BRANDON, S.D. – When C.J. Leary gets on a roll, he’s routinely displayed his ability to ride that hot streak as long as he possibly can.
In fact, since 2016, no driver has won two consecutive races more often in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature competition than the Greenfield, Ind., native with five.
Sunday night, during the inaugural Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals, Leary became the first driver this year to win consecutive races on multiple occasions, also doing the same in July at Plymouth, Ind., and Putnamville, Ind.
Leary turned the third-mile dirt oval into his personal ATM as he followed Saturday’s preliminary win with the biggest payday of his racing career during Sunday’s finale, collecting a payday of $20,000 by capturing the 40-lap victory.
Leary became the third different race leader on lap 19 after Logan Seavey and Chris Windom exchanged the lead five different times in the first half of the event. Leary tracked down the leaders just one lap prior to midway, and ultimately propelled past Windom for the top spot, then fended off challenges from both Chris Windom and Brady Bacon down the stretch to score a biggie in his Michael Motorsports/Kodiak Products – Gray Auto – Valvoline/DRC/Cressman.
“I hit the setup really good two nights in a row,” Leary revealed. “That’s kind of unheard of in sprint car racing. It’s usually just ‘get it close, and let the driver drive it.’ I gave all I had tonight, and during the last yellow, I looked at the jumbo screen and saw that there were only five laps to go, and I was like, ‘man, I’ve got to get up on the wheel If I really want to win this $20-grand because I knew Brady and Chris were hungry to win too.’”
Polesitter Seavey hopped into driver’s seat of the 24-car field on the initial start, leading the opening circuit-and-a-quarter when Robert Ballou and Windom, running second and third, made contact, sending Ballou’s left front wheel ramping over Windom’s right rear in turn one. Ballou glanced off the outside wall, then stopped with a flat left front tire on his machine. Ballou would return to finish 11th.
Seavey struck the first blow by leading each of the first three laps before Windom stormed by around the outside to lead lap four. Seavey ducked back under Windom to etch his name and number on laps five and six until Windom came roaring back topside to the point on the seventh go-around. Seavey flexed his muscles one more time as he scooted back by on the bottom of turns one and two to reassume the number one position.
Bacon turned up the thermostat on Windom by edging ahead in turn two on lap nine, which caught Windom’s attention as he gritted his teeth to shoot by both Bacon and Seavey in quick succession to snare the lead around the bottom berm with nine laps now completed and it’s where he’d remain until the 19th lap.
Meanwhile, Leary’s run was beginning to take shape as he rocketed past Bacon for third on the lowline in turn two on lap 11, then maneuvered his way by Seavey for second in the same spot five laps later, this time in the thick of the forest of traffic.
Once clear, Leary scooped chunks out of Windom’s once commanding lead, from five car lengths behind to two car lengths in arrears and then nosing in front of Windom as the pair of past USAC National Sprint Car champion split above and below 18th running Isaac Chapple in an electrically hair-raising endeavor entering the third turn with Leary shooting out the other side of the tunnel as the race leader.
With five laps remaining, Leary and Windom approached the 13th running car of Mario Clouser to put him a lap down. Leary followed Clouser through the middle while Windom went two steps higher up to the cushion in turns three and four. Windom whirled past the pair and became the new race leader for a split-second when the yellow was displayed for early race leader Logan Seavey who slowed and endured an agonizing crawl down the back straightaway with mechanical issues sending him to the sidelines.
With the yellow, Windom was repositioned back into the position he possessed during the last scored lap – second. Now with lapped traffic absent from the equation, it was time for Leary to prepare for another war, this time with three-time series champ Bacon.
Bacon clawed his way past Windom for second, and then applied the heavy pressure to Leary, looking high and low to no avail as Leary withstood all of the above to win by a .582-second margin over Bacon, Windom, Tanner Thorson and Kevin Thomas Jr., who finished as the driver who recorded the most points throughout the entirety of the three-night USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car racing event Huset’s.
Leary endured traffic, and he endured pressure from two of the best in the business in Bacon and Windom on the homestretch. In the end , he endured trials and tribulations, some of which he attributed to placing him directly in victory lane at the conclusion of the evening.
“That lapped traffic was tough,” Leary said. “Actually, it might’ve won me the race. I caught Clouser there, and he was ripping the top in three and four and I’d been kind of diamonding it. He was slowly driving away from me off of four. So, I was like, ‘man, maybe the top finally came in down there.’ On the restart, I moved up there and I felt like it was treacherous. I had to go elbows up and give her all she had. It won me the race over there, for sure. That was a helluva race and I had a lot of fun. I’ve never won $20 grand before.”
Bacon, who’d twice won $20,000-to-win USAC National Sprint Car races at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway in 2019-20, came up just short in his bid for another hefty padding of his wallet, finishing second.
Windom thought he had the deal sealed with five laps remaining. However, an untimely caution relegated him from first to second, then ultimately third at the finish line.
1. C.J. Leary (9), 2. Brady Bacon (8), 3. Chris Windom (4), 4. Tanner Thorson (10), 5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (11), 6. Justin Grant (3), 7. Chase Stockon (6), 8. Jason McDougal (12), 9. Thomas Meseraull (7), 10. Ryan Bernal (14), 11. Robert Ballou (2), 12. Jake Swanson (13), 13. Mario Clouser (15), 14. Matt Westfall (18), 15. Brandon Mattox (17), 16. Charles Davis Jr. (5), 17. Logan Seavey (1), 18. Isaac Chapple (16), 19. Terry Richards (19), 20. Cam Schafer (22), 21. Chad Frewaldt (20), 22. Glen Saville (23), 23. Jeremy Kerzman (24), 24. Alex Banales (21).