Clauson Holds Off Darland At Kokomo

Bryan Clauson celebrates winning at Indiana's Kokomo Speedway. He leads the USAC National Drivers Championship standings. (Gary Gasper photo)
Bryan Clauson celebrates winning Thursday's Sprint Car Smackdown opener at Indiana's Kokomo Speedway. (Gary Gasper photo)

KOKOMO, Ind. — Bryan Clauson proved that a young dog can learn new tricks as he opened Kokomo Speedway’s Sprint Car Smackdown with a hard- fought victory in the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series event.

In July, Dave Darland snookered Clauson with a late-race pass at the same track, and this time it was Clauson’s turn to take the win away. Darland finished second, followed by Chase Stockon, Damion Gardner and Tracy Hines.

Afterward, Clauson allowed that his crew had the car perfectly set up.

“We ran the bottom, through the middle and up top, it didn’t matter,” said Clauson. “I’ve had a lot of practice the last couple of trips here to Kokomo starting at the back. The O’Connors had such a great race track tonight. It was on the bottom, through the middle, up top, wherever your car would work. Our car worked everywhere and we were able to slice through the field.”

Darland led the first sixteen circuits in Jeff Walker’s Jam-It-In Storage No. 11 Maxim, from the second starting slot. Running the top line around the track, Darland was seldom challenged and appeared on his way to another win at his home track. But that all changed as the race reached its mid-point. Coming from 12fth in his Agajanian-Curb Records/R&B Truckers Maxim No. 7, Clauson was working wherever he needed to negotiate through packs of cars.

When he caught Darland, the pass was swift and decisive as he charged across the bottom of turn four and was clearly in front at the flagstand. Four laps later, fast qualifier Daron Clayton tagged the outside wall going into turn three and barrel-rolled violently, bringing out the red flag. Clayton walked to the ambulance after being helped from the twisted machine.

Clauson held Darland back on the restart, but noticed that the turns were slowing down. Following a caution on lap 25, Darland was two car lengths behind when Clauson drove up to the cushion, clearly in Darland’s line. When they got to turn four, Darland dove to the inside, but lost momentum and lost a dozen car lengths to Clauson. At the checkered flag, Clauson held a straightway lead.

“I knew that middle wasn’t going to be there forever and on that next to last restart I could feel it going away,” Clauson explained. “I could see some cars poking on the bottom, so I got down and could feel the bottom slipping away and kind of learned my lesson from the Sprint Week race here where he got me late on the top. I knew that we had to get up there and we did what we had to do to hold him off.”

While Darland had been racing on the cushion for the whole race, Clauson hadn’t and Darland said he could tell, “That’s when I knew that I had a little faster car. I screwed up when I showed him the nose down there in four, I wasn’t close enough to make a pass on him and I shouldn’t have done it. I was just messing with him and it cost me a lot because he got away from me and I wasn’t able to do anything about it.”

It was Clauson’s fifth USAC sprint feature win of the year and with Jon Stanbrough and Levi Jones finishing outside the top-10 he was able to close the point gap.

“I don’t know how many we made up, but I’m sure that we closed the gap a little bit. Overall that’s the big picture. But there’s a lot of money on the line this week and we want to be in position to take advantage of that. Tonight we did our job and we start all over again tomorrow.”