I-80 Dirt Classic Belongs To Tyler Courtney

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Tyler Courtney won Friday's USAC sprint car race at Nebraska's I-80 Speedway. (USAC photo)

GREENWOOD, Neb. — Tyler Courtney withstood a relentless Chris Windom assault during the final two laps of Friday night’s Malvern Bank “I-80 Dirt Classic” to earn his second USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory in the series’ inaugural appearance at I-80 Speedway.

Windom was on point for the first two-thirds of the 30-lapper, but Courtney used a lap-20 slide job to rip by the defending Silver Crown champ for the race lead, then took Windom’s repetitious haymakers in stride down the stretch, answering each successive punch with a knockout blow of his own.

Running along the razor’s edge requires a certain finesse to reach maximum success. On this night, Courtney had to juggle patience and urgency.

The Indianapolis, Indiana native had to start seventh, but Courtney anticipated the track taking rubber and felt he had to get up on the wheel of his TOPP Motorsports/TOPP Performance Race Parts – Custom Pump & Controls/Maxim/Claxton and bring it to the front as soon as the green dropped.

Yet, the dilemma in a 30-lap sprint is that running too hard can create significant tire wear, making a hard-charging effort all for naught.

“We knew the track had a pretty good chance of taking rubber,” Courtney said. “I knew once I got to about third or fourth, I had to really start going. But I didn’t want to use up my tires just in case it was going to take rubber. We were searching for a happy medium, but we played our cards right and came out on top. I’ll take it any way I can get it.”

Windom, though, was the master of the four-tenths-mile dirt oval when racing commenced, sliding in front of polesitter Chad Boespflug in the first turn to take the lead on the opening lap. Soon thereafter, ProSource Fast Qualifier Stevie Sussex made a charge to the front and a bid for the lead on lap six that came up short, but soon fell into line behind Windom in a four-car breakaway freight train that also included Grant and Courtney in third and fourth, respectively.

The surface was wide and slick, allowing slide jobs to be thrown at will from anywhere and everywhere. After fifth-running Chase Stockon slowed with a bent draglink on the tenth lap to bring out the caution, Courtney took the message to heart, immediately blasting by Grant for third into turn one on the restart. A lap later, Courtney went to the well one more time in the same spot, sliding past Sussex for the runner-up spot.

As the top became rubber down, it became a single-file procession up top, but it opened the door for sliders for days coming in from all corners as it became the most preferred way to advance.

On the 20th revolution around the oval, Courtney took Windom’s spot away up front with another perfect turn one slider. On the following circuit, Courtney slid the lapped car of Terry Richards in one to separate himself from Windom and gain an unobstructed view of the track ahead with just a handful of laps remaining.

“I screwed up down there in (turns) one and two and I didn’t expect it to work out, but I got over the cushion and turned down the hill,” Courtney recalled. “I slid a couple guys and got to Windom right before the caution. We got all bunched up; I ran behind Grant and Sussex for a little bit and while they were sliding each other, I was able to get by them. We got to lapped traffic, then I used one of them as a pick and slid Chris. I could tell the track was starting to take rubber, so I had to get by him quickly. Luckily, I was at the right place at the right time.”

In the moments leading up to Corey Smith’s spin on lap 25 that brought about the night’s final yellow, Windom began to find his way back toward Courtney. On the ensuing restart, everyone anticipated Windom to be the aggressor and reclaim his spot up front. Instead, Grant was able to slide by Windom on the restart to momentarily take over second, though Windom countered immediately to move back to second.

Windom pounced on his second opportunity and was right on Courtney’s tail for the final two-lap shootout. On the 29th lap, Windom took the first swing at Courtney, pulling ahead between turns one and two. Courtney kept his foot on the throttle and escaped around the outside of Windom with mere inches to spare to retain the lead.

Windom came back twice more on the final lap with a turn one slider to no avail and one last final run at him going into turn three, but each time, Courtney successfully countered with a left hook of his own, turning down the hill off turn four to cut underneath Windom and hang on for the victory by 0.184 of a second. Windom took second ahead of Grant, KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Robert Ballou and CRA/West Coast Sprint regular Brody Roa rounding out the top five.

“I knew he was going to be throwing (sliders),” Courtney adds. “It’s tough when it’s one lane like that, when you’re sliding through the dirty stuff and it’s kind of hard to get it stopped in the rubber. I’m sure Chris was having to throw them from pretty far back. It’s just hard to get slowed down. If I was expecting it, I could whoa it down and make sure I didn’t miss the rubber and make sure I got it coming off the corner. He tried those last two laps and, on the last lap, he tried it over in (turns) three and four. I would’ve done the same thing. Luckily, he blew through it every time and we were able to stay in it and get to the checker first.”

Windom led the first 19 laps of Friday night’s feature and finished second aboard the Baldwin Brothers Racing/Fox Paving – AMSOIL/DRC/Claxton Mopar.

“When you’re leading a race like that and the rubber keeps moving down, you’re a sitting duck unless you happen to find it first,” Windom explained. “Tyler just found it a little quicker than me and got by us. You replay the race a thousand times in your head and what you could’ve done differently. I felt like I was running a pretty consistent race, but he got to the rubber a little quicker than I did. I think we were better than him at the end, but I threw a few haymakers at him and he had enough to cross us back over.”

Ione, California’s Justin Grant extended his run of top-four finishes to nine in USAC National Sprint Car competition.

“The patience involved is in waiting for a guy to hit the cushion and get tight against it coming off or missing it a little bit,” Grant said. “You have to follow a guy until he bobbles, then when he bobbles, you take your shot then. You just kind of bide your time and wait for a guy to mess up. Everybody gets so fast later on the curb; you’ve got to wait for a mistake to capitalize.”

To see full results, turn to the next page.