5 YEARS TO THE DAY: LEARY TRIUMPHS AGAIN AT OCALA

5 YEARS TO THE DAY: LEARY TRIUMPHS AGAIN AT OCALA

By: Richie Murray – USAC Media

Ocala, Florida (February 16, 2024)………The last time C.J. Leary won at Florida’s Ocala Speedway, it wound up being a very good year.

After parlaying a final night Winter Dirt Games victory in 2019 at Ocala into a USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship later that season, the Greenfield, Ind. racer hopes that 2024 will bear a much similar fruit.

During Friday night’s Winter Dirt Games XV finale at the 3/8-mile dirt track, Leary took the right step in that direction by notching his first feature victory of the season, exactly five years to the day of his only other Ocala triumph, the significance of which wasn’t lost on Leary.

“This is awesome to pick up a win here,” Leary exclaimed.  “It’s been since 2019 that we’ve been in victory lane here.  Maybe this is a little sign of what’s to come throughout the whole season.”

Leary’s late-race surge on Friday night took him from fourth to first during the final five circuits, where he took over the point from series point leader Logan Seavey just three laps from the finish of the 30-lapper en route to victory in his BGE-Dougherty Motorsports/Altoz – Valvoline – Hornbeck Concrete/DRC/1-Way Chevy, the same 2020-built chassis he won with during Indiana Sprint Week at Kokomo Speedway in 2023.

The 23rd main event win of Leary’s USAC National Sprint Car career moved him to 28th on the all-time list, surpassing 27-time winners Rick Hood, Bubby Jones and Sammy Sessions while equaling Roger McCluskey on the 28 line.

Leary’s victory was of the resurgent variety, having collected four top-five finishes in each of his first four starts of the USAC season before tallying a distant ninth the night before at Ocala.  What they thought was a possible engine malfunction 24 hours earlier turned out to be the same powerplant that guided the team to victory 24 hours later.

“We’ve been so fast and so good, but we had a little bit of an off night last night,” Leary recalled.  “I thought we were having engine issues yesterday so we went through the whole thing and diagnosed it and couldn’t find anything wrong, so we just kept running it.  This is probably the last night on this rebuild.”

Leary began his race from the fourth spot on the grid while, for the third consecutive event, Chase Stockon led the opening lap after starting from the pole position.  However, by lap three, the man on the charge was Honest Abe Roofing Fast Qualifier Kevin Thomas Jr. who utilized the outside line to his liking, blowing by Stockon on the backstretch for the top spot on lap three.

Thomas’ time up front proved to be short-lived as Seavey quickly reeled him in and initiated a successful turn one slide job on the fourth lap which thrusted him into the race lead.

Seavey continued to ride the high line through the middle stages of the race as he swiftly knifed his way through the thick throng of lapped traffic to gain a 1.5 second lead over Thomas.  Seavey continued to trounce the field as he assembled a full straightaway lead over Brady Bacon who deftly dove under Thomas in turn two to slot into the second position with nine laps remaining.

From there, Seavey’s interval over Bacon dissipated abruptly, and with six laps to go, Bacon was within a couple whiskers of Seavey’s tail tank when both narrowly avoided disaster.  Just ahead of Seavey and Bacon, the lapped car driven by Robert Bell, making his first series start in nearly three years, spun out, forcing the leaders to take evasive action in order to avoid as the race went yellow.

With six to go, Leary found himself mired in fourth on a track that became lathered in rubber.  But it didn’t stop Leary from beginning to make a surge.  Leary pressed Thomas on lap 26 and wedged into the third spot in turn three under Thomas to move up another spot on the pylon.

Suddenly, fifth running Justin Grant slowed with a flat right rear tire, which caused him to stop in turn one, indicating that tire wear and attrition had begun to rear its head.  Grant, winner of three-in-a-row at Ocala in the past week, saw his run end with a season-low 20th place result.

On the immediate restart, Leary shot under Bacon off turn four on lap 27 to corral third and cross the line just before fifth running Daison Pursley became the next victim of a right rear tire’s demise, which went flat and forced him to a stop in turn one.

Now with Leary lined up on Seavey’s rear bumper for the lap 28 restart, it didn’t take long for Leary to flex his muscle.  Sweeping wide through turns one and two, Leary loaded up on momentum and carried it with him for the entire length of the the backstretch, and ultimately, was able to scoot under Seavey off turn four to put himself in prime real estate at the front of the field.

Thinking a bit earlier that, when the rubber came, the track surface was going to be hard to pass on, Leary even proved his own theory to be incorrect.

“I think it just kind of paid off there by not being the leader at the end,” Leary explained.  “Those guys kept shortening the track up, looking for the rubber, but I was able to keep my momentum up around the top and find some moisture.”

Leary tore away from the pack over the final three trips, and on the last of the 30 laps, poured it on by laying down his fastest lap of the feature as he was taking the checkered flag for a .835 margin of victory over Seavey, Stockon, Thomas and Jadon Rogers, who posted a fine fifth place run.  Bacon was headed for a third-place result on the final lap when his right rear tire gave way off turn four, dropping him to seventh in the final running order.

Second at the stripe was Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) who finished off his six-race Florida stretch with six consecutive top-three finishes with the brand-new Abacus Racing sprint car team and their CG CPAs – Indy Custom Stone – Forecheck Marketing/DRC/Stanton Chevy.

“When you’re leading and it takes rubber, you think that’s the best thing,” Seavey said.  “But one and two really didn’t take rubber.  It was really slippery and tricky, and then you get so much speed down the frontstretch from the rubber, you just go sliding through one and two.  I saw C.J. marching up the board every caution and I knew he was really good, but I guess I just assumed that he was driving around guys up a lane and then getting down in front of them on the backstretch just because it was so slick getting off two, so I moved up just half a lane and he snuck right by me.  I got myself a little free after seeing guys blow tires and  I freed myself up a little bit thinking I could get some weight off my right rear and make it to the end.  It was the wrong decision, and I lost the race.”

Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.) equaled his season-best with a third-place result in his KO Motorsports/Banded Ag – Superior Tank & Trailer – Dewig Meats – AMSOIL/DRC/Fisher Chevy.

“I could see some of the guys’ tires starting to go down and delaminating a little bit, and I kind of knew we needed to save,” Stockon recalled.  “Over the years, we’ve always been pretty decent in the rubber, so I was able to pick my way back up to third.  We started on the pole both nights here, and on the last two nights, we’ve ended up third.  Going first to third doesn’t show how hard these guys have been working on this car to get me comfortable, but we’re inching up on them.”

Joey Amantea (Mount Pocono, Pa.) has had a solid start to his first full season of USAC National Sprint Car racing.  On this night, he capped his Winter Dirt Games trip with a run from 20th to 11th.  That performance earned him the night’s Irvin King Hard Charger award.

For the second consecutive season, Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) earned the Hughes Racing/Indiana Mafia/Flamingo Sandy Winter Dirt Games Passing Master title.  Throughout the course of the past week in Florida, The Mad Man passed a total of 44 cars.

Meanwhile, Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) recorded his 38th career USAC National Sprint Car Fast Qualifying time, moving him past three-time series champ Larry Dickson and now sits just one behind five-time titlist Levi Jones for sixth all-time.

 

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USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: February 16, 2024 – Ocala Speedway – Ocala, Florida – Winter Dirt Games XV – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track

HONEST ABE ROOFING QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3R, Rock Steady-13.914; 2. Daison Pursley, 21AZ, Team AZ-14.085; 3. C.J. Leary, 15x, BGE Dougherty-14.158; 4. Logan Seavey, 57, Abacus-14.187; 5. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-14.205; 6. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-14.267; 7. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-14.307; 8. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-14.316; 9. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-14.401; 10. Briggs Danner, 39, Hogue-14.444; 11. Jadon Rogers, 17GP, Dutcher-14.462; 12. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-14.476; 13. Tye Mihocko, 5T, Wilson-14.565; 14. Alex Bright, 27, Heffner-14.582; 15. Jake Swanson, 2B, 2B Racing-14.619; 16. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-14.626; 17. Tom Harris, 84, Harris-14.643; 18. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-14.719; 19. Kyle Cummins, 3p, Petty-14.744; 20. Joey Amantea, 88J, JPA-14.810; 21. Hunter Maddox, 24m, Maddox-14.886; 22. Shane Butler, 18, Butler-15.210; 23. Timmy Buckwalter, 20, Hummer-15.598; 24. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-15.601; 25. Chase Howard, 13, Howard-15.615; 26. Kobe Simpson, 21K, Simpson-15.705; 27. Jake Bland, 24x, Maddox-NT.

SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Logan Seavey, 2. Robert Ballou, 3. Briggs Danner, 4. Kyle Cummins, 5. Tye Mihocko, 6. Kevin Thomas Jr., 7. Matt Westfall, 8. Shane Butler, 9. Chase Howard. 2:04.00

ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Jadon Rogers, 2. Mitchel Moles, 3. Daison Pursley, 4. Brady Bacon, 5. Joey Amantea, 6. Alex Bright, 7. Tom Harris, 8. Kobe Simpson. 2:02.78

T.J. FORGED/CAR IQ THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Carson Garrett, 3. C.J. Leary, 4. Jake Swanson, 5. Chase Stockon, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Hunter Maddox, 8. Robert Bell. 2:04.89

FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (4), 2. Logan Seavey (3), 3. Chase Stockon (1), 4. Kevin Thomas Jr. (6), 5. Jadon Rogers (7), 6. Mitchel Moles (10), 7. Brady Bacon (2), 8. Alex Bright (14), 9. Briggs Danner (12), 10. Carson Garrett (11), 11. Joey Amantea (20), 12. Robert Ballou (16), 13. Jake Swanson (15), 14. Tye Mihocko (13), 15. Kyle Cummins (19), 16. Matt Westfall (9), 17. Tom Harris (17), 18. Brandon Mattox (18), 19. Kobe Simpson (25), 20. Justin Grant (8), 21. Hunter Maddox (21), 22. Daison Pursley (5), 23. Chase Howard (24), 24. Robert Bell (23), 25. Shane Butler (22). NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-2 Chase Stockon, Lap 3 Kevin Thomas Jr., Laps 4-27 Logan Seavey, Laps 28-30 C.J. Leary.

USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Logan Seavey-462, 2-C.J. Leary-424, 3-Kevin Thomas Jr.-400, 4-Justin Grant-388, 5-Daison Pursley-331, 6-Chase Stockon-322, 7-Briggs Danner-309, 8-Robert Ballou-305, 9-Kyle Cummins-304, 10-Mitchel Moles-295.

OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-37, 2-Tye Mihocko-32, 3-Alex Bright-27, 4-Joey Amantea-24, 5-Logan Seavey-20, 6-C.J. Leary-19, 7-Kyle Cummins-18, 8-Kevin Thomas Jr.-15, 9-Matt Westfall-15, 10-Briggs Danner-13.

HUGHES RACING / INDIANA MAFIA / FLAMINGO SANDY WINTER DIRT GAMES XV PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-44, 2-Tye Mihocko-39, 3-Logan Seavey-35, 4-C.J. Leary-30, 5-Alex Bright-30, 6-Joey Amantea-29, 7-Kyle Cummins-27, 8-Justin Grant-26, 9-Kevin Thomas Jr.-25, 10-Matt Westfall-20.

NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: April 5, 2024 – Terre Haute Action Track – Terre Haute, Indiana – Jim Hurtubise Classic – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track

 

CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:                                                       

  • Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: Briggs Danner (14.202)
  • Honest Abe Roofing Fast Qualifier: Kevin Thomas Jr. (13.914)
  • Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Logan Seavey
  • Rod End Supply Second Heat Winner: Jadon Rogers
  • T.J. Forged / Car IQ Third Heat Winner: Justin Grant
  • ProSource Hard Work Award: Kobe Simpson
  • Irvin King Hard Charger: Joey Amantea (20th to 11th)
  • Hughes Racing/Indiana Mafia/Flamingo Sandy Winter Dirt Games XV Passing Master Champion: Robert Ballou