Perris, CA — In his seven previous Oval Nationals final night starts entering Saturday, C.J. Leary had never managed a finish better than 13th, a result hardly indicative of his performances throughout the years which have been plagued by the lack of Lady Luck’s presence, including a mechanical issue that sidelined him while leading with 14 laps remaining one year ago.
The 2019 edition unfolded quite differently for the Greenfield, Ind. native on this particular evening, a story void of heartache, a story filled with triumph and joy.
Leary took over the lead with 24 laps remaining and mastered a rash of late-race restarts to capture the 24th annual Budweiser Oval Nationals presented by All Coast Construction at southern California’s Perris Auto Speedway.
It was a much-needed win for the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship point leader and the crew of the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – Mesilla Valley Transportation/Spike/Foxco Chevy in a myriad of ways.
For one, almost inconceivably, it had been nearly nine months and 29 races since his most recent USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory. Ironically, Leary’s first win of the season came in the third race of the year in Ocala, Fla. Saturday’s victory at Perris came in the third race from the conclusion of the series campaign.
Secondly, it provided a boon to a team in the midst of a close championship battle where every position means everything. Leary took care of that, earning max points with the win and gained 12 points on second-place Tyler Courtney in the title pursuit, 44 up, with two races remaining on the docket.
While Leary had experienced victory lane on Oval Nationals weekend prior to Saturday, that came during the 360 sprint portion in 2014. This one is special, however, considering how close he has come since then to notching a first 410 win at The PAS.
“Man, this is awesome,” Leary exclaimed. “This race, I feel like, has escaped me three or four times in the past. I got the 360 Oval Nationals deal done a long time ago, but this definitely takes the cake. The white eagle is my favorite trophy to win.”
Earlier in the evening, Leary captured victory in the six lap, six-car Super Six dash to claim the pole position for the 40-lap main event. However, outside front row occupant Chase Stockon ripped the top of turns one and two to take the lead on the opening circuit where he’d remain for the first 16 trips around the ½-mile until Leary utilized a drive off the bottom of turn two to grab the lead from Stockon on lap 17.
Leary opened up a three-car-length advantage over Stockon who was now involved in a tussle for second with Courtney, Brady Bacon and Chris Windom all under a proverbial blanket. Courtney dipped into turn three underneath Stockon to gain the second spot on the 23rd go-around and set forth toward Leary.
Leary and Courtney, who swapped the lead between them four times in last year’s Oval Nationals final night feature, resumed their wrestling match in traffic for the top spot. On the 26th lap, Courtney almost parked it as he closed abruptly on Leary’s tail tank at the entrance of turn three. Courtney slid sideways above the cushion, losing the 2nd and 3rd positions in the ensuing two laps to Stockon, then Bacon.
Thursday and Friday Perris winner Bacon was suddenly the man on the move as he began to track down Stockon for the second position until lap 29 when, unrelatedly, Max Adams came to a stop in turn two, necessitating a yellow flag. As Stockon slowed for the yellow, the trailing Bacon ramped over Stockon’s left rear wheel and slid backwards to a stop without making wall contact. However, his bid for an Oval Nationals sweep was denied. He restarted from the tail, and eventually, worked his way back to a 12th place result at the checkered.
Down the stretch, several cautions wreaked havoc on Leary’s flow with a flat right rear on teammate Logan Seavey’s ride on lap 31, an Austin Liggett turn four flip on the 35th lap, a Justin Grant turn four spin on lap 37 and a debris caution for the exodus of bodywork on the nose of Damion Gardner’s silver bullet. However, each time a stoppage occurred, Leary was superb on the restart, jaunting out to a three to four car length advantage each time, which no other seemed to have an answer for.
Chris Windom had worked his way underneath Stockon on the 33rd lap to get into contention with Leary, yet had to contend with preserving his second spot from the onslaught of attacks from both Stockon and Gardner in the waning laps, which went all to Leary’s benefit as he closed out his ninth career series victory with a 1.624 second interval over Windom, Gardner, Stockon and Courtney.
Leary’s ninth USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory tied him with Mario Andretti, Hunter Schuerenberg and Robbie Stanley for 51st on the all-time series win list while also supplying Davey Jones with his sixth career Oval Nationals feature score as a crew chief.
“I never really thought we would’ve just run the bottom the whole time, but figured we’d make the switch to the top and I just kept pulling away. Davey was giving some good hand signals from the trailer,” Leary recalled. “He and I put a lot of time into these racecars and to come out here and win this one is (sweet).”
A roller coaster Oval Nationals for Windom (Canton, Ill.) saw him finishing 2nd twice this weekend following Thursday and Saturday’s runner-up results while a 25th place run is sandwiched between the two nights that wound up with a seemingly successful, yet bittersweet night for the 2010 Oval Nationals winner.
“We’re definitely happy, but it’s a little frustrating,” Windom admitted. “I feel like we run second or third every year and have some sort of issue that puts us starting in the fourth or fifth row. Overall, we’ve overcame a lot in the last 24 hours. Everybody on this team has done a phenomenal job all weekend to get us here.”
“I didn’t have anything for C.J., obviously, at the end,” Windom added. “I felt like I did in the middle part of the race when I was passing guys. One of those late race cautions, I don’t know if our right rear tire sealed over or what happened for sure, but I had no grip to the center of the corner anymore and he could just pull through three and four so much better. I just couldn’t get there.”
Three-time Oval Nationals victor Damion Gardner (Concord, Calif.) came away with a third-place run, continuing his streak of top-ten finishes on Saturday night of the event to 11 years running that came one night after an uncharacteristic early race incident took him out of contention while running second.
“It’s points, it’s winning the Oval Nationals, all the cautions and running out of fuel is always a concern, then the hood blew off. I was really worried that would be the two laps I needed to finish the race,” Gardner said. “Last year, we literally sputtered to the checkered and that was a lot of drama there, so I was worried about that.”
“We were just really good the whole race,” Gardner continued. “It was kind of tacky early, but at the end, we were really making ground. I got hung up behind a couple guys at the beginning and they were just kind of all over and it took me awhile to break free. Once I broke free, I ran those guys down from pretty far back. I knew they would be tough, there were five of them, so I just had to be patient, but that was all I had, that was it, I gave it all I had. I just didn’t need the cautions at the end.”
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Perris Auto Speedway were Damion Gardner (Fatheadz Eyewear/Woodland Auto Display/Beaver Stripes Fast Qualifier), Austin Liggett (Simpson Race Products/Extreme Muffler/Brown & Miller Racing Solutions First Heat Winner & (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier), Max Adams (Competition Suspension, Inc./Circle Track Performance/Ultra Shield Race Products Second Heat Winner), Thomas Meseraull (AutoMeter/Saldana Racing Products/ButlerBuilt Seats Third Heat Winner & Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Jace Vander Weerd (Indy Race Parts/Brown & Miller Racing Solutions/Sway-A-Way Racing Fourth Heat Winner), Austin Williams (Competition Suspension, Inc./Pyrotect Racing Cells Semi Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Competition Suspension, Inc./Pyrotect Racing Cells Semi Winner & Tony Jones KSE Racing Products/Specialty Fasteners/Saldana Racing Products Hard Charger), Cody Williams (ProSource Hard Work Award), Bill Rose (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer), Chris Bonneau (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer) and C.J. Leary (Sway-A-Way Racing Super Six Dash Winner & Jack Jory Halfway Leader).
USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL, CRA & SANDS CHEVROLET SOUTHWEST SPRINT CAR RACE RESULTS: November 9, 2019 – Perris Auto Speedway – Perris, California – 24th Budweiser Oval Nationals presented by All Coast Construction – ½-Mile Dirt Oval
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR/WOODLAND AUTO DISPLAY/BEAVER STRIPES QUALIFYING: 1. Damion Gardner, 4x, Alexander-16.362; 2. Max Adams, 73T, Ford-16.406; 3. Austin Williams, 92, Sertich-16.491; 4. Jace Vander Weerd, 88, Vander Weerd-16.527; 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 19, Hayward/Thomas-16.543; 6. Jake Swanson, 34AZ, Grau/Burkhart-16.553; 7. Chris Windom, 5G, Parallax/Goacher-16.560; 8. Logan Seavey, 19L, Reinbold/Underwood-16.684; 9. Bud Kaeding, 0, Williams-16.720; 10. Stevie Sussex, 12, Allen-16.752; 11. Thomas Meseraull, 13m, Gile-16.777; 12. Charles Davis, Jr., 47, Davis-16.782; 13. Austin Liggett, 83, Liggett-16.827; 14. Tommy Malcolm, 5x, Napier-16.853; 15. R.J. Johnson, 51, Martin-16.908; 16. Cody Williams, 44, Williams-16.914; 17. Steve Hix, 57, Hix-16.919; 18. Bill Rose, 6, Rose-16.929; 19. Brody Roa, 42, Cheney-16.959; 20. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-16.992; 21. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-17.015; 22. Hunter Schuerenberg, 19s, Reinbold/Underwood-17.070; 23. Chris Bonneau, 15, Bonneau-17.077; 24. Dennis Gile, 13G, Gile-17.151; 25. Verne Sweeney, 98, Tracy-17.153; 26. Chris Gansen, 4G, Gansen-17.160; 27. Eddie Tafoya, Jr., 51T, Tafoya-17.399; 28. Tye Mihocko, 5, Mihocko-17.643; 29. Joel Rayborne, 12B, Blair-17.818; 30. Will Perkins, 50, Perkins-18.902; 31. Frank Rodgers III, 6R, Rodgers-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS/EXTREME MUFFLERS/BROWN & MILLER RACING SOLUTIONS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Austin Liggett, 2. Damion Gardner, 3. Bud Kaeding, 4. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5. Sterling Cling, 6. Steve Hix, 7. Verne Sweeney, 8. Joel Rayborne. 2:56.98
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI)/CIRCLE TRACK PERFORMANCE/ULTRA SHIELD RACE PRODUCTS SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Max Adams, 2. Jake Swanson, 3. Stevie Sussex, 4. Tommy Malcolm, 5. Hunter Schuerenberg, 6. Chris Gansen, 7. Bill Rose, 8. Will Perkins. 2:54.48
AUTOMETER/SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS/BUTLERBUILT SEATS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas Meseraull, 2. Chris Windom, 3. R.J. Johnson, 4. Austin Williams, 5. Brody Roa, 6. Chris Bonneau, 7. Eddie Tafoya, Jr. 2:56.65
INDY RACE PARTS/BROWN & MILLER RACING SOLUTIONS/SWAY-A-WAY RACING FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Jace Vander Weerd, 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Josh Hodges, 4. Charles Davis, Jr., 5. Cody Williams, 6. Dennis Gile. 2:56.28
SWAY-A-WAY RACING SUPER SIX DASH: (6 laps, finishing order sets first three rows of the feature) 1. C.J. Leary (#19AZ Reinbold/Underwood), 2. Chase Stockon (#32 32 TBI), 3. Justin Grant (#4 TOPP), 4. Brady Bacon (#69 Dynamics), 5. Tyler Courtney (#7BC Clauson/Marshall/Newman), 6. Richard Vander Weerd (#10 Vander Weerd). 1:43.99
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI)/PYROTECT RACING CELLS FIRST SEMI: (12 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Austin Williams, 2. Charles Davis, Jr., 3. Bud Kaeding, 4. Hunter Schuerenberg, 5. R.J. Johnson, 6. Bill Rose, 7. Dennis Gile, 8. Eddie Tafoya, Jr., 9. Verne Sweeney, 10. Steve Hix, 11. Will Perkins. 3:30.37
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI)/PYROTECT RACING CELLS SECOND SEMI: (12 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 2. Brody Roa, 3. Stevie Sussex, 4. Cody Williams, 5. Tommy Malcolm, 6. Chris Bonneau, 7. Chris Gansen, 8. Sterling Cling, 9. Joel Rayborne, 10. Josh Hodges. 3:29.16
FEATURE: (40 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (1), 2. Chris Windom (8), 3. Damion Gardner (7), 4. Chase Stockon (2), 5. Tyler Courtney (5), 6. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (16), 7. Jake Swanson (13), 8. Austin Williams (15), 9. Richard Vander Weerd (6), 10. Bud Kaeding (17), 11. Jace Vander Weerd (9), 12. Brady Bacon (4), 13. Thomas Meseraull (11), 14. R.J. Johnson (21), 15. Tommy Malcolm (22), 16. Charles Davis, Jr. (19), 17. Max Adams (12), 18. Logan Seavey (10), 19. Justin Grant (3), 20. Stevie Sussex (20), 21. Josh Hodges (23), 22. Cody Williams (24), 23. Chris Gansen (25), 24. Eddie Tafoya, Jr. (26), 25. Austin Liggett (14), 26. Brody Roa (18), 27. Chris Bonneau (28), 28. Hunter Schuerenberg (27). NT
**Austin Liggett flipped on lap 35 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-16 Chase Stockon, Laps 17-40 C.J. Leary.
PROSOURCE HARD WORK AWARD: Cody Williams
TONY JONES/KSE RACING PRODUCTS/SPECIALTY FASTENERS/SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Kevin Thomas, Jr. (16th to 6th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Thomas Meseraull
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFERS: Bill Rose & Chris Bonneau
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Austin Liggett
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-C.J. Leary-2,192, 2-Tyler Courtney-2,148, 3-Brady Bacon-2,029, 4-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-2,027, 5-Chris Windom-2,020, 6-Justin Grant-2,012, 7-Chase Stockon-1,935, 8-Jason McDougal-1,493, 9-Carson Short-1,361, 10-Isaac Chapple-1,193.
NEW AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR POINTS: 1-Damion Gardner-1,382, 2-Austin Williams-1,323, 3-Brody Roa-1,227, 4-Jake Swanson-1,138, 5-Chris Gansen-846, 6-Tommy Malcolm-829, 7-Charles Davis, Jr.-745, 8-Richard Vander Weerd-683, 9-Eddie Tafoya, Jr.-672, 10-R.J. Johnson-670.
NEW SANDS CHEVROLET USAC SOUTHWEST SPRINT CAR POINTS: 1-Brody Roa-1,008, 2-R.J. Johnson-982, 3-Stevie Sussex-919, 4-Charles Davis, Jr.-884, 5-Jake Swanson-699, 6-Mike Martin-655, 7-Austin Williams-564, 8-Damion Gardner-509, 9-Matt Lundy-500, 10-Chris Bonneau-477.
FINAL PROSOURCE OVAL NATIONALS PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Bud Kaeding-17, 2-Austin Williams-15, 3-Kevin Thomas, Jr., 4-Damion Gardner-14, 5-Richard Vander Weerd-14, 6-Jake Swanson-14, 7-Justin Grant-13, 8-Brody Roa-13, 9-Chris Bonneau-13, 10-Chris Windom-12.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL, CRA & SANDS CHEVROLET SOUTHWEST SPRINT CAR RACE: November 15-16, 2019 – Arizona Speedway – San Tan Valley, Arizona – 52nd Western World Championships presented by San Tan Ford
-USAC Press Release
-Photo Credit: Rich Forman