Chris Windom won his first Gas City I-69 Speedway USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature in his 20th try at Thursday night's James Dean Classic.(Gene Crucean Photo)
By: Richie Murray - USAC Media
Gas City, Indiana (September 26, 2019).........Gas City I-69 Speedway had greeted Chris Windom on numerous occasions throughout his USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car career, 19 to be exact, since his debut at the quarter-mile dirt oval in 2007.
It's unfair to say that the track had been unkind to the Canton, Ill. driver over the years, with nine top-five finishes in those 19 previous starts coming into Thursday night's second running of the James Dean Classic. Yet, that one single, solitary victory had remained elusive.
Windom had trekked the road to Gas City many a time, but this time, he drove off as a winner there in USAC competition with a sterling performance, leading all 30 laps to score his fourth series victory of the season and the 25th of his career which tied Steve Butler and Jay Drake for 20th all-time.
Ultimately, Windom's persistence paid off, and now he can call himself a USAC winner at Gas City, finally.
"It seems like I've had countless podiums here," Windom recounts. "We've run 2nd or 3rd almost every USAC race here. To get that first one's pretty cool."
Windom set the tone right from the get-go, recording sixth quick time which would, if everything went to his plan through the prelims, would net him a starting spot up front. As it turned out, it was from the pole. But a good starting spot alone does not make or break a night, there's several variables to endure throughout 30 laps. Yet, being in the proverbial and literal driver's seat at the front of the field for the drop of the green does have its kicks.
"I knew I had to get a good jump on that initial start because the track was so hooked up," Windom explained. "It seemed that, if your car was good and you could get out and click off good laps, it was going to be tough to get by you."
That proved to be fortuitous for the 2017 series champ as he raced side-by-side with outside front row starter Kevin Thomas, Jr. through turns one and two at the start. Windom surged ahead under Thomas on the back straightaway and led entering the third turn. There, Thomas made slight contact with the rear bumper of Windom, forcing Thomas to get on the binders, dropping him from 2nd to 4th as Justin Grant and 2019 Gas City track champ Thomas Meseraull slipped by to snare 2nd and 3rd, respectively, at the conclusion of the opening lap.
A three-car tussle between Grant, Meseraull and Thomas ensued as Windom opened up a half second lead. Meseraull drove to 2nd by Grant on the fourth lap and held onto the spot until exiting the fourth corner on the sixth lap when both Grant and Thomas slipped by, and Meseraull began to slow dramatically with smoke billowing from his ride. The seven-time Gas City winner this year slid his car backward into the infield on the front straightaway as a small and brief fire broke out from the engine compartment, prematurely ending his night.
When racing resumed, Windom put on the same song and dance, running middle to bottom as he incrementally distanced himself from Grant as the race crossed the halfway point, which is where lapped traffic came into play. Windom worked his way under heat race winner Cole Ketcham first, then worked around the outside of Cody White and Dave Darland, all while maintaining a fairly healthy eight-tenths of a second advantage over Grant.
"I felt like I was setting a pretty fast pace around the middle to bottom," Windom remembered. "I was a little nervous to go to the top with how thick the cushion was. You don't have a choice when you catch lapped traffic. If you follow them, somebody's going to find a way around, so I moved to the top and we were maneuvering through lapped traffic pretty well."
Once Windom reached first-time USAC feature starter Harley Burns, Windom sought high and low, tiptoeing on his path to avoid getting caught out, sliding up and allowing the now not-so-distant Grant and Thomas, who were right on his rear bumper, to drastically close up the gap. Windom was eventually able to drive around Burns as were Grant and Thomas just moments before 7th running Scotty Weir spun in turn four, necessitating a yellow flag and bringing about a clear road ahead for Windom.
"You're always going to have that in lapped traffic," Windom said. "So, we did the best we could there, and we caught cautions at the times I wanted them. It doesn't seem to normally work out that way, but it did tonight. We just had to stay out front and hit our marks, and not get in too heavy of lapped traffic and make a wrong decision because, at that point, your kind of a sitting duck when you're the leader."
Windom, who was back in his team's DRC chassis tonight, found it to be a better fit for Gas City with how tight and hooked up the track can get. As it turned out, they were the ones hooked up on this night in the Parallax Group-Goacher Racing/NOS Energy Drink - Parallax Power Supply/DRC/Claxton Mopar, pulling away on the restart and appeared headed for victory.
However, with just three laps remaining, the night's KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Jason McDougal, clobbered an orange cone sitting amidst the infield tires at the exit of turn four, dropkicking the inanimate object into the middle of the racing surface. That forced the yellow flag to be displayed and the field to be restacked once again.
For Windom, the holdup was simply momentary as he once again burst away on the lap 28 restart, cruising to victory by a 0.808 margin, while letting the three trailing drivers duke it out for the runner-up spot, which reigning series champ Tyler Courtney snagged with a big drive around the outside of Grant off turn four on the final lap to get the 2nd spot by a wheel, or .056 sec, over Grant with Thomas a car length behind in 4th. Chase Stockon, in his record 287th consecutive series start, rounded out the top-five.
Contingency award winners Thursday night at Gas City I-69 Speedway were C.J. Leary (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Cole Ketcham (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Scotty Weir (AutoMeter Third Heat Winner), Justin Grant (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Tye Mihocko (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Jason McDougal (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Harley Burns (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier) and Dustin Smith (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 26, 2019 - Gas City I-69 Speedway - Gas City, Indiana - 2nd James Dean Classic - 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. C.J. Leary, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-12.121; 2. Thomas Meseraull, 00, Whitney-12.174; 3. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-12.219; 4. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-12.299; 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 19, Hayward/Thomas-12.364; 6. Chris Windom, 5G, Parallax/Goacher-12.441; 7. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-12.479; 8. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-12.491; 9. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-12.555; 10. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-12.557; 11. Chad Boespflug, 98e, EZR-12.561; 12. Anthony D'Alessio, 01, D'Alessio-12.568; 13. Harley Burns, 16K, Knight-12.574; 14. Cole Ketcham, 41, Ketcham-12.614; 15. Scotty Weir, 39G, Goodnight-12.634; 16. Cody White, 26w, White-12.720; 17. Max Adams, 57, Hazen-12.720; 18. Jason McDougal, 71p, Daigh/Phillips-12.733; 19. Tye Mihocko, 5, Mihocko-12.751; 20. Dustin Ingle, 2DI, Ingle-12.767; 21. Tyler Hewitt, 1, RL-12.830; 22. Corey Smith, 66s, CS-12.841; 23. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-12.856; 24. Dave Darland, 43m, Tibbits-12.867; 25. Shane Cottle, 19c, Cooley-12.966; 26. Dustin Clark, 75, Clark-12.996; 27. Jack James, 99, James-13.422; 28. Dustin Smith, 77, Smith-13.582.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Isaac Chapple, 4. Cody White, 5. Shane Cottle, 6. Tyler Hewitt, 7. Harley Burns. 2:08.98
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Cole Ketcham, 2. Thomas Meseraull, 3. Jason McDougal, 4. Chris Windom, 5. Dustin Clark, 6. Matt Goodnight, 7. Corey Smith. 2:03.85
AUTOMETER THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Scotty Weir, 2. Brady Bacon, 3. Tye Mihocko, 4. Tyler Courtney, 5. Chad Boespflug, 6. Matt Westfall, 7. Jack James. 2:04.18
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Dustin Ingle, 3. Chase Stockon, 4. Dave Darland, 5. Max Adams, 6. Anthony D'Alessio, 7. Dustin Smith. 2:04.03
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Chad Boespflug, 2. Max Adams, 3. Harley Burns, 4. Matt Westfall, 5. Matt Goodnight, 6. Shane Cottle, 7. Dustin Smith, 8. Dustin Clark, 9. Anthony D'Alessio, 10. Corey Smith, 11. Jack James, 12. Tyler Hewitt. 2:28.28 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Chris Windom (1), 2. Tyler Courtney (7), 3. Justin Grant (3), 4. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (2), 5. Chase Stockon (8), 6. C.J. Leary (6), 7. Brady Bacon (4), 8. Jason McDougal (17), 9. Isaac Chapple (9), 10. Max Adams (15), 11. Scotty Weir (14), 12. Matt Westfall (20), 13. Tye Mihocko (18), 14. Matt Goodnight (10), 15. Harley Burns (12), 16. Cody White (16), 17. Cole Ketcham (13), 18. Dustin Ingle (19), 19. Dave Darland (21), 20. Chad Boespflug (11), 21. Thomas Meseraull (5), 22. Dustin Clark (23), 23. Shane Cottle (22). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Chris Windom
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Jason McDougal (17th to 8th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Tye Mihocko
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Dustin Smith
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Harley Burns
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-C.J. Leary-1,903, 2-Tyler Courtney-1,792, 3-Brady Bacon-1,710, 4-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-1,708, 5-Justin Grant-1,704, 6-Chris Windom-1,702, 7-Chase Stockon-1,649, 8-Jason McDougal-1,436, 9-Carson Short-1,361, 10-Isaac Chapple-1,110.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: September 28, 2019 - Eldora Speedway - Rossburg, Ohio - 38th 4-Crown Nationals presented by NKT.tv - 1/2-Mile Dirt Oval