By Richie Murray
Plymouth, Indiana (July 1, 2021)………On occasion, the backup plan ultimately becomes the master plan.
A bad vibration and a broken U-Joint forced driver C.J. Leary and his Michael Motorsports team to pull down the spare car from the trailer for the most recent USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car event at Bloomsburg (Pa.) Fair Raceway 12 days earlier.
Following a 21st to 7th to charge in the Bloomsburg feature, the team stuck with the “backup” car and engine for the series’ Thursday night round at Plymouth (Ind.) Speedway, where Plan B came to fruition as the Greenfield, Ind. driver and Chino Valley, Ariz. based team raced to their second victory of the year in a non-stop 30-lap contest that was completed in a tick under eight minutes.
Leary entered Plymouth with just one top-five result in his last eight starts with the series, but Plymouth proved to be a “get-right” track for he and his Michael Motorsports/Kodiak Products – Gray Auto – Valvoline/DRC/Cressman Ford, with the No. 77m feeling just the same to Leary as it did when he left Bloomsburg – fast.
The victory was the 13th USAC National Sprint Car feature triumph for Leary, the 2019 series champion. That surpassed Eric Gordon on the series win list and now equals him with Steve Chassey for 45th all-time.
Pole sitter Leary and fifth-starting Justin Grant entered Thursday’s event as the only two drivers to finish inside the top-three in each of their last two visits to the 3/8-mile Plymouth dirt oval.
Leary, in fact, had finished 2nd in 2019 and 3rd in 2020, and also owns the one-lap USAC track record at Plymouth. He also has winning experience there, capturing the non-sanctioned 2016 Tony Elliott Classic.
On this night, Leary sought the winning formula once again at Plymouth, gliding his way to the lead after a side-by-side tussle into turns one and two on the opening lap with outside front row starter, and series Rookie, Paul Nienhiser with Leary emerging as the leader by the time the pack hit the back straightaway.
Third-starting Tanner Thorson soon slotted into the second spot past Nienhiser on the second circuit while Grant, likewise, slipped underneath Nienhiser for the third position on lap three.
As Leary fashioned a half-straightaway lead throughout the first half of the event and entered into a frenetic fray of lapped traffic, the war waged on for positions two, three and four in his vapor trail. At the halfway point, Fatheadz Eyewear fastest qualifier Kevin Thomas Jr. blitzkrieged from 4th to 2nd on the back straightaway past both Grant and Thorson in unison, while Grant followed suit by Thorson for 3rd off the bottom of turn four.
As Leary began to distance himself from Thomas, it was Grant who began to close on Thomas for 2nd. On the 24th lap, Thomas became entangled in the middle of the racing surface exiting turn two as he worked his way around a slower car. That provided the upper hand of momentum to Grant, who conducted a slide job in turn three that moved him past Thomas and immediately set him forth on his course to clamp down on the distant Leary.
Ever so quickly, Grant now had Leary right within his scope, quickly eating up ground that put Grant within a single car length of Leary’s rear bumper with just three laps remaining. However, when Grant snagged the turn four cushion with his right rear tire that same lap, the “ground” was now a substantial unoccupied space between the two.
Grant was put in catch-up mode once again, but ably reeled Leary back in to affix himself right back into contention, and to the rear bumper of Leary as the pair entered turn one on the final lap. Nonetheless, Grant was unable to get any closer than that snapshot right there while an unfazed Leary sealed the door shut for his first series score since April by a 0.605 second margin over Grant, Thomas, Thorson and Brady Bacon, who rounded out the top-five by earning KSE Racing Products Hard Charger honors after starting 13th.
While the fans in the stands had the advantage of an overhead view of the on-track action, Leary’s view from the cockpit was slightly different. At no point did Leary see or hear Grant, and never once did he feel the pressure and the anticipation of Grant’s constant presence in the waning laps, as did we.
“We got that track position that I think is really crucial here,” said Leary, who started the 30-lap feature from the pole position. “We’ve been good here in the past but have never been able to pick up a USAC win. I had to slide a couple guys in traffic, but I never really heard anybody pressure me. I was surprised I didn’t hear anybody, but I just got on cruise control out there, hit my marks, and made sure I got a good bite off the cushion.
The cushion was banked off the wall in two and you could really get a bunch of speed down the back stretch off that,” Leary continued. “If you missed it, I felt like that was an opportunity to get passed, and a guy could slide you in three and four with how wide the racetrack got. Without ever hearing Justin, I was just making sure I didn’t do anything stupid and give it away at the end.”
One recent notable addition to the Leary/Michael team since early June of this year is Jason McDougal, a multi-time USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget and USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car winner who, himself, finished 5th at Plymouth in a USAC Sprint Car feature in 2019. McDougal has traded in a steering wheel for a wrench on USAC Sprint Car race nights, and along with team owner Michael, crew members Mason Hadley and father, Chuck Leary, they form the core that contributed to the winning effort at Plymouth.
“Having an extra guy that knows what’s going on and can jump in and do anything and help me make good setup decisions is good,” C.J. said of McDougal. “We put our heads together; we both watch the track; and we both have a lot of hands-on experience with racing. It’s tough doing it all, driving the truck, washing the car, doing maintenance on the car, driving the car and making the setup calls, it’s a lot for one person to do.”
Grant (Ione, Calif.) remains the lone multi-time USAC National Sprint Car winner at Plymouth but came up one spot short of becoming the first three-time victor at the track Thursday night in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries – The Bow Foundation/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
“We were good,” Grant acknowledged. “I could run to Leary’s bumper, but there’s so much momentum when it’s on the curb like that. When I’d get to his bumper, it would almost slow me down to his speed. I had trouble going faster than him when I was right behind him. When it was kind of an open track, I could run him down. I always seemed to have a row of lappers there rolling the bottom where I couldn’t really peel off and pull off the slider. Not that it was going to be easy to do, he was going to have to miss off of two and I was going to have to nail it, and I was going to have to have an open lane to do it. It just never all worked out on the same lap. Then, I busted the wall, the cushion, or something there with a few laps to go; got away from me and I had to run him back down. That may have squandered any opportunity that did arise.”
Thomas earned his 33rd career USAC National Sprint Car Fast Qualifying time earlier in the evening, moving him to within two of Rich Vogler for eighth all-time. In the feature, the Cullman, Alabama native finished 3rd, following up his Bloomsburg victory with his fifth top-four finish in his last six starts aboard the KT Motorsports/Dr. Pepper – McDonald’s – KT Construction Services/DRC/Speedway Chevy.
“I think a lot of our passes were because of lapped traffic,” Thomas admitted. “I didn’t really feel as good as we looked. Once we got all strung around the top, C.J. had us covered, then Justin slid back by us and took off. We’ve just got to do a little work when it gets to that, and the majority of that is me.”
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: July 1, 2021 – Plymouth Speedway – Plymouth, Indiana – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9K, KT-13.231; 2. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.273; 3. Thomas Meseraull, 47, Eades-13.353; 4. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-13.398; 5. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-13.398; 6. Paul Nienhiser, 5N, KO-13.414; 7. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-13.470; 8. Cole Bodine, 39BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-13.484; 9. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-13.537; 10. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-13.554; 11. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-13.567; 12. Shane Cottle, 74x, Hodges-13.587; 13. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-13.628; 14. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-13.664; 15. Chris Windom, 19, Hayward-13.674; 16. Jadon Rogers, 14, Rogers-13.710; 17. Mario Clouser, 6, EZR-13.801; 18. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-13.980; 19. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-14.084; 20. Brayden Clark, 42, Jackson/Clark-14.159; 21. Anthony D’Alessio, 01, D’Alessio-14.215; 22. Cannon McIntosh, 71p, Daigh/Phillips-14.248; 23. Max Adams, 57, Hazen-14.268; 24. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-14.296; 25. Max Guilford, 79BT, Goodnight-14.410; 26. Jack James, 99, James-14.517; 27. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-14.540.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Chase Stockon, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Brady Bacon, 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 5. Jake Swanson, 6. Robert Ballou, 7. Jadon Rogers, 8. Cannon McIntosh, 9. Max Guilford. 1:52.510 (New Track Record)
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Mario Clouser, 2. Kyle Cummins, 3. Tanner Thorson, 4. Justin Grant, 5. Matt Westfall, 6. Cole Bodine, 7. Max Adams, 8. Brayden Clark, 9. Jack James. 1:53.29
INDY METAL FINISHING/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Chris Windom, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Brandon Mattox, 4. Paul Nienhiser, 5. Logan Seavey, 6. Sterling Cling, 7. Thomas Meseraull, 8. Anthony D’Alessio, 9. Alex Banales. 1:57.920
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-7 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas Meseraull, 2. Cole Bodine, 3. Robert Ballou, 4. Jadon Rogers, 5. Max Adams, 6. Brayden Clark, 7. Anthony D’Alessio, 8. Alex Banales, 9. Sterling Cling, 10. Jack James, 11. Cannon McIntosh, 12. Max Guilford. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (1), 2. Justin Grant (5), 3. Kevin Thomas Jr. (6), 4. Tanner Thorson (3), 5. Brady Bacon (13), 6. Jake Swanson (4), 7. Shane Cottle (15), 8. Paul Nienhiser (2), 9. Logan Seavey (12), 10. Chase Stockon (7), 11. Robert Ballou (19), 12. Chris Windom (8), 13. Brandon Mattox (18), 14. Cole Bodine (11), 15. Thomas Meseraull (10), 16. Matt Westfall (14), 17. Mario Clouser (9), 18. Kyle Cummins (16), 19. Anthony D’Alessio (21), 20. Brayden Clark (20), 21. Jadon Rogers (17), 22. Max Adams (22). 7:56.94
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 C.J. Leary.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-1185, 2-Justin Grant-1127, 3-Kevin Thomas Jr.-1107, 4-Robert Ballou-1048, 5-C.J. Leary-994, 6-Chris Windom-977, 7-Tanner Thorson-955, 8-Jake Swanson-921, 9-Chase Stockon-700, 10-Paul Nienhiser-667.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Tanner Thorson-86, 2-Robert Ballou-83, 3-Thomas Meseraull-81, 4-Brady Bacon-72, 5-Chris Windom-67, 6-Kevin Thomas Jr.-66, 7-Justin Grant-47, 8-Logan Seavey-45, 9-Buddy Kofoid-41, 10-C.J. Leary-41.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 2-3, 2021 – Lincoln Park Speedway – Putnamville, Indiana – 5/16-Mile Dirt Track
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Max Adams
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Kevin Thomas Jr.
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Chase Stockon
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Mario Clouser
Indy Metal Finishing / Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner: Chris Windom
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Thomas Meseraull
KSE Racing Products Hard Charger: Brady Bacon (13th to 5th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Brandon Mattox