashes seen in the history of the track. After suffering serious injuries, the biggest championship won that night was that Drake had survived the accident. After gaining 0 points for the feature that night, Drake actually still held onto the title by 18 points over Yeley. All Yeley had to do was make an appearance in the following afternoon’s feature on the pavement at Salem (Ind.) Speedway and the first of five USAC National titles was his as he won the crown by 19 markers.
The following year, Yeley had a shot to gain back-to-back titles. Trailing Tracy Hines by 17, Yeley did his part by winning the finale at Terre Haute. Yet, Hines did the next best thing, finishing second behind Yeley to score his lone career USAC National Sprint Car title by a mere 13 points.
In 2005, young, upstart Levi Jones led the established star Dave Darland by nine points with three races left heading into the “Western World Championships” at Phoenix, Arizona’s Manzanita Speedway. Darland would execute to near perfection with finishes of 5th and 3rdon the preliminary nights before winning Saturday night’s finale. However, the consistent Jones would be even more perfect by answering with results of 4th, 4th and 2nd to keep Darland from getting any closer, ultimately winning by a margin of 13 ticks.
Per usual, Darland was involved in another close point race at the end of the 2012 season. Darland was up by 22 over Bryan Clauson with three to go. On the final night of the “Hall of Fame Classic” at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz., Darland’s 17th place finish would put him in a rut that he just couldn’t overcome as Clauson finished out the campaign with a 7th at Canyon and a win, plus a 6th at Perris to finish the season a scant five points ahead of Darland, one of the closest margins in the history of USAC.
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.