Tyler Courtney (Rich Forman photo)
Tyler Courtney (Rich Forman photo)

Sunshine Lights Up San Tan Valley

SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. — Tyler Courtney romped to his eighth USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series victory of the season in the opener of the 52nd annual Western World Championships presented by San Tan Ford at Arizona Speedway Friday night.

Courtney, the reigning series champion, trimmed C.J. Leary’s point lead to 26 markers with only Saturday night’s finale remaining.

“We came here this weekend to do one thing, and that’s win a championship,” Courtney reiterated. “You’ve got to do that by winning races. We may have fallen into one a little bit here, but you’ve got to be lucky just as much as you’ve got to be good.”

Courtney, the defending Western World champion, started fifth, where he had a front row seat for a 30-lap war of attrition that plagued many of the front runners for a variety of reasons.

Chris Windom mostly dominated from the pole position for much of the first half of the event following a lap one stoppage for fast qualifier and heat race one winner Logan Seavey who slowed with a mechanical issue on the opening circuit and was sidelined for the remainder of the evening.

In reverse of the midget race that proceeded the sprint feature, the groove was up on the fence where Windom led the charge around the third-mile dirt oval while National championship contenders Courtney and Leary ran sixth and 11th, respectively.

Just before midway, second-running Justin Grant had caught Windom, taking a peek underneath Windom on both ends of the track just as the ring of rubber began to take hold on the top side.

Grant successfully made the pass of Windom stick in turn one on the 17th lap with the two making contact, Grant’s rear to Windom’s front bumper. Windom fell back behind Grant, but it didn’t take long for him to fire his next shot in turn one two laps later to reclaim the lead.

On the 21st lap, Grant brought the heat once again with a turn one slider across the nose of Windom to secure the top spot with less than 10 to go. Grant became the locomotive pulling the train with Windom and midget feature winner Kevin Thomas Jr. now closing in rapidly in third.

On the next lap, the unthinkable happened. As the top-three entered the middle of turns one and two, they approached the lapped car of Kyle Shipley, whose right-rear tire was pouring smoke off the corners. As Shipley rounded turn two, he drifted high off the rubber, half-spinning right into the path of not only Grant, but also second-running Windom, third-place Thomas and fourth-place Schuerenberg, who all plowed into Shipley’s stopped car.

Just behind, resting near the outside turn two wall was 10th running Chase Stockon and point leader Leary.

With only nine laps remaining, Leary’s pursuit of a championship seemed to be in peril. However, he restarted and managed to wheel back to sixth at the checkered following a slew of attrition and tire wear that developed down the stretch.

USAC/CRA Sprint standout Austin Williams inherited the lead with Brady Bacon and Courtney now residing in his shadow.

However, Williams bid for a first USAC National feature win came to a bitter end with just five laps to go as his right-rear tire gave way in turn four while a melee involving the cars of Jake Swanson, Thomas Meseraull, Max Adams, Brody Roa and a helicoptering R.J. Johnson ensued behind him.

The restart put Bacon up front ahead of Courtney.  Bacon assumed control, setting the pace until three laps to go when 19th running Chris Gansen slowed to a stop in turn four with a flat right rear of his own.

When racing resumed, fourth-running Damion Gardner and 12th-place Kevin Thomas Jr. were the next to fall to the wayside with flat tires. Under caution, the cords on Bacon’s right rear became readily apparent, thus placing him in the unenviable role of sitting duck on the lap 29 restart.

Courtney smelled blood in the water and went on the offensive, sliding underneath Bacon in turn one to grab the lead. Just mere moments later, Bacon slowed to a crawl with the plodding sound of flat right-rear rubber entering his ear.

Courtney was now in his Shangri-La for the final restart and where he’d stay for good, encountering no trouble at the end en route to victory over a hard-charging Grant, who returned from the earlier incident to finish second.

Jason McDougal was third ahead of KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Charles Davis Jr. in fourth (from 16th) and Stevie Sussex.

To see full results, turn to the next page.

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