Axsom Finds Victory Lane at Cocopah Speedway
Updated: Nov 17
Series News Release - USAC Media
More often than not, the most preferred method of ending a drought isn’t one that involves heading straight into the desert.
However, Emerson Axsom found the arid surroundings of southwestern Arizona quite replenishing on Friday night during the 55th Annual Chapman Chevrolet of Yuma Western World Championships Presented by Yuma Insurance & Avanti at Somerton’s Cocopah Speedway.
For Axsom (Franklin, Ind.), it had been more than eight months since he last visited victory lane with the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, scoring wins in two of the first three rounds during February’s Winter Dirt Games at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park.
Eight months later, the leading Rookie of the Year contender found himself in an envious position within the USAC National Sprint Car ranks during the series’ first ever visit to Cocopah Speedway, starting on the outside of the front row and proceeding to lead all 30 laps of the main event co-sanctioned by USAC CRA aboard his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Products/Spike/Kistler Chevy.
Including the two early season wins, Axsom has been consistent, reeling off 14 top-fives and 27 top-tens in 35 feature starts while routinely residing inside the top-five in series points. Axsom knew that it was only a matter of time before they could experience that winning feeling once again.
Entering Western World, the pondering of Axsom’s mind as to exactly when “the wait” would be lifted off his shoulders was punctuated by the question, “Why not me?”
“I feel like we’ve had so much speed this season and not a lot of luck, just Rookie mistakes,” Axsom explained. “We’ve had a shot to win a lot of these races, but I feel like I needed a little bit of luck. I felt like if anyone deserves it, maybe it’s me.”
Western World has treated Clauson Marshall Newman Racing beautifully in recent years. With Tyler Courtney in the driver’s seat, the team captured final night victories in three consecutive seasons between 2018-2020. With Axsom stepping into the role this year, he’s picked up the baton successfully to carry on the team’s Western World prosperity, doing so in the driver and team’s first year working together.
“We haven’t had the wins, but it’s not like the speed hasn’t been there,” Axsom noted. “We’ve been up front basically all year and been really consistent especially for a first year group. This is our first year working together so I feel like it’s been a pretty solid year for my first full sprint car season and for all of us working together.”
Axsom bolted out of the gate and into the lead as he blazed a trail around the outside of pole sitter Matt Westfall on the opening lap, firmly finding a line up top in turns one and two and on the bottom of three and four.
Brady Bacon initially closed up the gap on Axsom and found himself within a car length of the race lead on lap five when he drifted into the outside wall on exit, which promptly allowed Jake Swanson to charge underneath to rip the second spot away a single circuit later.
The feature’s initial yellow flag came with seven laps completed as Logan Seavey came to a halt on the back straightaway while running 12th. After a touch up in the Indy Metal Finishing Work Area, the reigning Western World champion restarted 24th and came all the way through to finish an impressive ninth, all things considered.
Under caution, Bacon’s right rear tire looked visibly wonky, to use a technical term. When racing resumed, it was only a matter of time before his rubber gave way, which it finally did on lap 12 while running third. With the tire completely flat and his ride slowing dramatically, Bacon detoured to the Work Area where he was fitted with fresh rubber.
Bacon’s subsequent 10th place result severely hampered his chances at a fifth career USAC National Sprint Car title, losing 15 points in the process to eventual fifth place finisher Justin Grant who extended his lead to 93 markers with four events remaining.
Swanson was now the nearest challenger to Axsom’s hold of the lead and made a run on the topside of turn two on the lap 12 restart to show his might. However, he got tight on the cushion and nearly tagged the wall, causing him to lose several car lengths in his pursuit of Axsom.
Simultaneously, Westfall slotted back into third as he slipped under Grant for the third spot entering turn three. But, up front, Axsom built his lead to a full two seconds over Swanson as he moved up a lane off the low line to put the cars of Verne Sweeney, Logan Williams and Matt Mitchell a lap down.
From there, Axsom went untouched for the remaining handful of dwindling laps to post a 1.936 second margin of victory with Jake Swanson second and Matt Westfall third. Robert Ballou picked off Justin Grant with a move underneath off turn four with four laps remaining to take over fourth at the line. Grant rounded out the top-five.
Seemingly inching closer to a first win of the 2022 USAC season is Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) who took the home state ride from fifth to second in the feature. The run marked his third runner-up result of the USAC National Sprint Car season and the second in his last three feature starts in the seat of the Team AZ Racing/Stratis Construction - Lucas Oil - RSS Industries/DRC/Claxton Chevy.
“I felt like I was making it work up there and I might have a shot, but it got to a point where it was so thin up there, I started smashing the wall,” Swanson recalled. “I didn’t want to end up like Brady with a flat right rear, but I tried as hard as I could. I don’t know, maybe if I would’ve backed the corner up and made up a little more ground the first couple laps, I might’ve been able to get around him. At that point, it was track position. (Emerson) was really good in the black, but I think we know exactly what to do to be just a little bit better tomorrow.”
For Matt Westfall, it was his best performance in 10 years. The Pleasant Hill, Ohio native earned his best USAC National Sprint Car finish since April of 2012 at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. That night a decade ago, he finished third. On this night, in his first trip to Cocopah, he grabbed another third at the wheel of his Ray Marshall Motorsports/Buckeye Machine – Hempy Water/DRC/Gressman Chevy.
“On the start, the tires didn’t fire all that well and I got behind and fell to fifth,” Westfall replayed. “When Brady had that flat tire, it helped us out as we got back to third, and we ended up having a good run.”
While establishing the USAC National Sprint Car track record at Cocopah, C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) officially entered the upper crust alongside the best qualifiers in the history of the sport. His Fatheadz Fast Qualifying time was the 39th of his USAC National Sprint Car career, tying him with Levi Jones for fifth on the all-time list.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Emerson Axsom (2), 2. Jake Swanson (5), 3. Matt Westfall (1), 4. Robert Ballou (13), 5. Justin Grant (4), 6. C.J. Leary (6), 7. Kyle Cummins (7), 8. Mitchel Moles (10), 9. Logan Seavey (18), 10. Brady Bacon (3), 11. Kevin Thomas Jr. (9), 12. R.J. Johnson (12), 13. Chase Johnson (16), 14. Charles Davis Jr. (8), 15. Brody Roa (17), 16. Tommy Malcolm (14), 17. Damion Gardner (15), 18. Sterling Cling (20), 19. Eddie Tafoya Jr. (22), 20. Matt Mitchell (23-P), 21. Logan Williams (21), 22. Verne Sweeney (24-P), 23. Austin Williams (19), 24. Jadon Rogers (11). NT
(P) represents a USAC CRA provisional starter
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-2297, 2-Brady Bacon-2204, 3-C.J. Leary-2170, 4-Robert Ballou-2100, 5-Emerson Axsom-2045, 6-Logan Seavey-1946, 7-Chase Stockon-1711, 8-Matt Westfall-1639, 9-Jadon Rogers-1575, 10-Jake Swanson-1528.