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  • Spencer Frady

Ballou Gets Late-Race Win on Night Two of Oval Nationals

Robert Ballou celebrates at Perris Auto Speedway - Photo courtesy USAC Media - Photographer: Rich Forman Photo

Series News Release - USAC Media

During a red flag period 10 laps into Friday night’s feature event at California’s Perris Auto Speedway, Robert Ballou was feeling confident.

Sitting third at the time, the Rocklin, Calif. native felt that he had a good enough car to, at least, run second.

With that said, he wasn’t quite sold on whether another Oval Nationals prelim victory was within the realm of possibility on this night.

In that particular moment, Ballou felt that then-race leader Kevin Thomas Jr. was the class of the field after checking out to a considerable lead in the early stages.

However, that’s why they run the races, and the balance of the 30-lap distance from that point forward ultimately painted a completely different picture in Ballou’s favor.

In fact, it was pure artistry from one of the best to ever do it on the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship tour and, despite the earlier estimation, Ballou wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

“(C.J.) Leary got under me one lap (with 10 laps to go), but I was too tight to run down there then,” Ballou explained. “I tried to get my shocks a little bit better to where I could hold it down around the bottom and not get tight. It was really tough, but then Brady (Bacon) shot right by me, and I’m like, the 69 isn’t getting by me tonight and I sat up in the seat.”

Running as deep as fourth with just 10 laps remaining, Ballou found a sudden burst that put him right back into the thick of the hunt. It came just as he foretold during the earlier stoppage, that he would be a player for the win once the fuel load began to burn off.

Ballou charged under Brady Bacon for third on the back straight with nine to go. One lap later, Ballou glided his way into second with a turn one slide past Emerson Axsom to put him within a full two seconds of Thomas who seemingly held a commanding lead with the sands in the hourglass collecting piling up.

Finding his way into his front-running position by utilizing the bottom side of the racetrack, Thomas cut a swath of land for his own use by entering turns one and three on the bottom, then letting his car sweep to the top at the exit of turns two and four.

But with two laps until the bell tolled for thee, Thomas faced a bout of traffic. Charging into turn one hot on the heels of the 24th place car of Chris Gansen, Thomas was forced to alter his line on the bottom, skating his ride up the track a tad earlier in the corner than he had all race long.

The loss of momentum for Thomas was all Ballou needed to dig his talons in on the low line and drive his way past on the back straight to rise to the top of the leaderboard once and for all and for good.

Ballou negotiated turns three and four splendidly, scraping the infield berm with his left front wheel along the way as he dipped under Gansen who cleared a courteous path for the frontrunners by swinging wide on the front straightaway just as the white flag was being presented.

Ballou, Thomas and now Leary entered the final lap separated by a single car length between each driver. Ballou gained some much obliged separation from Thomas on the backside of the half-mile dirt oval, carrying onward to a 0.632 second victory in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru - Dragonfly Aviation - Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.

Thomas collected a second place result after leading a race-high 27 laps while Jake Swanson made a last lap, last corner surge to beat Leary to the line by a single car length for the third position. Thursday night’s Oval Nationals opening night winner Brady Bacon rounded out the top-five with a fifth-place result.

Emerson Axsom, who led the opening lap, was the sixth place finisher and scored the best finish among Oval Nationals Rookies in the field.

But Ballou was the main man on this evening as he punched his ticket for series victory number 37, which tied him with Sheldon Kinser for 11th on the all-time USAC National Sprint Car feature win list.

Ballou’s sixth series victory of the year equals him with Justin Grant as the season’s winningest driver, making it his most successful and winningest campaign since his 2015 championship year, which just so happened to be the last time in which he was victorious at Perris.

That is, until Friday night. That’s when Ballou found something even more than he knew he had, which resulted in his fifth career USAC triumph at Perris after taking advantage of the situation at hand.

“When you’re out front, you don’t know where to go, especially on a long green. I just saw him sliding out,” Ballou recalled of Thomas’ lap 29 misfortune.

Three-time and defending Oval Nationals champion Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) nearly provided Michael Dutcher Motorsports with its first USAC National Sprint Car feature win since February of 2015 at Florida’s East Bay Raceway Park, which came with Thomas behind the wheel of his Lifestyle Homes – Griffin’s Propane – ProSource/Maxim/Chevy.

“We just got a little bit free at the end,” Thomas acknowledged. “I lost brakes with about eight or 10 laps to go. I’m kind of bummed, but we’ve been making a lot of gains on this thing. I’ve never won a prelim night feature here, but as long as we’re locked in, tomorrow’s what we care about. We’ve made some great strides on what we need to do and some different little things we need to change. It’s about getting acclimated with these guys again and just getting comfortable. Once we do that, the car has speed and we’ve just got to work a few little bugs out. Dutch and the guys work really hard on it, he takes very good care of his equipment and takes a lot of pride in it.”

Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) put together a redeeming third-place performance on Friday night at Perris. After a crash into the turn four wall the night before, Swanson zipped by Leary on the last lap to grab the final spot on the podium in his Team AZ Racing/Beaver Stripes – RSS Industries – USW Cat Construction/DRC/1-Way Chevy. It was Swanson’s third stop in the top-three during his last four USAC National Sprint Car feature starts.

“I think we needed a 40-lapper there,” Swanson admitted. “It was just getting faster and faster the more the track opened up and we were able to pass. I felt like we were really fast, but it was just a matter of getting the room to get by. We were on C.J.’s tail tank there at the end and we’re able to make something happen. C.J. did a good job, but he just got a little bit crossed up there racing with (Thomas). I was working the middle and trying to make it work early, but it wasn’t really working for me. Brady was able to do it then I think I finally figured it out by the end.”

Leary set Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifying time for the 41st time of his USAC National Sprint Car career Friday night at Perris. For the Greenfield, Ind. driver, it was his second fast time in as many nights and his 12th of the series season. Oddly enough, it also marked the fifth time Leary and Swanson have qualified first and second during a USAC event this year (4 Sprint & 1 Silver Crown).

Two drivers got upside down during the evening, first being Mitchel Moles who tipped over and caught a brief flame during the semi-feature.

Daniel Whitley, making his first career USAC National Sprint Car feature start, flipped into the catchfence on lap 10 and never came back down, at least for a little while. His Ted Finkenbinder-owned ride became lodged in the fence between three and four, prompting a nearly 25-minute red flag to corral the car and make fence repairs. Both Moles and Whitley walked away from their respective incidents.

Six drivers are locked into Saturday night's 40-lap Oval Nationals feature event by virtue of their accumulated point totals throughout Thursday and Friday’s programs: Brady Bacon (275), C.J. Leary (274), Robert Ballou (271), Kevin Thomas Jr. (268), Justin Grant (258) and Emerson Axsom (244). The group of six will also participate in the Super Six Dash to determine the first three rows of starting spots for the main event.

Meanwhile, Justin Grant’s eighth place feature finish garnered him a 66-point lead over Bacon entering the final race of the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship season. An appearance in Saturday’s racing program will clinch a first career USAC National Sprint Car title for Grant and TOPP Motorsports.

FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Robert Ballou (4), 2. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1), 3. Jake Swanson (5), 4. C.J. Leary (6), 5. Brady Bacon (8), 6. Emerson Axsom (2), 7. Matt Westfall (3), 8. Justin Grant (11), 9. Cody Williams (7), 10. Max Adams (13), 11. Damion Gardner (9), 12. R.J. Johnson (22), 13. Austin Williams (12), 14. Tommy Malcolm (23), 15. Logan Seavey (10), 16. Jadon Rogers (16), 17. Brody Roa (20), 18. Logan Williams (15), 19. Mitchel Moles (25-N), 20. Charles Davis Jr. (19), 21. Eddie Tafoya Jr. (17), 22. A.J. Bender (14), 23. Matt Mitchell (26-C), 24. Chris Gansen (27-C), 25. Ricky Lewis (24), 26. Daniel Whitley (21), 27. Austin Grabowski (18). NT

(N) represents a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car provisional starter

(C) represents a USAC CRA provisional starter

USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-2481, 2-Brady Bacon-2415, 3-C.J. Leary-2391, 4-Robert Ballou-2311, 5-Emerson Axsom-2234, 6-Logan Seavey-2094, 7-Matt Westfall-1787, 8-Jake Swanson-1719, 9-Chase Stockon-1711, 10-Jadon Rogers-1687.


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