PERRIS, Calif. — Mike Spencer capped off a magical season which saw him capture his fifth-straight USAC-CRA Sprint Car Series championship with a monumental victory in the 17th annual Budweiser Oval Nationals at Perris Auto Speedway.
Meanwhile, Bryan Clauson overcame adversity once again to come home sixth, narrowly taking his USAC National Sprint Car Series championship along with his Corey Tucker Racing – BCI – Curb-Agajanian team.
Spencer started from the pole, but front-row mate Tracy Hines shot to the lead. The duo ran one-two most of the event, but championship contenders Clauson and Dave Darland were slicing and dicing just behind them to run in the top-five. Darland moved to the second spot and closed on Hines, but he made no attempts for the lead. Clauson also moved by Spencer before a red flag on lap 10.
Spencer got going after the restart and roared back to the runner-up spot. Jon Stanbrough also came calling, as he followed Spencer on the bottom line into a battle for the top-three. Spencer moved in front of Hines on lap 22, but a caution came out just before the whole field could complete a lap for the pass to stick. With a reprieve, Hines adjusted his line and was making it very tough on Spencer at the front.
After a red with seven to go, Clauson had disposed of Darland and was looking to make a run at the race win. He jumped to the top and flashed by Stanbrough and alongside Spencer for second, before bobbling on the cushion in turns three and four. Spencer took that cue and jumped to the top in turn-one, pulling alongside Hines off turn-two and beating him into turn-three, officially leading for the first time at the stripe at the conclusion of lap 38.
Just as the leaders were taking the white flag, seventh-running Nic Faas flipped in turn-four. As the leaders restarted, Clauson’s right-rear tire was visibly deflating. Spencer led without issue, while Darland and 12th-starting Damion Gardner circled Clauson. At the white flag, Clauson’s title hopes appeared to be in jeopardy, but a final lap that included a pass by Gardner on Darland, and Clauson going by Rickie Gaunt left the final margin at five points.
Spencer took the popular victory in front of a hometown crowd in the Ron Chaffin Motorsports – Madera Produce – Grubstake Mini Storage No. 50 Maxim/Shaver.
“This is huge for all of us from California. We’ve been getting beaten by the National guys the last few years. It’s good that the local guy won here tonight, and bring it back to the West Coast. I’m proud of that. We’ve been trying a long time, and been close, and I need to thank everybody who has helped us get here. I can’t thank my car owner Ron Chaffin and my crew chief Bruce Bromme enough, along with all of our crew. This is the goal every year, and it’s sweet to finally get it,” Spencer said.
Hines held on for second to finish off a strong year that found him finishing fourth in points with the MP Environmental Services – Support Esophagus Cancer Research No. 4 DRC/Shaver.
“I have to thank the whole Calderwood family. We’ve had fun, even with our patriarch Dave passing away this season. We do this as a family, and I appreciate everyone who helps us so much. Mike was a little better tonight, especially at the end. He showed us where to run the one time when he got by us and the yellow came out , but unfortunately he was just too good at the end,” Hines said.
Stanbrough completed the podium and came home third in points, just 68 points behind Clauson in the Leer Motorsports – DND Oil Company No. 21x DRC/Speedway.
“It’s the best finish I’ve ever had out here, and after being down in the dumps having to switch to our other car at the start of the night, it’s a great result. (Crew chief) Daryl Tate did a great job getting it ready to go. I appreciate all the fans out here – I have a great time every year out here. I have to thank all the people who helped us all year to get here, and glad we could end it well,” Stanbrough said.
Gardner finished fourth in the Honoring Pat Kehoe – Pace Lighting No. 71 Eagle/Shaver, while Darland completed his championship runner-up season with another top-five aboard the Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage – Hoosier Tire No. 11 Maxim/Claxton.
Clauson summed up what was a crazy season that saw him win the driver’s championship despite missing four races in the Curb Records – R&B Trucker’s No. 7 Maxim/Fisher.
“It’s unbelieveable to have the year that we’ve had, and come back from missing some races. I can’t say enough about my team. I started to mix it up with those guys, but after that last red, the tire was going down and I just had to try to salvage. I thought I might be able to catch those guys sleeping down there, but I’m happy for Mike to win the race. I knew coming in that beating Dave was not gonna be easy, and we were gonna have to be on our game. It was a war, especially on those last two laps to finish it off. We held on, and we’re champions, and that sounds good,” Clauson said.