San Tan Valley, Arizona — Twenty-four hours prior to taking the green flag for Saturday night’s 51st “Western World Championships” finale at Arizona Speedway, Tyler Courtney was lamenting how he threw away a victory in lapped traffic.
It was a mistake the Indianapolis, Indiana driver expressed he couldn’t repeat when racing against competition that is at the top of their game.
Twenty-four hours later, Courtney was standing in victory lane, reversing the spell that cast him in the throes of lapped traffic. This time, it was he who capitalized in lapped traffic as he ran down Dave Darland with 13 laps remaining to win his 11th USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature of the season.
“I screwed myself with lapped cars last night and I was determined that I wasn’t going to do that again,” an adamant Courtney said.
Courtney started fifth on the field while, up front, fellow USAC National Sprint Car championship contender Chris Windom rocketed from his outside front row starting position to the lead past pole sitter Damion Gardner and quickly carved out a two-plus second advantage.
On the move and not wasting a single heartbeat was Courtney who advanced three spots to second on the opening lap, slithering around the outside of Dave Darland on the top of turn two to gain the position. Darland fought back to regain second on the fourth lap just before the night’s first yellow flag fell for the stopped car of 2014 “Western World” winner Matt Rossi on lap five.
On the restart, Darland reared back and fired a slider into turn one. As Windom came off the top to launch his way off turn two, the duo nearly went hammer to nail. Windom got on the binders, which shuffled him out of the deck and back to fourth as Courtney and Leary shot past for second and third, respectively, while Darland carried onward with the race lead.
However, the lap six restart following top CRA Rookie Joel Rayborne’s incident in turn four saw Leary wrestle the second position away from Courtney where he would remain until the ninth lap when Courtney eked between Leary and the turn two concrete to nab the runner-up position for the time being, with leader Darland now within earshot.
Whereas Courtney gave into impatience and trigger happiness on Friday night, Saturday night would prove to have a different outlook as he stuck to his guns up top. On lap 18, Courtney’s stick-to-itiveness paid off as the two began to work their way into traffic. Darland went to the bottom of three and four to work by Rossi and R.J. Johnson, still maintaining the lead to the stripe.
Entering turn one, Darland drove it in the corner as straight as an arrow and slid to the top, cutting in front of Courtney’s line up on the lip. Courtney countered underneath Darland and two raced wheel-to-wheel down the back straight of the 3/8-mile dirt oval with Darland clinging to a slight advantage into three. Courtney threw his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/NOS Energy Drink – Priority Aviation/Spike/Rider Chevy deep into turn three, shoulder-to-shoulder with Darland.
Darland appeared, momentarily, to have the momentum to ride back by Courtney on the outside, but, instead, snagged the right rear in the cushion just enough to lift the front wheel just a smidge. The two remained wheel-to-wheel all the way through the corner with Darland getting just a tad squirrely on exit, somehow avoiding contact with the distance between the two being roughly the circumference of a feline whisker, as Courtney raced to the lead at the line by two car lengths.
Moments later, Austin Williams slowed to bring out the yellow, setting up a restart with 11 to go that had Darland weighing his options, first peeking his front bumper to the inside of Courtney to no avail, but remaining in stalking mode with his hackles raised, just hoping for a Courtney mistake down the stretch on the narrowing groove up top.
The cameramen were in position, this author’s headline was already halfway written, the checkered flag was in hand and all appeared to be settled on the final lap for Courtney when Rossi stopped at the flag stand to bring out the final yellow, setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
Courtney was hoping for an uneventful last restart and that’s just what he got as Darland could not get close enough to the back bumper of Courtney to mount a challenge throughout the two-lap shootout. Courtney sealed the deal with a pair of laps that were in sync, with car and driver in perfect harmony to win by half a second over Darland, Leary, Windom and Logan Seavey.
Courtney’s 11th win of the year positioned him as just the seventh driver to reach that number of victories within a single USAC National Sprint Car season, equaling him with Bubby Jones’ 11-win season in 1979. With point leader Kevin Thomas, Jr. taking eighth in the feature, Courtney moved to within two points of the USAC National Sprint title with three races remaining on Nov. 8-9-10 at California’s Perris Auto Speedway.
“We had high expectations coming into this year, but I think we’ve exceeded all of them,” Courtney exclaimed. “But we’re not done yet. We’ve got three races left and still have the big picture in mind. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and plug along. You just got to let it play out.”
Meanwhile, in the USAC/CRA Sprint Car standings, Gardner overtook Brody Roa atop the leaderboard in the standings by five points with three races left to go at Perris.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Arizona Speedway were Isaac Chapple (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner / Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier), Tyler Courtney (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner / KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Chase Stockon (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner) and Brody Roa (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
RESULTS: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Tyler Courtney (5), 2. Dave Darland (6), 3. C.J. Leary (4), 4. Chris Windom (2), 5. Logan Seavey (7), 6. Justin Grant (3), 7. Damion Gardner (1), 8. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (13), 9. Chase Stockon (14), 10. Thomas Meseraull (8), 11. Ryan Bernal (16), 12. Jake Swanson (9), 13. Brody Roa (17), 14. Isaac Chapple (11), 15. Brady Bacon (20), 16. Josh Hodges (18), 17. R.J. Johnson (15), 18. Danny Sheridan (10), 19. Matt Rossi (19), 20. Austin Williams (12), 21. Stevie Sussex (21), 22. Logan Williams (22), 23. Joel Rayborne (24), 24. Cody Williams (23). NT
-USAC Press Release
-Photo credit: Rich Forman