Tucson, Arizona — In a duel for the ages in Saturday night’s 48th “Western World Championship” at USA Raceway, Bryan Clauson held off AMSOIL Sprint Car National Champion Robert Ballou for the season-ending victory. The pair of 26-year-olds swapped the lead with less than ten laps to go, and Clauson held off a last-corner slider attempt from Ballou for the .753-second win in the B&H Contractors – Dooling Machine #63 Spike/Fisher.
“It was a lot of fun to race like that. I thought once he got out front, it would be tough to do anything, but as the top got a bigger ledge and we got into traffic, our car being so maneuverable helped get us into the battle. We cleared him at one point and he got back around us, and we were just battling for every inch, and I think he biked up there and I was able to get away. Towards the end, I was just trying to do things different and not give him a clean look, and keep lapped cars in the way so he couldn’t do much with us. You’ve got to be smart and not make mistakes if you want to beat a guy like him. My car owners Joe Dooling and Brodie Hayward obviously did a great job putting this together, and I have to thank my dad (Tim) and Tyler Ransbottom for all their work, and Mike Martin for loaning us this engine we’ve used the past four races,” Clauson said.
Tracy Hines, making his final start as a full-time National Sprint Car competitor, led from the pole before Dave Darland circled him for the lead on lap two. The next lap, Kevin Thomas, Jr. slowed with a flat left-rear tire, bringing out the first caution.
On the restart, Ballou and Brady Bacon blitzed Hines for the second and third spots, with Bacon tracing the bottom berm through turns three and four. On lap four, Danny Faria, Jr. flipped in turn-two to bring out a red flag. Before the race resumed, Thomas Meseraull retired to the infield after going from 17th to 10th in the first three laps.
Once the race resumed, Ballou started to pressure Darland for the lead, while Clauson used a turn-one slider to take fourth from Hines on lap six. Two laps later, he used a slider on the opposite end to take third from Bacon.
Meanwhile, Ballou was using the bottom to work underneath Darland for the lead by .041 seconds on lap nine, using his head of steam to slide up in front of him as they hit turn one. By lap 13, Clauson had caught Darland for second and tried to beat him into turn-one, but had to fall in behind him.
Just a lap later, Clauson used the bottom of turn-four to move in front of Darland for the second spot and set his sights on Ballou. The leader hit traffic on lap 17 and Clauson was closing. With Ballou bottled in up high, Clauson nailed the bottom on lap 19 to edge in front by .059 seconds at the line. It remained close as they both negotiated traffic with Clauson sticking more to the bottom and Ballou using the top.
Ballou got his lead back on lap 21 and appeared to again be in control, running the top to work through slower cars. Clauson hung right there, though, and capitalized on lap 24 when Ballou caught the turn-two cushion and bicycled. Ballou would not go quietly, and came storming back at Clauson. He attacked the cushion and closed to just a car length at the end of lap 27.
Clauson used traffic over the final few laps to try to keep Ballou behind him, but Ballou had a run and went to the bottom on the final lap with a chance to shoot underneath with the lead. He clipped the berm on exit of turn-two as Clauson shot off the cushion and down the backstretch, clearing Ballou’s final attempt with ease on his way to the third win of the season and 34th of his decorated career.
Ballou, who started the night by peeling off the “2” decals from his car to just run the #1, was obviously dejected after his second-place run but celebrated his first USAC championship after an incredible season in the Pacific Grass & Turf – Blakesley Auto Maxim/Ott.
“It’s really been an unbelievable ride. I never would have thought we could have accomplished what we have. Obviously, it’s frustrating to be so close to that fourteenth win (to tie the all-time single-season record set by Tom Bigelow), but we just got beat by an incredible race car driver in Bryan Clauson. This year has been something that’s come from years of work and struggle. I’m really proud of Derrick Bye and myself for getting our program to this point, and I again have to thank all the people who have helped in any way to get us here,” said Ballou, who finished with 13 wins, 26 top-fives, and 35 top-tens in 39 events this season, while leading 226 laps in feature competition.
2014 National Sprint Car Champion Brady Bacon rounded out the podium in the Hoffman Auto Racing – Mean Green #69 Triple X/Williams Mopar.
“We got a great track for tonight’s feature – it just got better every night, really. We were able to work our way forward but just didn’t have enough to compete with those two for a win. We had a good weekend and finished our season strong, so we’ll try to roll that into next year, and I’m looking forward to getting back with the Hoffmans for another one,” Bacon said.
Darland wound up fourth in the Phillips/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports – Trench Shoring #71P DRC/Foxco, and Richard Vander Weerd in the Vander Weerd Construction – Stone Gate Development #10 Maxim/Shark.
Damion Gardner finished 12th and completed his third USAC/CRA Series championship.
“This was a tough season, especially after last season was basically a dream with winning so many races and not having many bumps in the road. I’ve never been one to wish a season over, but I really just wanted to win this championship and have it done. We lost my good buddy Jeff Stich this year, and it’s definitely not the same without him, but I’m glad we were able to come from behind and close strong to get this title,” Gardner said.
-USAC Press Release. Photo credit: Rich Forman
AMSOIL USAC SPRINT CAR NATIONAL & CRA CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: November 21, 2015 – Tucson, Arizona – USA Raceway – “Western World Championships”
FIRST QUALIFYING RACE: (8 laps) 1. Richard Vander Weerd (#10 Vander Weerd), 2. C.J. Leary (#30 Leary), 3. Mike Spencer (#50 Chaffin), 4. Jon Stanbrough (#81 Stanbrough), 5. Justin Grant (#5 Baldwin), 6. Chad Boespflug (#04G Cook), 7. Austin Williams (#2 Jory), 8. Nick Parker (#94 Morales). NT
SECOND QUALIFYING RACE: (8 laps) 1. Chase Stockon (#32 32/TBI), 2. R.J. Johnson (#51 Martin), 3. Ryan Bernal (#56 Phulps), 4. Danny Faria, Jr. (#17v Bowman), 5. Jake Swanson (#92 Sertich), 6. Brady Short (#19 Underwood), 7. Logan Williams (#5x Jory), 8. Robert Bell (#71 Bell). NT
THIRD QUALIFYING RACE: (8 laps) 1. Jerry Coons, Jr. (#20N Nolen), 2. Chris Windom (#21x Pollock), 3. Thomas Meseraull (#66 Amati), 4. Matt Rossi (#02 Rossi), 5. Brody Roa (#48 Leonard), 6. Cody Williams (#44 Jory), 7. Mike Martin (#16 Martin), 8. Colby Copeland (#74 Williams). NT
DASH: (6 laps) 1. Tracy Hines (#4 THR), 2. Dave Darland (#71p Phillips/Curb-Agajanian), 3. Robert Ballou (#1 Ballou), 4. Aaron Farney (#15F Farney), 5. Brady Bacon (#69 Dynamics), 6. Bryan Clauson (#63 Dooling/Hayward), 7. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (#17RW Dutcher), 8. Damion Gardner (#4x Alexander). NT
SEMI: (12 laps) 1. Stanbrough, 2. Short, 3. Faria, 4. Roa, 5. Grant, 6. Swanson, 7. Boespflug, 8. Rossi, 9. A. Williams, 10. Copeland, 11. L. Williams, 12. Bell, 13. C. Williams, 14. Martin. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Bryan Clauson, 2. Robert Ballou, 3. Brady Bacon, 4. Dave Darland, 5. Richard Vander Weerd, 6. C.J. Leary, 7. Justin Grant, 8. Tracy Hines, 9. Jerry Coons, Jr., 10. Chris Windom, 11. Ryan Bernal, 12. Damion Gardner, 13. R.J. Johnson, 14. Brody Roa, 15. Chase Stockon, 16. Brady Short, 17. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 18. Jon Stanbrough, 19. Aaron Farney, 20. Mike Spencer, 21. Austin Williams, 22. Jake Swanson, 23. Thomas Meseraull, 24. Danny Faria, Jr. NT
**Parker flipped during the first qualifying race. C. Williams flipped during the semi. Faria flipped on lap 4 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Hines, Laps 2-8 Darland, Laps 9-18 Ballou, Laps 19-20 Clauson, Laps 21-23 Ballou, Laps 24-30 Clauson.
FINAL AMSOIL NATIONAL SPRINT POINTS: 1-Ballou-2274, 2-Darland-2187, 3-Stockon-2092, 4-Bacon-2085, 5-Stanbrough-1788, 6-Thomas-1771, 7-Windom-1602, 8-Leary-1494, 9-Hines-1483, 10-Grant-1282.
FINAL AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT POINTS: 1-D. Gardner-1358, 2-R. Vander Weerd-1292, 3-Spencer-1276, 4-Swanson-1083, 5-A. Williams-1059, 6-Roa-1040, 7-Matt Mitchell-799, 8-C. Williams-787, 9-L. Williams-678, 10-Bernal-661.