Bryan Clauson’s continually growing list of accomplishments got a little bit larger after the Noblesville, Indiana driver claimed his first career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature victory at the famed Eldora Speedway in Friday night’s “#LetsRaceTwo” / “Don Branson-Jud Larson Classic.”
Clauson made the winning pass on C.J. Leary with just four laps to go to earn his 37th career USAC Sprint win, tying the late Sheldon Kinser for eighth on the all-time list.
Among the highlights on Clauson’s impressive resume coming into Friday night’s event were three career USAC wins (two Silver Crown, one Midget), but nary a Sprint Car triumph. Clauson, the night’s ProSource Fast Qualifier, rolled off from the sixth spot in the feature while a pair of drivers looking to earn their first series win, Dallas Hewitt and Leary, occupied the front row.
At the drop of the green, Hewitt jolted out to the lead as the Troy, Ohio native looked to become the first driver with the surname “Hewitt” to pull into victory lane in USAC competition at Eldora since his uncle Jack claimed all four crowns of the “4-Crown Nationals” in 1998.
After a slider for the lead that didn’t quite stick one lap earlier, Leary attempted the same move on Hewitt for the lead in turn one once again one lap later, this time pulling it off successfully, and darting off to a substantial advantage as he edged closer to lapped traffic by lap 10.
As Leary threaded the needle on the high side past the backmarkers, Thomas Mesearull, winner of Eldora’s most recent USAC Sprint event in September of 2015, began to reel him in at the halfway point as Clauson stayed within striking distance in third.
Meseraull attempted a slider on Leary for the lead with 12 to go, nearly pulling it off, as the trio of Leary, Meseraull and Clauson ran the highline separated from each other by mere car links.
With five to go, Clauson got by Meseraull for the second spot and had his radar locked on Leary for the lead as he split between a gaggle of lapped cars at the flagstand with just a fraction of a hair to spare.
One lap later, Clauson zeroed in right on Leary’s tail tank. Clauson dove low in turn three as Leary treaded the high line, pulling off a patented Eldora slide job to take the point with just 4 laps remaining.
Robert Ballou’s race came to a halt with three laps to go after tagging the wall and flipping between turns one and two, collecting Jarett Andretti in the process, and resetting the field for one final three-lap dash to the checkered.
On the restart, Clauson jumped out to the advantage, but Leary was able to remain in the hunt with just three car lengths separating the two as they both rode inches from the wall on the thin cushion. Entering turn 4 on lap 28, Clauson nearly threw it away, banging the right rear hard off the wall, shooting sparks into the air, stumbling him a bit, before regaining control which caused Leary to check up ever so slightly and unable to capitalize.
Clauson led the remaining laps to win by a half second over Leary, Meseraull, Hewitt, Brady Bacon, Tyler Courtney, Chad Boespflug, Shane Cottle, Dave Darland and Kody Swanson.
Clauson, who along with his feature victory also claimed the night’s KSE “Hard Charger” Award in his Dooling-Hayward/B & H Contractors – Cancer Treatment Centers of America/Spike/Stanton Mopar, collected his third USAC National Sprint feature of the season and his eighth overall USAC victory of 2016.
“We’ve been so close here a number of times and we were close again to giving it away,” Clauson admitted. “But after getting through those last few laps, we were finally able to get the monkey off our back. Our car was good, but it was really hard to make enough speed to finish the slider on the guys who were really good. We hit lapped traffic a little bit there and were able to make some moves at the end. The car was flawless! Man, it feels good to win a sprint car race at Eldora!”
C.J. Leary of Greenfield, Indiana nearly avenged his final lap defeat in last May’s Eldora USAC Sprint feature, but came up just a few laps short after leading a combined 52 of the last 60 laps in “LetsRaceTwo” openers the last two years with a pair of second place finishes to his credit, including tonight in his Michael Dutcher Motorsports/Griffin’s Propane – Indiana Underground/Maxim/Fisher.
“We led a lot of this race again, but you know, I let it go there at the end,” Leary said. “I thought we might have had something there for him at the end, but when Bryan made that mistake, we were too close behind to capitalize.”
By virtue of his third place finish, San Jose, California’s Thomas Meseraull takes over the series point lead in his Amati Racing/Marion Underground Construction – Zeller Construction/DRC/Dynotech.
“I’ve ran 10th through 18th for like five years before this, so I know what it’s like to be getting dusty in the back,” Meseraull recalled of his past Eldora visits. “We’ve been really good here lately and I’ve got a lot of people to thank for making sure the car’s fast.”
Friday night’s contingency award winners included Bryan Clauson (ProSource Fast Qualifier & KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Dave Darland (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Chris Windom (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner & Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Cody Gardner (Benic Enterprises Third Heat Winner) and Shane Cottle (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner).
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Bryan Clauson, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Thomas Meseraull, 4. Dallas Hewitt, 5. Brady Bacon, 6. Tyler Courtney, 7. Chad Boespflug, 8. Shane Cottle, 9. Dave Darland, 10. Kody Swanson, 11. Max McGhee, 12. Chase Stockon, 13. Chris Windom, 14. Scotty Weir, 15. Kevin Thomas Jr., 16. Kyle Cummins, 17. Justin Grant, 18. Aaron Farney, 19. Carson Short, 20. Jerry Coons Jr., 21. Cody Gardner, 22. Robert Ballou, 23. Jarett Andretti, 24. Tony DiMattia. NT
-USAC Press Release. Photo credit: Rich Forman