NEWMANSTOWN, Pa. – Tyler Courtney and his Clauson-Marshall Racing team have certainly found something special as of late.
Saturday night at Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway in Newmanstown, Pa., played host to Courtney’s fourth USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series win over the past five races. But as good as these race machines have been recently, the drive behind it all is largely linked to the swirling uncertainty of the 2020 season.
Like every other corner in the world, COVID-19 has either paused or drastically shaken up the landscape in everyday society. No matter how much racing can block out that reality when a driver like Courtney fastens the belts or a crew member hones in on the task at hand, it has to be confronted.
For Courtney, night’s like Saturday showcased that urgency, as the reigning series champion blitzed the field en route to another dominant performance.
“I had to go for everything if you’re running for the championship,” Courtney said. “We don’t know what’s next.”
Courtney is now 31 points off the lead set by Chris Windom. Before this upswing, Courtney sat fourth in the standings and 122 points off the pace. Now the tides have turned, and even though there’s 14 races that remain on the schedule that lead up to Thanksgiving, it’s hard to tell how many will actually be completed.
On Friday, Courtney came out swinging and was nearly a half second faster than the next quickest competitor in hot laps. In qualifying, Courtney won quick-time with a lap of 10.662, better than runner-up Buddy Kofoid by .265 seconds.
In his heat race, he started sixth, and split Tanner Thorson and Emersom Axsom in the first corner and immediately moved into fourth by the time they rounded backstretch. By the end of the 10-lap heat, he had landed a huge slider off the final corner to place second.
The early stages showed Courtney yet again had dominant speed, but in the heat he proved he could practically do anything he wanted and make it work.
“Our car was really solid all night,” Courtney said. “Lately, it’s been awesome.”
In the 40-lap main event, Courtney went from sixth to third in one lap and then received two fortunate breaks in the early going. Just seconds before a lap four caution, Courtney got into turn one a little rough he accidentally hit the switch after some contact with Justin Grant. He lost a handful of spots but remained in fourth thanks to the yellow.
One lap later, Courtney nearly spun when Windom slid across his nose in turns three and four, but in that moment, a red flag came out for Jeff Champagne, who flipped on the other end of the track.
On the following restart, Courtney went two-for-one in turns three and four, around Windom and Chase Johnson to second and then started tracking down race-leader Tanner Carrick. By lap 14, Courtney had taken control for good.
“When you have a good race car, you have to take advantage of these nights,” Courtney said. “Coming off two championships, you have a different mind set. You have to dig down deep and find out how bad you really want it. These guys bust their tails.”
Courtney actually turned his fastest time of the race and the overall fastest lap of the feature at 11.200 on lap 38 and held off a hungry Kofoid, who was eager for his first USAC National Midget win, for a 1.074 second victory. The series will take a weekend off before heading to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Aug. 22.
“We just have to keep riding,” Courtney said. “We don’t know how many races we’re going to have left. You have to take advantage of each night.”