CJ Leary won the Silver Crown event at Saturday's Four Crown at Eldora (Rich Forman Photo)
By: Richie Murray - USAC Media
Rossburg, Ohio.........C.J. Leary felt he gave one away earlier Saturday night in the USAC Sprint Car portion of the 37th "4-Crown Nationals" at Eldora Speedway.
When the time came for him to set foot in his USAC Silver Crown car for the season finale, he made it his life's mission to not let another golden opportunity slip through his fingers.
"The top was so treacherous, I kept making little mistakes and throwing the right front into it," Leary recalled. "I thought I gave the race away three or four times. This racecar was bad fast, and I had a bad fast sprint car too. But the driver stepped on it in that one."
Leary's hunger was palpable after finishing second in the sprinter. You would've had to use a jackhammer to crack that lingering "What if" thought out of his head throughout the 50-lap Silver Crown finale. He wasn't going to let anything go to chance; he was going to put this race in his own hands and be on the attack on the cushion. Although, the cushion at this particular moment of the night was an unmovable concrete wall.
"I'm always one to bang the boards," Leary admitted. "The top's the best place to run here at Eldora. The guy who can throw his nut sack over his shoulder and just haul it around here is normally the winner. I'm just glad to be standing down here and have the car in one piece after banging off the fence for the 50 laps."
Leary had his work cut out for him, starting the race from the eighth position in his Chuck & Tammi Leary/Leary Construction - GreenTech Lubricants/DRC/1-Way Toyota, while Shane Cottle took off from the pole to lead early despite a rough going for others in the field that created a bevy of stoppages within the first eight laps.
On the third lap, David Byrne flipped into the catchfence between turns three and four to bring out the first red flag. Chris Windom, the victor of the two most recent series races, had a rear end break on him just as he was poised to snag the race lead on the seventh circuit. A lap later, defending race winner Tyler Courtney's bid to sweep the three USAC divisions in a single night came to an abrupt end after tagging the turn one wall and flipping. Both Byrne and Courtney were uninjured.
As he had done throughout the night, Leary was on a mission, sliding into second past Jerry Coons, Jr. in turn one on the 15th go-around. By the time the two hit the back straight, Kevin Thomas, Jr. entered the fray and also ripped past Coons to move into third. Thus began what would be a familiar refrain for the remaining 33 laps - Leary and Thomas side-by-side!
As the two found their distinctive grooves - Leary heaving his car around the top against the outside wall and Thomas keeping his car straight as an arrow through the middle - they were able to cut Cottle's lead down substantially from a second-plus to pretty much nil within a handful laps.
Leary pulled the bow first, sliding by Cottle momentarily in turn two on lap 30 with Thomas crashing the party as well. Cottle re-emerged with the lead at the line as the trio crossed the stripe three-wide.
Shuffle, repeat, shuffle, repeat like an old five-disc CD changer your grandparents might still own, that was the name of the game. Thomas initially gained the lead on lap 31, controlled three laps before Leary blasted by around the outside. Two laps later, Leary repainted the turn one wall with rubber after blasting the concrete, allowing Thomas to sneak back by for another three-lap stint at the front.
Leary again was pestering Thomas around the top, coming back to snare the lead on lap 39, but for nary one trip around the half-mile - by a half-car-length - before bouncing off the turn one wall again, handing the race back over to Thomas for one lap. Leary once again roared back to reclaim the lead the following time around, then led for four laps before battering the turn one wall again, allowing Thomas to take the advantage with six laps remaining.
Leary was relentless, ripping the topside around Thomas off turn four coming to the stand with three laps to go, beating Thomas by the mere diameter of a wheel. Thomas, never doubting, made one last ditch run at Leary into turn one, nearly getting the deed done, but Leary cleared Thomas by as much as the thickness of a five o'clock shadow exiting turn two.
All that stood in Leary's way between he and a first series victory since Terre Haute in 2016 was a triumvirate of lapped cars. However, they were all hugging the bottom, which was more of a bugaboo to Thomas' middle line than it was to Leary skimming the fence.
Leary was untouched the remainder of the way to win his second career Silver Crown race by a half-second over Thomas, a second-place finisher for the third race in a row. Pole sitter Cottle finished third in front of an impressive fourth-place run in Jason McDougal's series' debut while new, four-time series champ Kody Swanson rounded out the top-five.
"Winning these Silver Crown races are the crown jewel," Leary said. "Winning sprint car races are cool, but these are my favorite races to run. This is a dream come true tonight."
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE RESULTS: September 21-22, 2018 - Eldora Speedway - Rossburg, Ohio - 37th "4-Crown Nationals" presented by NKT.TV
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Shane Cottle, 81, Williams-16.764; 2. Jerry Coons Jr., 20, Nolen-16.888; 3. Chris Windom, 17, Nolen-16.935; 4. Brady Bacon, 6, Klatt-16.993; 5. Kody Swanson, 63, DePalma-16.993; 6. Tyler Courtney, 97, Lein-16.998; 7. Jason McDougal, 9, Dyson-17.002; 8. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-17.011; 9. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-17.118; 10. Kevin Thomas, Jr. 56, Foxco-17.146; 11. Kyle Robbins, 7, KR-17.179; 12. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-17.250; 13. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-17.306; 14. Aaron Pierce, 26, Pierce-17.333; 15. Austin Nemire, 16, Nemire/Lesko-17.543; 16. Travis Welpott, 18, Welpott/Gorman-17.554; 17. Mike Haggenbottom, 124, Haggenbottom-17.714; 18. Jacob Wilson, 07, WBR-17.765; 19. Aaron Schuck, 53, Five-Three-18.034; 20. Chris Fetter, 89, Fetter-18.513; 21. Dave Berkheimer, 31, Berkheimer-19.076; 22. Bill Rose, 66, Rose-NT, 23. Dave Darland, 43, Felker/Nix-NT.
FEATURE: (50 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (8), 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (10), 3. Shane Cottle (1), 4. Jason McDougal (7), 5. Kody Swanson (5), 6. Jerry Coons, Jr. (2), 7. Justin Grant (12), 8. Brady Bacon (4), 9. Kyle Robbins (11), 10. Jacob Wilson (16), 11. Austin Nemire (15), 12. Bill Rose (20), 13. Steve Buckwalter (#53) (19), 14. Matt Goodnight (9), 15. Mike Haggenbottom (17), 16. Dave Darland (23), 17. Travis Welpott (14), 18. Chris Fetter (18), 19. Dave Berkheimer (21), 20. Aaron Pierce (22), 21. Tyler Courtney (6), 22. Chris Windom (3), 23. David Byrne (13). NT
**Byrne flipped on lap 3 of the feature. Courtney flipped on lap 8 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Cottle, Laps 31-33 Thomas, Laps 34-35 Leary, Laps 36-38 Thomas, Lap 39 Leary, Lap 40 Thomas, Laps 41-44 Leary, Laps 45-46 Thomas, Laps 47-50 Leary.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/LARRY RICE HIGH PERFORMANCE HARD CHARGER: Kevin Thomas, Jr. (10th to 2nd)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Steve Buckwalter
FINAL USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES POINTS: 1-Swanson-641, 2-Grant-559, 3-Windom-526, 4-Byrne-462, 5-Coons-433, 6-Robbins-372, 7-Welpott-348, 8-Goodnight-344, 9-Bobby Santos-329, 10-Nemire-327.