Port Royal, PA – All Chris Windom needed was another shot, just one more opportunity that he could capitalize on.
After an unsuccessful slider on race leader Robert Ballou during a restart just before halfway, divine intervention arrived in the form of a yellow flag after a lap 27 incident that bunch up the field.
On the ensuing restart with four to go, Windom slid Robert Ballou on the entry to turn one once again. This time, the move stuck as Windom carried on to victory in Saturday night’s penultimate round of Eastern Storm presented by DMI at Port Royal Speedway.
Windom’s 17th career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car win tied Brady Bacon, Jerry Coons, Jr., Parnelli Jones and Bud Kaeding for 26th all-time, but this one very well could have played out differently without a late-race yellow.
Ballou had dominated from the drop of the green and appeared to have no equal despite being presented a hearty challenge on a lap 13 restart just prior to the midway point.
After a yellow was brought about by a disengaged wheel cover from the car of Alex Bright, Windom lined up second behind Ballou on the restart. Windom dipped a toe in the water and threw a slide job on Ballou entering turn one, but Ballou easily absorbed the swing and powered back to the lead on the cushion as Windom slid to the top.
Windom’s move nearly proved costly as Wednesday night Lincoln winner Thomas Meseraull took advantage of the situation by sliding Windom into turn three for second as Windom sought to reobtain his rhythm and speed. Windom would get all that back with a slide job a half-lap later in turn one on Meseraull to regain second with 16 laps remaining.
Though the initial trial balloon didn’t pay off, it did provide Windom some info that he would stow away in his back pocket just in case another opportunity presented itself in the dwindling laps.
“I tried to see if I could make that slide job work on the restart,” Windom recalled. “It kind of did, it kind of didn’t. I lost all my momentum and it was a way for me to get down and see if the track was better on the bottom or the middle. But once Meseraull got around me, I knew I’d better get my (rear end) back on the top and keep digging. Robert was probably a little better than us up front in clean air. On a big track like this, it’s definitely a lot easier being in the lead than chasing somebody.”
Out front, Ballou was in his own element. The 2015 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champion has earned 12 of his 27 career series victories on tracks a half-mile length, including one at the Port Royal “Eastern Storm” stop in 2015. On Saturday night, the Rocklin, California native appeared to have the checkered flag and the $6000 reward signed, sealed and delivered.
If this were a 25-lap race, the story would’ve ended there with a dominant Ballou victory, but the vast majority of USAC races are 30 laps and, as Saturday night proved, what you thought you knew can all be tossed into the wind with how quickly things can change in a sprint race.
With Ballou holding a safe-and-sound, commanding lead on lap 27 of 30, the car of Chad Boespflug began to slow. Isaac Chapple had nowhere to go and nosed into the inner guardrail on the back straightaway to bring out the caution. Chapple was uninjured while Boespflug returned for the restart.
That allowed Windom to be glued to the tail tank of the No. 12 on the restart with four to go. “I knew that if I could get a good enough restart, that would be my chance,” Windom said. “I didn’t get as good of a restart on the first slider (on lap 13). The way it felt, I knew I’d be able to make it stick as long as I was close enough to him entering turn one. I knew Robert was really good in clean air out front around the top and I had a notion he’d probably go back to the top on the restart. We got a great run off turn four coming to the green and I knew I could make that slider stick then, but I knew once I did it, I had to stay in front of him. We didn’t want to go into a slider fest with him.”
With Windom now out front and in the clear, USAC National Sprint Car point leader Justin Grant battled Ballou for the second position. The two went at it tooth-and-nail in each corner for multiple laps with Grant ultimately taking the position from Ballou on the final laps as race leader Windom’s claws were now firmly entrenched into the possession of the checkered flag.
The race for second would come to a head on the final lap between Grant and Ballou. The two battled close-quarters mere feet apart entering turn three. Both would not exit the corner unscathed, however, as Ballou found himself upside down after backing hard into the outside guardrail before rolling over a pair of times. Sixth-running Aaron Farney was also collected in the incident . Ballou quickly hopped out of the top of the car without injury.
Meanwhile, the incident was not what leader Chris Windom wanted to see.
“My heart dropped when I saw the red flag coming to the checkered,” Windom admitted. “When you’re going down the straightaway, it’s the last thing you ever want to see in a racecar. The straightaways are so long and the turns are so wide here that if you get a decent run on a guy, you can slide him, so I knew the last lap with it being a green and white together, if I would’ve slid myself both corners, I should be all right. And that’s what I did.”
On the one-lap shootout for the win, Windom changed course and headed for the bottom using a defensive tactic instead of his regular line up top, a coin he had been on the other side of just a few laps prior.
“When the air pressure is down on the restarts, you can stick the bottom and middle a little better for a lap or two,” Windom explained. “I was definitely protecting. If I would’ve went back to the top, Justin probably would’ve done exactly to me what I did to Ballou. I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
Grant was never able to make a run at Windom on the final lap, following Windom to the checkered as Brady Bacon, Tyler Courtney and Dave Darland rounded out the top-five.
In the meantime, Windom surpassed Kevin Thomas, Jr. as the Eastern Storm point leader and now holds a 14-point advantage heading into Sunday’s finale at Susquehanna Speedway in York Haven, PA, a venue in which Windom is the reigning king.
“I think we’ll be good again at Susky,” a confident Windom claimed. “It seems like it’s been of our best tracks out here. KT’s been strong all week and a lot of other guys are coming on strong. We definitely just have to stick to the game plan and finish the final night strong.”
Ione, California’s Justin Grant took second and maintained his USAC National Sprint Car point lead of 39 over Windom in the latest tally in his Sam McGhee Motorsports/ProGlide Bearings – Mike McGhee & Associates/Maxim/Foxco.
Brady Bacon of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma remains one of seven drivers still mathematically eligible to claim the Eastern Storm crown, sitting just 28 points out of the lead in third after a third-place run in his Dooling-Hayward/B & H Contractors – Dooling Machine/Spike/Stanton Mopar.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Port Royal Speedway include Justin Grant (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Robert Ballou (Simpson Race Products 1st Heat Winner), Thomas Meseraull (Competition Suspension, Inc. 2nd Heat Winner), Shane Golobic (Chalk Stix 3rd Heat Winner), Dave Darland (Indy Race Parts Semi Winner), Alex Bright (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) & Tyler Courtney (KSE Racing Products / In Memory of Mike Grassmyer Hard Charger).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 17, 2017 – Port Royal, Pennsylvania – Port Royal Speedway – “Eastern Storm” Presented by DMI