San Tan Valley, Arizona………It’s been a while since Chase Stockon has tasted victory with the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars.
It’s been even longer since he’s gotten the chance to perform a series of celebratory victory donuts following a triumph in a USAC feature win.
These past 16 months have been trying on the Fort Branch, Indiana native, but the hungry Stockon had an appetite to devour that drought and earn his first series win of 2017 by leading the final 18 laps to capture the crown in the 50th Annual Torco Racing Fuels “Western World Championships” Saturday night at Arizona Speedway.
“We started off the season pretty good,” Stockon recalls. “We won a couple local shows, but as far as the USAC side of things, we really haven’t been performing that great. But everybody stuck with us all year. We’ve tried different things to get back on track to where we should be and where we are now. I don’t typically show that much emotion, but to do those donuts and hold everybody off tonight felt great.”
Stockon’s first series win since the July 2016 “Indiana Sprint Week” finale at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track came on a type of racetrack that he admits isn’t one he usually shines on. Yet, Stockon had to earn his keep by getting past both the previous night’s winner in Thomas Meseraull, but also the track’s winningest sprint car driver, R.J. Johnson, in order to return to victory lane.
“It’s been a long time,” Stockon said with a sense of relief. “A cushion kind of racetrack, especially when it’s that tall, is not my forte. Believe it or not, before the track started taking rubber, I think we were better on the cushion than everybody else. To be able to move around to get by guys like Meseraull and R.J. when the track’s in that kind of condition felt so good.”
Stockon started the 30-lapper from the fifth spot as pole starter Meseraull slid his way to the lead on the first turn of the first lap after he and outside front row starter Brody Roa banged wheels. Roa got the short end of the stick on the deal and dropped back as he fought to maintain control on the cushion while Johnson and Stockon scooted past Roa to move into second and third.
Just less than a third of the way through the race, Stockon carved his way to second past Johnson and began his ascent on Meseraull. Off turn four on the 12th lap, Stockon lined his front bumper right behind Meseraull’s tail tank and set up a picture-perfect turn one slider that stuck.
You wouldn’t expect Meseraull to go away quietly and that was the case when, four laps later, he returned the favor, sliding past Stockon in turn three to momentarily retake the top spot on the 17th lap. Stockon, however, countered Meseraull’s move and ducked underneath to exit off four and maintain the lead.
From there, Stockon’s main competition was the racetrack itself, which Stockon refused to let defeat him on this night.
“After Meseraull slid me down in (turns) three and four and I was able to cross over, I really started paying attention to the racetrack,” Stockon said. “I noticed a few lapped cars a straightaway ahead of me that were smoking their tires. That’s when I started moving down on entry trying to find something. A lot of times when you’re out front like that and it starts taking rubber, you’re pretty much just a sitting duck. We’ve lost races in the past that way and I’ve seen a lot of other guys lose them that way too. As trying as this year’s been on us, I was going to do everything in my power not to let that happen.”
“We started off the season pretty good. We won a couple local shows, but as far as the USAC side of things, we really haven’t been performing that great. But everybody stuck with us all year. We’ve tried different things to get back on track to where we should be and where we are now.
I don’t typically show that much emotion, but to do those donuts and hold everybody off tonight felt great.” – Chase Stockon
(Rich Forman Photo)
Toward the end, Stockon anticipated the changing condition of the surface, which led him to move around a little earlier than did everybody else. When he eyed the flagman hold up five fingers indicating five laps to go, Stockon muscled his 32 TBI Racing/Superior Tank & Trailer – Crescent Electric Supply/DRC/Fisher for all it was worth, burning the tires off it as he worked his way through lapped traffic with his top-five cohorts bearing down on him on a rail at the top.
Stockon split his way past the lapped cars of Logan Williams and Danny Faria, Jr. exiting turn two to escape any possible jab Meseraull had left to throw at him. With smoke pouring off the rear tires and nearly missing the rubber between turns three and four on the final lap, Stockon put his personal USAC drought to bed with his ninth career USAC National Sprint Car win, and second in the state of Arizona, following a 2013 Canyon Speedway score. He was followed to the line by Meseraull, Johnson, Robert Ballou and Tyler Courtney.
Stockon’s sixth consecutive year with a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car win ties him for the second longest active win streak with Brady Bacon and trails Darland’s incomparable run of 24 consecutive years with at least one win. But, this particular win was well worth the wait. After a meeting of the minds, Stockon and crew chief D.J. Ott reached into their bag of past successes to pull out their formula that had served them so well in the past.
“We changed around a lot of things on the car,” Stockon explained. “D.J. and I went back to our old notes and found some things there that we were kind of stagnant on and we’ve been really good since then. Last night, we had a pretty decent car, but I let a few other drivers around me dictate the line I was running. Today, we got together and discussed what went wrong last night. I knew it wasn’t the car’s fault. D.J. hit the setup last night and was perfect tonight. I had to run my own race and not let anybody else get inside my head to dictate what I was going to do and try and keep my nose clean.”
One night after winning the opening night of “Western World,” Meseraull’s encore performance was impressive in its own right as he drove the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – Beaver Stripes/Spike/Wesmar to its second-straight top-two finish in as many nights.
“The car was awesome both nights,” Meseraull exclaimed. “I felt like I could’ve gotten back by Chase, but I ended up losing my brakes at the end. At that point, it’s really hard bombing a slider on a guy out of the rubber. And if you end up across it, with that big of a curb, I’m upside down. I’m good at overdriving the car, though. Every time I had a run on Chase, we got to lapped traffic. I kind of wish it was a 40-lapper tonight. I kept telling everyone I hope it’s not a 40-lapper because it’s going to lay rubber at the end. Now I’m kind of wishing it was.”
On the very same night he locked up his fifth-straight USAC Southwest Sprint Car title, Phoenix, Arizona’s R.J. Johnson showcased his abilities against the National guys by finishing a career-best third in his Bobby Martin/Martin Family Auto Museum – Pecon Builders/Sherman/Pro Flyer.
“I was honestly waiting for five (laps) to go to try to do something crazy,” Johnson admitted. “I never saw the five to go sign, so I guess I wasn’t paying attention. When the white flag came out, I threw a slide job on Meseraull, but on the same token, I didn’t want to crash us because my best past finish in the ‘Western World’ isn’t even in the top-ten.”
“Everybody’s been on me about how I need to go back east and go racing, though I’ve never had the opportunity to go do it,” Johnson continued. “For us to be able to run with them is huge. Maybe next year we can get some stuff rolling and get back there.”
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Arizona Speedway included Kevin Thomas, Jr. (ProSource/Woodland Auto Display Fast Qualifier), Thomas Meseraull (Simpson Race Products/Extreme Mufflers 1st Heat Winner), Cody Williams (Competition Suspension, Inc./Brown & Miller Racing Solutions 2nd Heat Winner), Stevie Sussex (Chalk Stix/Circle Track Performance 3rd Heat Winner), Chris Windom (Indy Race Parts/Keizer Aluminum Wheels 4th Heat Winner), Josh Hodges (KSE Racing Products/Saldana Racing Products/Rod End Supply Hard Charger) and Brady Bacon (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).