Leary Breaks Through for Eldora Win
Series News Release - USAC Media
Rossburg, Ohio (May 6, 2023) - C.J. Leary had long yearned to crack the code of what it would take to capture a win during #LetsRaceTwo at Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
Not once, not twice, not thrice, but on four occasions, the Greenfield, Ind. native finished as the runner-up in the event, doing so in 2015, again in 2016, and on both nights in 2019.
On Saturday night at the half-mile dirt oval, Leary uncovered the combination to unlock a long desired, yet elusive piece on his resume, which earned him a $10,000 reward.
The 2019 USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship led all 30 laps this time around to become a two-time winner with the series this season in his BGE Dougherty Motorsports/Altoz – Hornbeck Concrete - Highsmith Guns - Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts/DRC/1-Way Chevy.
In doing so, Leary added a third career USAC feature victory at the Big E after earlier scoring a Sprint Car and Silver Crown win in 2017 and 2018, respectively, while also ascending to the top of the 2023 point standings in a dead heat with Friday night Eldora winner Justin Grant who served as Leary’s nemesis throughout the first two-thirds of Saturday’s main event.
“I knew Justin was going to be the guy to beat,” Leary explained. “I chased him here during the 4-Crown last year and he was excellent last night as well. We went back to the drawing board after last night and I think we figured out what the problem was. It’s a relief for me; it’s been awhile since I’ve been in victory lane here at the famed Eldora Speedway.”
Leary slid backward from his outside front row starting spot and wound up with a disappointing seventh place finish on Friday. On Saturday, he found himself in the exact spot to start with, but he had no intentions of doing anything but getting out front ASAP and remaining there for the entirety.
Throughout the first half of the feature, Leary was the man everyone else had to beat as he swiftly proved his prowess toward the balance of the 24-car field. However, on lap one, trouble ensued as 12th place starting Max Adams barrel-rolled in turn two. Fourteenth place starter Kody Swanson also spun sideways to a stop in an effort to avoid the tumbling Adams. Nonetheless, Adams made a miraculous recovery, restarting the feature from the tail before driving from the last spot on the grid to finish ninth while Swanson took 15th.
Upon the resumption, a three-wide battle for the lead ensued on the back straightaway with Leary splitting down the middle between Chase Stockon and Emerson Axsom to assume the lead. Meanwhile, seventh running Grant had already hustled his way to third by lap five while Leary was beginning to establish himself at the head of the field, leading by nearly two full seconds.
Misfortune also befell four-time USAC National Sprint Car champion Brady Bacon when he dramatically dropped off the pace on lap eight with an apparent stuck throttle. Bacon shut it down and coasted to the Indy Metal Finishing Work Area for a look-see by his crew before, ultimately, returning to the fray and ending up with a disheartening 18th place result.
Soon after, Grant ripped second from Stockon on the ensuing restart, then began his pursuit of Leary and the lead, cutting the interval down to .775 sec. as both drivers rode the polarizing high line. Grant soon became close enough to take a peek to the inside of Leary for the position on lap 15 with major traffic afoot.
The most pivotal turning point of the whole shebang arrived in turn three on lap 19. Zack Pretorius, making his first career Eldora Speedway feature start, got over the cushion and ricocheted into the outside wall, coming to a rest directly into the lane of the oncoming Grant who slammed sideways into Pretorius’ parked car. The resulting impact sent Grant flipping directly into the path of Geoff Ensign who banged his roll cage into the bouncing Grant who finally came to a rest on his wheels on the low side of the track, promptly ending his night as he walked off with a 22nd place finish.
“I knew Justin was hot on my trail,” Leary remembered. “I didn’t know if he hit him because I heard ‘yellow’ on the radio and the lights immediately went red. I didn’t know exactly what happened, but then I saw a replay on the big screen. With half the race over, I felt like if I just hit my marks and ran a good race, it was going to be tough to beat us.”
From that point onward, Leary was cruising as he opened up a sizable advantage that nobody was able tighten up down the stretch, with Leary cinching his bid for victory with a 3.380 second margin in his favor at the finish line with Jake Swanson, Chase Stockon, Mitchel Moles and Kyle Cummins following in his wake to round out the top-five.
Taking in the knowledge he gained from working with racers such as Levi Jones, Scotty Weir and even in a wing car with Alex Bowman, Leary learned a few tricks of the trade to being successful at Eldora. For instance, momentum is a driver’s best friend, and you absolutely must time your moves just right. And when running the banks, one must always be running downhill.
The cumulative ingredients resulted in Leary’s 21st career USAC National Sprint Car win, tying himself with 1967 driving champion Greg Weld for 32nd on the all-time list. Furthermore, Leary’s winning effort came in round one of the Bubby Jones Master of Goin’ Faster Series Presented By Spire Sports + Entertainment, his first career victory in the celebrated mini-series honoring the man who won in USAC Sprint Car competition at Eldora on six occasions between 1977-79.
“It’s very special,” Leary said of the win. “I didn’t know the whole story of Bubby Jones, but I worked with Davey Jones for two or three years and learned a lot about his dad. Last year, I was really excited for these races coming up, but we didn’t get to win any of them, so I’m super appreciative to win this one.”
Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) was a happy man following a runner-up finish in his Team AZ Racing/Apache Transport – Stratis Construction – USW Cat Construction/DRC/1-Way Chevy. Swanson topped his previous best Eldora finish of eighth in what was, undisputedly, a night and day difference from his ninth place run 24 hours earlier.
After a dispiriting 11th place result during Friday’s #LetsRaceTwo opener, Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.) and the team made a fantastic recovery for the second go-around on Saturday night aboard his KO Motorsports/Banded Ag – Dewig Meats – AMSOIL/Flea RC/Fisher Chevy.
Meanwhile, in a career that has spanned 193 career USAC National Sprint Car feature starts since 2002, Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio) finally broke through for his first career Honest Abe Roofing Fast Qualifier award on Saturday night at Eldora, the same venue in which he notched his first USAC National Sprint Car feature win in 2006. However, Westfall’s night went sour soon after with engine problems arising in the heat race, thus forcing him into a backup car which, initially, did not fire. Westfall and the team finally got rolling in the feature, utilizing a provisional to start 24th in the field, then proceeded to advance 12 positions to finish 12th.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (2), 2. Jake Swanson (6), 3. Chase Stockon (3), 4. Mitchel Moles (5), 5. Kyle Cummins (4), 6. Carson Garrett (20), 7. Emerson Axsom (1), 8. Kevin Thomas Jr. (11), 9. Max Adams (12), 10. Robert Ballou (9), 11. Briggs Danner (13), 12. Matt Westfall (24-P), 13. Daison Pursley (18), 14. Dallas Hewitt (8), 15. Kody Swanson (14), 16. Jadon Rogers (19), 17. Logan Seavey (23-P), 18. Brady Bacon (10), 19. Geoff Ensign (16), 20. Eddie Tafoya Jr. (21), 21. Keith Sheffer II (22), 22. Justin Grant (7), 23. Zack Pretorius (15), 24. Scotty Weir (17). NT
(P) represents a provisional starter.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-C.J. Leary-415, 2-Justin Grant-415, 3-Emerson Axsom-397, 4-Kyle Cummins-390, 5-Brady Bacon-374, 6-Kevin Thomas Jr.-361, 7-Jake Swanson-349, 8-Chase Stockon-348, 9-Mitchel Moles-321, 10-Robert Ballou-292.