The slogan for the National Short Track Championship at Rockford Speedway in Loves Park, Illinois is, “One Great Racing Weekend.” That slogan is being said over and over by Casey Johnson after he accomplished a feat that hadn’t been done since 1987 by the late Joe Shear.
On Sunday, Johnson engraved his name into the history books of the National Short Track Championship 200 winner’s list by taking the checkered flag over Austin Nason and Steve Apel.
The victory completed a rare double win over the weekend where one driver wins both the Super Late Model main event and the Big 8 Series/Rockford Rules main event on Saturday night of the historic event. Joe Shear was the last driver to accomplish this feat in 29 years ago.
“It’s unbelievable. Usually this weekend takes a lot of luck. These races are rough races and you just have to keep your head in there and be there in the end,” Johnson told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We were there at the end. We didn’t have the best car in either races but inherited the lead and able to hang on.”
The 26-year-old driver from Edgerton, Wisconsin is honored to have his name on the prestigious list of winners, but also share a special accomplishment with the late racing legend.
“I never got to see him race, but I read a lot about him and watched some old racing tapes of him. The guy was just a monster on the racetrack,” Johnson said about Shear. “Everyone in the short track world knows him as one of the greatest. To have my name alongside his, especially with this weekend, it’s huge.”
Johnson was also the fast qualifier for the weekend and started fifth after the invert for the 200-lap event.
Jon Reynolds Jr. had the dominant car in the early going and it appeared he was on his way to repeating his 2015 victory. But, coming to a restart on lap 137, his engine began to sputter and he fell off the pace, ending his day.
Steve Apel took over the lead and was hounded by Austin Nason for the top spot at the three-quarter mark of the race.
With 45 laps to go, Nason pulled to the inside of Apel in turns three and four to challenge for the lead. The two made contact while battling for the top spot causing Apel to spin. Both were sent to the rear of the field.
Johnson would take over the top spot, but it wasn’t going to be an easy drive to the checkered flag as Nason and Apel worked their way back up to the top three in the closing laps.
Neither would be able to challenge Johnson as he went to capture the biggest win in his career.
After the race, Nason and Apel both said that their incident was totally a racing incident.
“We came off of four, after I had a good run going into three, and I was racing him clean because I knew we had a lot of laps to go,” Nason said after the race. “I went up and he came down, it was just one of those racing ordeals and we tried to straighten it out. We both went to the back, and then came through to finish second and third, which is pretty impressive.”
Apel agreed with Nason’s version.
“It was just a racing deal; I was trying to hold him tight. I knew he was getting a little loose off of the corner, and I knew if I kept him down it would make it harder for him to pass me,” Apel said. “We hit wheel to wheel, when you do that it pops the wheel out of your hands and it got me sideways. We ended up spinning out. All in all, it was a lot of fun.”
Brad “JJ” Mueller finished fourth with Josh Nelms finishing fifth.
In 2012, Johnson finished second in his first NSTC 200 event to Rich Bickle Jr. Four years later, his victory brings something personal full circle.
“The guy who actually taught me how to run this race was Rich Bickle,” Johnson proclaimed. “He has won this many times and using the same strategy he told me to do a long time ago when I first started, it still pays off today.”
How does Johnson think Bickle would feel knowing he won?
“I think he would be pretty dang happy. Like I said, he took me under his wings and taught me a few things and I can’t thank him enough.”
-By Kevin Ramsell, Speed51.com Midwest Correspondent
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
National Short Track Championships Super Late Model 200 Results
|4||89m||Brad JJ Mueller|
|18||x||Jon Reynolds Jr.|
|19||20||Danny Church Jr.|