By Richie Murray
Speedway, Indiana (July 20, 2021)………Leading the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship standings at midseason is generally a good thing, you’d surmise.
Rolling into the halfway point of the campaign can be seen as a barometer, a measuring stick, if you will, that can provide a window to how the rest of the year will play out, not that it always does.
However, there’s this midsummer exam that pops up each year that can either make or break a year for a driver and team on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car trail. A little seven race in nine-night adventure known as NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week, which runs from July 23-31.
And, depending on how an Indiana Sprint Week goes, those seven races and nine days can either seem like Shangri-La or as painful as biting directly onto the end of a dinner fork.
Since USAC began sanctioning Indiana Sprint Week in 1996, there’s been a split across all manners of how the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point leaders has dealt with the week. In one category, there are drivers/teams that entered Indiana Sprint Week possessing the USAC National Sprint Car point lead, exited ISW with the USAC point lead and finished the USAC season as the overall champion.
That group encompasses the majority, 12 drivers in that 25-year span: Brian Tyler (1996-97), Dave Darland (1999), Tony Elliott (2000), Tracy Hines (2002), J.J. Yeley (2003), Jay Drake (2004), Levi Jones (2009-10-11), Brady Bacon (2016) and C.J. Leary (2019).
On four of those 12 occasions, that particular driver also collected the Indiana Sprint Week championship in the process: J.J. Yeley (2003) Levi Jones (2009), Brady Bacon (2016) and C.J. Leary (2019). Not surprisingly, those four drivers and their respective seasons of success rank as four of the most dominant USAC championship strangleholds in recent memory.
Four more instances had one driver leading the USAC National Sprint Car standings coming into Indiana Sprint Week, relinquishing grasp of the lead during the week, and never regaining it back.
That happened in 2005 with Levi Jones leapfrogging both Dave Darland and USAC point leader Jay Drake during the ISW finale at Terre Haute in which Jones won en route to his first USAC title. Jay Drake, the defending USAC champ at the time, fell back to fourth at season’s end.
Jones did the same in 2007, erasing a two-point deficit to USAC leader Darren Hagen entering ISW, and by the end of the week, Jones held a staggering 100-point lead in the USAC season standings, which he’d close out handily by 85 points at the season closer.
Bryan Clauson’s victory in the 2013 ISW finale at Bloomington elevated him into the USAC National Sprint Car points lead past Dave Darland, which also netted him an Indiana Sprint Week championship and the eventual USAC championship crown with Dave Darland a close second after he led coming into ISW.
Similarly, Chase Stockon had the hold on the USAC championship standings riding into 2015 Indiana Sprint Week, and even won the opener of ISW before Ballou’s relentless consistency bounced Stockon from the top spot, and provided Ballou one of the most spectacular years in USAC Sprint history with 13 total wins – surprisingly none of which came during ISW – plus an ISW title and a USAC championship.
Three times, a driver lost his USAC championship lead during ISW, then fought back into the lead post-Indiana Sprint Week to claim the USAC title. That occurred in 2006 when Josh Wise led coming into ISW, lost the USAC lead to Levi Jones, and regained it back on the path to the USAC championship. Same for Brady Bacon in 2014 who lost the overall USAC lead during ISW, then churned out a splendid second half of the season to win his first USAC title.
Tyler Courtney accomplished the feat, likewise, in 2018, seeing his point lead slip away amidst Indiana Sprint Week as a red-hot Chris Windom was crowned the ISW champ and the new USAC point leader. Yet, a strong run down the stretch of the year saw Courtney tie Kevin Thomas Jr. for the USAC championship in the finale at Perris, Calif. but was declared the USAC driver champion based on the tiebreaker of most wins.
In the past four seasons, only once has a driver led the USAC National Sprint Car standings going into Indiana Sprint Week, as he went out of Indiana Sprint Week, and also finished up as the champion at the conclusion of the season. That’s C.J. Leary in 2019.
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) goes into this coming week with a 54-point advantage in the USAC standings. Not one to falter or struggle much in any circumstance, the 2016 ISW championship holds the key in the driver’s seat as the USAC point leader coming in.
More often than not, the trend holds true for the USAC point leader throughout Indiana Sprint Week. If they’re at the top of their game, they can be unstoppable. Bacon did just that in 2016, and has his sights on being the one to beat yet again.
The first stage of ISW travels to Gas City I-69 Speedway on Friday, July 23; followed by nearby Kokomo Speedway on Saturday, July 24, with the wicked fast Lawrenceburg Speedway rounding up the first weekend on Sunday, July 25.
After two days away from the racetrack, the action resumes at the half-mile Terre Haute Action Track on Wednesday, July 28, then it’s onto Putnamville’s Lincoln Park Speedway Thursday, July 29, onward to the red clay of Bloomington Speedway on Friday, July 30, and the finale at Haubstadt’s Tri-State Speedway on Saturday, July 31.
Tickets will be available at the gate at the racetrack each night throughout Indiana Sprint Week.
All seven Indiana Sprint Week events will be shown LIVE on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/3frPoW6.
2021 USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL SPRINT CAR STAT LEADERS
Most Wins: 3-Justin Grant & Kevin Thomas Jr.
Driver Point Leader: Brady Bacon
Owner Point Leader: Dynamics, Inc. #69
Top Rookie in Points: Tanner Thorson
Most Laps Led: 107-Kevin Thomas Jr.
Most Top-Fives: 14-Brady Bacon
Most Top-Tens: 15-Brady Bacon & Robert Ballou
Most Fast Qualifying Times: 3-Brady Bacon, Timmy Buckwalter & Kevin Thomas Jr.
Most Heat Race Wins: 8-Robert Ballou
Most Feature Starts: 16-Brady Bacon, Robert Ballou, Justin Grant, C.J. Leary, Jake Swanson, Kevin Thomas Jr., Tanner Thorson & Chris Windom
Biggest Charge of the Year: 4/25: Path Valley Speedway Park – Alex Bright (18th to 4th) and 6/20: Bloomsburg Fair Speedway – C.J. Leary (21st to 7th)
2021 USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER POINT STANDINGS (TOP-10)
POS. PTS. DRIVER, HOMETOWN
1 1357 Brady Bacon, Broken Arrow, Okla.
2 1303 Justin Grant, Ione, Calif.
3 1284 Kevin Thomas Jr., Cullman, Ala.
4 1178 Robert Ballou, Rocklin, Calif.
5 1168 C.J. Leary, Greenfield, Ind.
6 1119 (R) Tanner Thorson, Minden, Nev.
7 1110 Chris Windom, Canton, Ill.
8 1084 Jake Swanson, Anaheim, Calif.
9 846 Chase Stockon, Fort Branch, Ind.
10 805 (R) Paul Nienhiser, Chapin, Ill.
(R) represents a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Rookie
2021 USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP OWNER POINT STANDINGS (TOP-10)
POS. PTS. ENTRANT, TEAM LOCATION
1 1357 Dynamics, Inc., Milford, Ohio (#69)
2 1303 TOPP Motorsports, Rochester, Ind. (#4)
3 1284 KT Motorsports, Whitestown, Ind. (#9K)
4 1178 Ballou Motorsports, Tipton, Ind. (#12)
5 1168 Michael Motorsports, Chino Valley, Ariz. (#77m)
6 1119 Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports, Gilbert, Ariz. (#19AZ)
7 1110 Hayward Motorsports, Morrison, Ill. (#19)
8 1084 Team AZ Racing, Danville, Ind. (#21AZ)
9 847 KO Motorsports, Owensville, Ind. (#5s)
10 821 Rock Steady Racing, Dupont, Ind. (#3R)
2021 USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP ROOKIE DRIVER POINT STANDINGS (TOP-10)
POS. PTS. DRIVER, HOMETOWN
1 1119 Tanner Thorson, Minden, Nev.
2 805 Paul Nienhiser, Chapin, Ill.
3 436 Briggs Danner, Allentown, Pa.
4 400 Steven Drevicki, Reading, Pa.
5 329 Cole Bodine, Rossville, Ind.
6 178 Carson Garrett, Littleton, Colo.
7 162 Sterling Cling, Tempe, Ariz.
8 155 Ricky Lewis, Ventura, Calif.
9 100 Ryan Thomas, Indianapolis, Ind.
10 88 Harley Burns, Brazil, Ind.