LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. — Levi Jones continued the pursuit of his fifth AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series championship with a victory at Lawrenceburg Speedway Saturday in an event co-sanctioned by USAC and the Midwest Sprint Car Series.
Jones led the final eight circuits of the three-eighths-mile dirt track, after race leader Jonathan Hendrick was involved in an accident, to earn his second USAC feature victory of the year. Chris Windom grabbed second from Hunter Schuerenberg, with Casey Riggs and Tracy Hines also finishing in the top five.
“It’s big,” Jones admitted with a grin. It was his first trip to victory lane since USAC’s Pennsylvania tour in June. “We’ve had fast cars. We’ve been close and we’ve won a lot of races before, but it almost felt like I was trying to win my first race again. (His crewmen) Jon and Brad and I tease each other and it’s like before the race Brad said, ‘do you remember how to get your picture taken out there?’ It’s almost like a monkey off our back, like the very first one.”
While Jones forged ahead from the pole, Hendrick hustled under him in turn four to lead the first lap. Then he quickly began to check out, building an advantage of more than two seconds. Running on the top, just a couple feet off the outside wall, Hendrick quickly caught the back of the pack and methodically began lapping slower cars. Jones was working the bottom, with Schuerenberg trying different lines, looking for a quick route past, and Brady Bacon was reeling both in.
“Words can’t really describe it, I thought we gave one away,” Hendrick said afterward. He led the first 22 laps, and was a straightaway ahead of Jones, looking for his first USAC sprint car victory. “The guys gave me a good car and we were on a rail. I was just kind of cruising and I had nowhere to go.”
On the 23rd lap, Justin Grant and Coleman Gulick got together in turn three, turning both cars around. Chris Malone piled into Gulick and Grant, and Robert Ballou hit the outside wall, blocking most of the track just as Hendrick whistled into the turn. The Hendrick Pools/Chalk No. 68 bounced off the outside wall and climbed the rear of Ballou’s machine before flipping down the track.
“I saw a couple of cars get together and stop in the middle of the track and it looked like we cleared that. Then, Robert Ballou was kind of stopped in between the fence and I had nowhere to go. I got in the back of him and turned over,” Hendrick added. “It’s just frustrating. I can’t catch a break. All year it’s been like this. I finally get a good one and I pass (Jones) and stuff like that, and I thought that we had it pretty good. The guys tell me that we were like two seconds ahead, so it’s just frustrating.”
Wheeling the Tony Stewart Racing/Chevy/Eagle No. 20, Jones held off Schuerenberg on the restart, as Windom raced from 10th to challenge for second.
While Jones won by six car lengths, Windom nosed under Schuerenberg exiting turn four on the last lap, just edging him for second. Brady Short’s 12th-place finish, after starting 19th, locked up the 2011 MSCS championship.
Jones’ victory gave him a 44-point lead over Windom, who is currently second in the USAC standings. Jones acknowledged the close racing at Lawrenceburg, “In the heat race I raced with Casey Riggs wide open, side-by-side, and back-and-forth. My plan in the feature was to run the top. But I wasn’t as good as I needed to be, and Jon Hendrick’s car was really good. I just felt that I had a better shot to hit the bottom and do it that way.”