Leary Saves His Best For Last

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C.J. Leary at Gas City I-69 Speedway. (Mike Campbell photo)
C.J. Leary at Gas City I-69 Speedway. (Mike Campbell photo)

GAS CITY, Ind. — C.J. Leary saved a little bit of late-race magic en route to winning Friday night’s James Dean Classic USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory on night one of the Indiana Donor Network Driven2SaveLives Double Double at Gas City I-69 Speedway.

Taking advantage of a second wind provided by a caution with four laps remaining, Leary swept around the outside of Justin Grant exiting turn four on lap 28 of the 30-lap feature to secure the lead, piloting the Leary Racing/Valvoline – Gray Auto – Leary Construction/DRC/1-Way Chevy to his third series win of the year.

One year removed from his championship campaign, Leary’s season has taken a number of turns, bringing him into Friday night’s event without a crew chief and with a recently repaired car that had taken a hard tumble on the opening lap at Terre Haute exactly one week earlier.

“This No. 30 car was on rails tonight,” Leary exclaimed. “We’re crew-chiefless tonight. My dad’s not here; it’s just me and some good friends. To come out and win and to beat Justin is great; he was really good there. Somehow, I was making the middle work. I found that in lapped traffic while trying to slide myself and hitting some moisture on exit.”

Although Leary started from the pole, he wound up chasing for much of the race while outside front row starter Dave Darland jumped out the advantage to lead the first seven laps.

An early caution put an end to July’s Gas City USAC Sprint winner, Logan Seavey, who suffered a flat left rear and required a ride on a hook back to the pits after contact with Brady Bacon while battling for the fifth position on the sixth lap.

Grant, slated to start fourth, was penalized two rows for being late to the track prior to the race, spurted from his new eighth starting spot following the restart into the lead on the eighth go-around underneath Darland on the back straightaway.

Leary charged back by Darland on the 10th lap for the second spot while Bacon moved to third in the running order on the 15th circuit for third.  At that point, Grant held a near two second lead, but as the leaders began making headway in traffic, the interval Grant held began to be whittled down slowly, but surely.

Grant’s lead over Leary and Bacon was sliced in half to a second with under 10 laps remaining, with tenths ticking off each lap thereafter.  Nonetheless, time was running short, and hope for another shot for either Leary or Bacon at Grant was withering away and may not have been in the cards without Grant’s ultimate nemesis on this night — the yellow flag.

The caution flew for seventh-running Kyle Cummins who was stopped atop turn two with four laps to go.

Immediately after taking the spot front Grant on the outside, Leary locked up the bottom, shutting the door at the entry to turn one.  From there, the race belonged to Leary who beat Grant by .539 seconds.

“The car is back where it needs to be,” Grant said. “It was fast all night and we’ve got our motors running and have everything operating how it should be. We’re back fighting for wins, but I just let that one get away at the end. I just made bad decisions there on the restart. I’m still a bit salty at myself over it.”

Bacon, Chase Stockon and Chris Windom, who started 22nd, rounded out the top five.

Bacon emerged as the point leader by a mere five points over Chris Windom following Friday night’s event as he chases a third career USAC National Sprint Car title.

“I’m actually a little disappointed with third tonight,” Bacon expressed. “We had the third best car, but figured we’d be a little better than that tonight. We’ll definitely take it. We had a solid night all night.”

To see full results, turn to the next page.