After over 30 races on the 2019 USAC National Sprint Car circuit, the championship battle has come down to the last race, with only twenty-six points separating CJ Leary and Tyler Courtney, entering Saturday’s season finale. Arizona Speedway was chosen as the site, with the 52nd Annual Western World being the perfect venue for such a showdown.
Friday night’s 30-lap feature narrowed Leary’s points lead and helped fuel this epic battle. After the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midgets paced the 1/3rd-mile clay oval in Queen Creek, Arizona, it was obvious that track surface conditions would play a factor. However, track conditions were quite the opposite between the two divisions.
Kevin Thomas Jr dominated the Midget feature, leading all 30 laps and running primarily on the inside line. Birthday boy, Zeb Wise (17 years old), kept pace with KTJ and nearly executed a late-race pass on Thomas, but had to settle for the runner-up position. From a fan’s perspective, there was a decent amount of disappointment, as nearly the entire field stuck to the bottom of the track. There was a decent groove built on the outside of turns 3 and 4, but there was nothing on the high-side in turns 1 and 2, so drivers had to dispose of their momentum and get back in line. Surely, the Sprint Car feature would be better.
Friday’s Sprint Car main event featured six lead changes among five different drivers. That statistic alone would seem to indicate that it was a great battle. However, it doesn’t even begin to tell the entire story. If I had to sum it up in one word? “Wild.” The Arizona Speedway track surface took a huge turn in the first few laps of the Sprint Car feature, as the higher-powered Sprints dusted off the loose dirt from the entire surface. This left a smooth lane on the outside which began taking rubber quickly. It wasn’t even halfway through Friday’s preliminary feature and the 27-car field was running entirely on the outside line, as the groove became darker by the lap.
Chris Windom fired-off from the pole starting position and jumped out to the early lead, pacing the first 16 circuits, with Justin Grant following in his tire tracks. It was lap 17 where Grant made his move and executed a daring slider in turns 1 and 2, making slight contact with Windom. Grant proceeded to lead laps 17 and 18 before Windom gained the lead in similar fashion, throwing a questionable slider of his own, in turns 1 and 2, with more slight contact. Windom led laps 19 and 20 before Grant nailed another slide job again on entrance of turn 1, leading lap 21.
Lap 22 is where the race took a dramatic turn, as Kyle Shipley spun in front of the entire field, with the leaders following closely behind him. This incident ended Windom and Hunter Schuerenberg’s nights, along with forcing Grant, Kevin Thomas Jr and Chase Stockon to tag the field. This was only the beginning of the action though, as Austin Williams inherited the lead and paced laps 22 through 25, before his right rear (RR) tire failed. Brady Bacon now claimed the lead with five laps remaining, but his RR tire only had a few laps left on it, giving-out on lap 29. This setup a green-white-checkered finish, as “Sunshine” Tyler Courtney preserved his RR tire and cruised to win the $6,000 Western World preliminary feature on Friday night! In total, I would say at least five RR tires failed during the last 10 laps of Friday’s feature. Impressively, Justin Grant charged to finish 2nd, with Jason McDougal, Charles Davis Jr and Stevie Sussex rounding out the top-5. Sussex earned Hard Charger honors, advancing 21 positions to finish fifth.
It was another beautiful fall Arizona day on Saturday, with temperatures reaching the mid-80’s. This is a little warm for the desert during this time of year and many believe the higher temperatures and windy conditions did not help track conditions on Friday night. Most kept their expectations low for track conditions on Saturday, but everyone hoped for the best.
All preliminary on-track action was completed without major incident, including Hot Laps, Qualifying and Heat Races. For the second consecutive night, a Reinbold/Underwood-owned, number 19 Sprint Car paced the 30+ car field in Qualifying. However, this time it was not Logan Seavey who earned Quick Time. Rather, it was his teammate and Championship points leader, CJ Leary, who ripped a 15.007 second lap around the 1/3rd-mile dirt surface. This was about 0.3 seconds off Seavey’s quickest lap of 14.763 seconds, on Friday. Leary’s Quick Time earned him four points on Tyler Courtney, as “Sunshine” was 4th quickest on Saturday, running a 15.020 second lap.
Courtney got the “last laugh” in USAC Midget qualifying, however, as he earned Quick Time honors in that division, timing-in with a 15.725 second lap, after the Sprint Cars qualified. Again, the Midgets were also about 0.3 seconds off of Friday night’s quick lap of 15.426, also set by Seavey.
Leary did exactly what he needed to do, to preserve his points lead in Qualifying and that trend continued in Heat Racing action. In-fact, Leary was the only Sprint Car driver to earn a Heat Race victory on both nights, during the 52nd Annual Western World. 2019 USAC Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, Dustin Clark, also earned a Heat Race win on Saturday, narrowly edging Logan Seavey to the line, beating him by 0.004 seconds. Arizona’s R.J. Johnson claimed the third Heat Race victory on Saturday, with Brady Bacon executing a perfect last-lap/last-corner pass on Tyler Courtney, to win the fourth and final Heat Race. Logan Seavey, “Chargin” Charles Davis Jr and Courtney joined Leary as Sprint Car Heat Race winners, from Friday.
There was also only one repeat Heat Race winner in USAC Midget action this weekend, as 15-year-old Daison Pursley not only earned his first career USAC National Midget Heat Race win on Friday, but backed it up again on Saturday! Zeb Wise and Arizona-native Jerry Coons Jr joined Pursley as Heat Race victors on Saturday, with Andrew Layser, Jesse Colwell and Brady Bacon joining Pursley during Friday’s action.
Saturday’s USAC National Midget feature went green nearly all the way to halfway in the 30-lap contest, before things started to take an ugly turn. “Macho Man” Brady Bacon took advantage of his outside-pole starting position and quickly took the lead from pole-sitter, Zeb Wise. Jesse Colwell and Logan Seavey made it an all Keith Kunz Motorsports second-row, as they started third and fourth, respectively. However, Colwell was the cause of the race’s first red flag on lap 14, when he hopped the cushion in turns 1 and 2, nearly getting upside down. Colwell was okay.
This erased Bacon’s lead, allowing Seavey to start directly behind him, having just gained second place from Wise. “Sunshine” Tyler Courtney sat in fourth place just before halfway, with Friday night’s Midget feature winner, Kevin Thomas Jr, in fifth.
Another quick caution slowed the field on the ensuing restart and the field attempted a restart for the third time, with 16 laps remaining. After two quick green flag laps, Karsyn Elledge brought out the race’s final red flag after getting upside down in a big way, down the front stretch. She tagged the wall with her Tucker-Boat Motorsports entry just underneath the flag stand and seemed to hop the tire of a competitor, which sent her on a nose-to-tail barrel roll into the entrance of turn 1. “J-Mac” Jason McDougal spun into the infield, to avoid the flipping Elledge, ripping the front suspension off of his Midget and ending his night. In, by far, the most scary and violent incident during the 52nd Annual Western World, I’m thankful to say both drivers were okay and will race another day!
The last 14 laps were completed without further incident, as “Macho Man” Brady Bacon narrowly held-off Logan Seavey, winning Saturday’s USAC National Midget feature by 0.482 seconds! Zeb Wise earned his second podium finish in as many nights, bringing home a third place finish on Saturday, followed by his Clauson-Marshall Racing teammate, Tyler Courtney. Rico Abreu overcame a spin during one of the lap 14 restart attempts and charged back to finish 5th in his KKM Midget, on Saturday!
Arizona Speedway track owner and promoter, Jonah Trussel, proved that he would not allow Saturday’s track conditions to match those experienced on Friday. Trussel added moisture and tilled the surface prior to the USAC National Midget and Sprint Car features. This allowed the outside line to be quickest in both features, but still provided a bottom line for maneuvering and executing daring slide jobs!
Much like the Midget feature, Saturday’s Sprint Car feature started with a long green flag run. Also like the Midget feature, Brady Bacon jumped out to the early lead from his outside front-row starting position and looked to run away from his competition. However, “Sunshine” Tyler Courtney was a man on a mission and charged to gain the lead from Bacon, just beyond lap 20. Bacon and Courtney put on a show for the Arizona fans, as they traded slide jobs for several laps, before Courtney prevailed with less than 10 laps remaining in the 30-lap feature. A red flag brought the race to a sudden halt on lap 24, however, as Justin Grant tangled with Jason McDougal near the exit of turn 2, getting upside down. This was Grant’s second consecutive night getting upside down, but he was unable to recover to a second place finish, as he did on Friday. This incident ended both he and “J-Mac’s” night’s early.
It was under the lap 24 red flag where everyone discovered a large amount of liquid collecting under Tyler Courtney’s car. Chase Raudman interviewed Courtney and discovered he has a hole in the radiator, but they were going to run it to the end, with only 6 laps remaining! Unfortunately for Courtney, he had to survive one additional restart, as Chase Stockon suffered a flat left rear tire on the ensuing restart and brought out the race’s final caution, just as Courtney received the white flag. Per the USAC rule book, the race was wound backward to the last completed lap, leaving a two-lap shootout in the desert!
“Sunshine” cruised to win his second consecutive Western World Championship on Saturday, sweeping the weekend during the 52nd Annual edition, in Sprint Car competition. Kevin Thomas Jr slipped around Bacon in the closing laps, claiming the runner-up spot, while Bacon held on to finish third. “Big Daddy” Chris Windom finished fourth, while CJ Leary did exactly what he needed to on Saturday, finishing fifth and clinching the 2019 USAC National Sprint Car Championship!
(starting position in parenthesis)
1. Kevin Thomas Jr (1) 2. Zeb Wise (3) 3. Tanner Carrick (4) 4. Logan Seavey (6) 5. Carson Macedo (8) 6. Rico Abreu (7) 7. Chris Windom (11) 8. Tyler Courtney (5) 9. Jerry Coons Jr (14) 10. Brady Bacon (10) 11. Jason McDougal (15) 12. Gio Scelzi (2) 13. Tucker Klaasmeyer (23) 14. Kyle Cummins (21) 15. Jesse Colwell (19) 16. Cory Elliott (22) 17. Andrew Layser (12) 18. Holley Hollan (20) 19. Robert Dalby (9) 20. Daison Pursley (17) 21. Conor Daly (16) 22. CJ Sarna (24) 23. Thomas Meseraull (18) 24. Karsyn Elledge (13)
(starting position in parenthesis)
1. Tyler Courtney (5) 2. Justin Grant (4) 3. Jason McDougal (9) 4. Charles Davis Jr. (16) 5. Stevie Sussex (24) 6. CJ Leary (11) 7. Josh Hodges (13) 8. Chase Stockon (3) 9. Austin Williams (2) 10. Tommy Malcolm (23) 11. Jake Swanson (10) 12. Thomas Meseraull (18) 13. Damion Gardner (14) 14. RJ Johnson (15) 15. Max Adams (21) 16. Chris Gansen (19) 17. Brady Bacon (12) 18. Kevin Thomas Jr (8) 19. Brody Roa (20) 20. Chris Windom (1) 21. Hunter Schuerenberg (7) 22. Kyle Shipley (22) 23. Dustin Clark (17) 24. Logan Seavey (6)
(starting position in parenthesis)
1. Brady Bacon (2) 2. Logan Seavey (4) 3. Zeb Wise (1) 4. Tyler Courtney (6) 5. Rico Abreu (18) 6. Kevin Thomas Jr (5) 7. Chris Windom (9) 8. Jerry Coons Jr (14) 9. Gio Scelzi (8) 10. Tanner Carrick (13) 11. Andrew Layser (11) 12. Daison Pursley (16) 13. Shannon McQueen (23) 14. Kyle Cummins (17) 15. Holley Hollan (19) 16. Noah Gass (22) 17. Conor Daly (20) 18. Karsyn Elledge (7) 19. Jason McDougal (15) 20. Tucker Klaasmeyer (10) 21. Jesse Colwell (3) 22. Buddy Kofoid (12) 23. Thomas Meseraull (21)
(starting position in parenthesis)
1. Tyler Courtney (5) 2. Kevin Thomas Jr. (3) 3. Brady Bacon (2) 4. Chris Windom (10) 5. CJ Leary (6) 6. Damion Gardner (4) 7. Josh Hodges (1) 8. Jake Swanson (8) 9. Logan Seavey (9) 10. Brody Roa (22) 11. Stevie Sussex (24) 12. RJ Johnson (18) 13. Austin Williams (20) 14. Chase Stockon (14) 15. Thomas Meseraull (21) 16. Eric Wilkins (11) 17. Dustin Clark (17) 18. Chris Gansen (15) 19. Chris Bonneau (19) 20. Eddie Tafoya Jr (16) 21. Justin Grant (7) 22. Jason McDougal (12) 23. Charles Davis Jr (23) 24. Hunter Schuerenberg (13)
2019 Final Point Standings
USAC National Sprint Car
1. CJ Leary – 2327
2. Tyler Courtney – 2309
3. Brady Bacon – 2136
Kevin Thomas Jr – 2136
5. Justin Grant – 2116
6. Chris Windom – 2115
7. Chase Stockon – 2032
8. Jason McDougal – 1588
USAC/CRA Sprint Car
1. Damion Gardner – 1489
2. Austin Williams – 1418
3. Brody Roa – 1302
4. Jake Swanson – 1234
5. Chris Gansen – 911
6. Tommy Malcolm – 887
7. Charles Davis Jr – 837
8. RJ Johnson – 753
9. Eddie Tafoya Jr – 706
USAC Southwest Sprint Car
1. Brody Roa – 1083
2. RJ Johnson – 1065
3. Stevie Sussex – 1018
4. Charles Davis Jr – 976
5. Jake Swanson – 800
6. Austin Williams – 659
7. Mike Martin – 655
8. Damion Gardner – 616
9. Chris Bonneau – 517
Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Short track racing is my passion!