Clauson Stops Darland At Ocala

Dave Darland (71) leads eventual winner Bryan Clauson during Thursday night's USAC sprint car opener at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. (John DaDalt photo)
Dave Darland (71) leads eventual winner Bryan Clauson during Thursday night’s USAC sprint car opener at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. (John DaDalt photo)

OCALA, Fla. — USAC sprint car stars Dave Darland and Bryan Clauson staged a racelong battle for the lead before a small but enthusiastic crowd as the USAC sprints kicked off the final week of the Bubba Army Winternationals at Bubba Raceway Park Thursday night.

Clauson, the defending series champion, finally snatched the win from Darland with a last-lap pass with Brady Bacon third over Hunter Schuerenberg and Robert Ballou, who turned in a terrific drive from 11th.

Polesitter Coleman Gulick got the drop on Darland on the start but Darland got under him just as they completed lap one, with the fourth-starting Clauson jumping to third. They ran that way through a six-car melee in turn three on lap four that left Shane Cottle upside down but uninjured.

Things got even wilder on the restart, with Gulick diving under Darland and hitting the frontstretch totally sideways before doing a 360 spin through the infield. Apparently he blamed Darland for his miscue, as he blasted through the field and slammed Darland in the rear, an act that brought out the black flag.

With order restored, Darland led for two laps before Clauson got around him, only to see the yellow fly immediately for a slowing Justin Grant, putting Darland back on the point. He prevailed from that point until the white flag was unfurled, though Clauson got slightly ahead a number of times at different points around the three-eighths-mile oval but Darland always got back by before they reached the flagstand.

Then, on lap 29, Clauson got into turn three high and hard and rode around Darland to lead at the white flag.

“I was just getting ready to drop down when he did, giving me the top,” said Clauson. “He threw his best stuff and came right back at me every time I tried something different. It was a great race and I had to hit a lot of good corners just to get close enough to him to have a chance at getting by.

“It really helped when they got Gulick out of there. He shoved me to the top in three and four and his spin gave me some clear track to work with.”

“Bryan kept sliding in under me, so I finally went to the bottom to take it away from him,” reflected Darland. “He went to the top and was even quicker there and got around me. That really hurt but it was a great race.”

As for Bacon, the Oklahoman said that third “was not what we wanted. Things just didn’t play out right but when you start sixth, it’s hard to get to those guys.”

Chris Windom won the “B” over fast timer Chase Stockton, while the companion Southern Midget Series race went to Ryan Partin.