By: USAC Racing
KOKOMO, Ind. – Patience is a virtue and, over the last five seasons, no one has exhibited that more than C.J. Leary.
After watching five other drivers notch their first series victories this season, it was Leary’s turn Friday night as he held off multiple mid-race challenges, then cruised his way to victory lane for his first career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory on night two of “Sprint Car Smackdown V” at Kokomo Speedway.
In what was his 140th career series start, Leary led all 30 laps from the pole at Kokomo, but it was not nearly as easy as the box score indicated. Leary had to hold off Thomas Meseraull and Tyler Courtney on a heavy, lightning-quick racetrack assisted by persistent rain throughout the evening.
Alongside his initial Silver Crown victory back in April at Terre Haute, Leary became the first driver since Kyle Larson in 2011 to win both his first career USAC Silver Crown and National Sprint Car victories in the same season.
“I can’t even put this into words right now,” Leary said after taking the Amati Racing/Marion Underground Construction – Zeller Construction/DRC/Dynotech to BC’s victory lane. “I’ve been so close; I can finally say ‘I parked it.’ Bryan (Clauson) took a lot of wins away from me, but I can say it definitely made me better. Donnie and Cody (Gentry) had this thing on a rail. I got to thank Shane (Wade) for putting me in this car. This is unreal.
“When I caught lapped traffic, it got real hard seeing the cushion getting into (turn) one,” Leary added. “There was a real fine line hitting the cushion just right. When I was by myself, the car was awesome. The racetrack was legendary tonight; it hasn’t been like this in a while! Hats off to the track crew for working their butts off to let us race tonight and to you fans for sticking it out.”
Michael Dutcher Motorsports’ pilot Meseraull began the 30-lap feature from the pole position with Amati Racing’s Leary alongside. Just one month ago, the two drivers were in the other’s current ride before swapping teams just after the conclusion of “Indiana Sprint Week.”
Meseraull beat Leary into turn one from the inside at the start, but Leary was able to use the high line to rocket off the turn-two cushion to grab the lead, quickly distancing himself from Meseraull in the opening stages.
On the ninth lap, Gas City “Indiana Sprint Week” winner Courtney entered the fray, applying pressure to Meseraull for the second spot as the two followed Leary into the treacherous land of lapped traffic.
While negotiating backmarkers on the 13th lap, Meseraull stumbled on the turn-two cushion, pulling the wheels off the ground briefly and opening the door for Courtney, who darted alongside Meseraull, nearly making contact with each other as the two raced down the back straightaway. However, Meseraull was able to withstand the bullet to retain the second spot for the meantime.
Race leader Leary bounced off the thick turn-two cushion on lap 15, forcing Meseraull, following just behind, to get on the binders, thus allowing Courtney to capitalize and grab second from Meseraull, exiting turn two.
Meseraull dove to the bottom in turn one just after passing underneath flagman Tom Hansing’s crossed flags indicating the halfway mark of the 30-lap feature as Leary went topside and Courtney played the role as the meat in a three-car sandwich in the middle. Leary prevailed off of turn two as the leader, while Meseraull slotted back into second and Courtney slid to third on the back straight.
Leary again ricocheted off the turn-two cushion one lap later. Meseraull cut underneath Leary exiting turn two, making contact with his right front tire and Leary’s left rear, which sent Meseraull’s car on four-wheel drift sideways down the back straightaway. Courtney stood on the throttle, wheel-standing his way past Meseraull for second entering turn three, then beat him in a race back to the flag stand by a single car-length to take the position.
Moments later, seventh-running Chase Stockon encountered trouble as he slowed to a crawl around the quarter-mile speedway, bringing about the yellow flag and forcing a restart with just 13 laps to go.
As Courtney bounced across the bottom of turn one on the lap-18 restart, it allowed Meseraull to get a run on Courtney that eventually garnered him the second spot coming out of turn four.
Courtney refused to cower, though, as he fought back to the outside of Meseraull entering turn one, but Courtney snagged the cushion with the right rear, snapping him hard right toward the wall and forcing him off the gas, which dropped him back two positions. Yet, Courtney would get a reprieve when the yellow flag fell for a turn-one tangle between Cole Ketcham and Tyler Hewitt.
Under the caution, second-running Meseraull’s left rear tire was nearly completely flat, but he remained on the track with the wounded rubber for the final 13 circuits. Leary spurted out front as the green flag flew, ringing the topside as Meseraull worked the middle and Courtney took to the bottom.
Leary began to put his stamp on this night in the ensuing laps, building up a nearly two-second lead over Meseraull and Courtney by the time Hunter Schuerenberg’s machine went up in smoke with six laps remaining.
But the caution failed to deter Leary – the 2015 Kokomo Speedway Sprint Car track champion – as he once again pulled away from the field, extending his lead lap after lap during his final six trips around the oval to finally earn the coveted USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature winner trophy, defeating Meseraull, Courtney, Shane Cottle and Chad Boespflug at the finish.
San Jose, California’s Thomas Meseraull took the Michael Dutcher Motorsports/Griffin’s Propane – Indiana Underground/Maxim/Fisher on its best run of the season Friday night, earning a second-place finish as well as picking up the most combined points on Thursday and Friday of “Smackdown” to lock himself into Saturday night’s A-Main.
“We had a fast car,” Meseraull said. “With about 15 laps to go, we had a tire go down, or I felt like we could’ve won. It feels good to run second. We are locked in for tomorrow, and that’s the money night.”
Like Leary and Meseraull, Indianapolis, Indiana’s Courtney also finds himself locked into Saturday night’s feature after collecting third in his TOPP Motorsports/Maxim/Chevy.
“We were just a little tight on the short runs there,” Courtney recalled. “We had a good 15-lap run right there when we got into lapped traffic. We were in the right place at the right time a couple times, but the yellows just came out at the wrong time, but it’s a part of it. It’s pretty cool to see another guy get his first win this year at a place like this. We’re going to try to stop him from getting his second one tomorrow night and we’ll try to park it here for BC. My thoughts and prayers are still with the Clausons. They’ve done a lot for me in my career. I definitely would not be standing here right now if it weren’t for Bryan Clauson. I’m going to miss that guy a lot; I can’t say enough about him. And thank you to the O’Connors for giving us a great racetrack after what looked like it was going to be a rain out. We don’t have to do two shows tomorrow and we can just focus on tomorrow night for the “Smackdown” for 10-grand to win.”
Contingency award winners Friday night at Kokomo Speedway included Chad Boespflug (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Zach Daum (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Thomas Meseraull [Competition Suspension, Inc. (CSI) Second Heat Winner], Dave Darland (Benic Enterprises Third Heat Winner), Hunter Schuerenberg (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Robert Ballou (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Kyle Cummins (Wilwood Brakes 13th-Place Feature Finisher).