Robert Ballou Fights For Third Eldora Win
Robert Ballou fought off all comers in Wednesday night’s make-up race for the Don Branson-Jud Larson Memorial “Coca-Cola Classic” to take his third-career AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car victory, all of which have come at Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
“Anywhere that is big like this and I can keep the car straight, we’re pretty good. We just got back from Texas and spent a couple long days getting this car together. If it weren’t for Dallas Mulvaney and Jim Plew pulling this deal together for me, we wouldn’t be here. It’s good to get this win for them tonight,” Ballou commented after his hard-fought victory.
Although the box score shows Ballou and his Behavior Consultants/J.C. Plew XXX/Ott leading every lap, he had to fight off three different challengers during the race. He began from outside the front-row for the 30-lap event, but Chris Windom slid to the lead in the first set of corners. Ballou countered with a crossover move and took the lead with an aggressive move in turn three.
From there, Ballou took off from the field while Levi Jones used a strong start to slip from row three into the runner-up spot just a few laps in. Tracy Hines trailed the lead trio while fellow Eldora stalwart Jerry Coons, Jr. fell by the wayside due to a loose oil line. Jones pressured Ballou off and on throughout the first half of the race but never took the point.
Under a long green-flag run, fast-qualifier Bryan Clauson started to make his move as the laps clicked off, and he moved to third just past the halfway point. With the leader in traffic, Clauson tracked down Jones for second on lap 21 and appeared to cut very slightly into Ballou’s massive lead.
“We started off a little bit tight, so I had to wait on it to come in. Along with that, I was just figuring it out. Obviously it’s not a place I’ve been very good in the past. (Crew chief) Scott (Benic) had been working with me all night – it just took me eight or ten laps to get it figured out. Once the car came in and the driver came in, we were pretty much a rocket ship,” Clauson said of his run to the front.
The race took on a different look when Bud Kaeding, out of tear-offs on the heavy Eldora surface, got into the wall in turn-one and collected Matt Goodnight, who turned over and brought out a red flag. With just five laps to go, the lapped cars went to the tail, leaving Clauson with a clear shot at the race-long leader.
Clauson’s car did not take off on the restart, and Jones jumped at the opportunity. The two battled for two laps before Clauson again held second and had the opportunity to chase down Ballou, who had opened up a sizable gap. Behind them, Clauson’s teammate Scotty Weir was making a late run at a podium spot when he slammed the cushion in turn-two and packed his wheel. Just as he headed pitside, Clauson made his bid for the lead.
“It took me a minute to catch back up after getting a bad restart. I got a good run and fired off that first slide-job into one, and it was just a battle of crossovers from there. It felt good to be that strong after the struggles we’ve had there, and to race for the win and have the fastest car,” Clauson said of the late-race battle.
Clauson’s first try at the lead came on lap 29 and was quickly handled by Ballou, who turned underneath and re-took the lead. Ballou got into the cushion coming to the white flag, which gave Clauson the momentum he needed. A slide-job into turn-one led to another crossover move by Ballou, and the two raced side-by-side down the backstretch. In turn-three, Clauson tried to hold the outside line and the momentum, while Ballou slid up the track in one last attempt to hold onto the victory.
In the middle of the corner, the two made slight contact, which sent Clauson through the cushion and into the wall, resulting in a twisting flip that left his Rotondo Weirich/Benic Enterprises Maxim/Gaerte in pieces halfway down the track. Clauson walked away under his own power. Ballou got into the wall, as well, and had damage from the contact along with losing his right-rear wheel cover.
“I’ve got to apologize to Bryan Clauson and Scott Benic. That was clearly my fault. About halfway through the feature, I got in the front straightaway wall and packed the right-rear, and it just didn’t stick like I was hoping it would. It’s unfortunate the way things happened, but I’m glad we ended up on top,” Ballou said in victory lane.
On the final one-lap dash, Jones made a strong run from turn-two down the backstretch, but Ballou held him off in the final corner to take his first USAC win since September of 2007. Jones came home second in the Chevy/Bass Pro Shops Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
“Actually, that’s probably better than we’ve been there in a while. We probably missed on the gear a little bit, so we weren’t quite as good late in the race when the fuel burned off. We got in the position to be able to stay up front at least, and we could take a run at those guys on restarts. I got up beside him (Ballou) on the last lap, but just didn’t have quite the run I needed,” Jones said.
Chris Windom fought back late in the race to come home third, his fifth podium finish of the year in the Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage Maxim/Claxton.
“We started off battling for the lead, but we just fought our engine running a little flat, I think mainly because of the thick air. We were pretty good and actually settled in after a while just by staying wound up. (Crew chief) Jeff (Walker) and I are clicking pretty well right now…just trying to stay in the hunt. Third isn’t too bad,” Windom said.
Point leader Damion Gardner finished fourth in the Pace Lighting Eagle/Shaver, while Hunter Schuerenberg rounded out the top-five in the Ron Gorby-owned Sear’s Maxim/Claxton. Tracy Hines was sixth in the MP Environmental Services Maxim/Shaver. Casey Riggs qualified second and finished seventh in the Indiana Underground Construction Maxim/Chevy. Jon Stanbrough was eighth in the Jarvis Enterprises DRC/Foxco. Shane Hmiel ended up ninth in the Three Wide Life Maxim/ITI, and Dave Darland rounded out the top-ten in the Keith Kunz Motorsports Bullet/Speedway Mopar.
Kevin Studley escaped injury earlier in the night when he flipped in turn two during the first heat race. The AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series will be back in action on May 22nd as they take to the pavement of Iowa Speedway in Newton for the first asphalt race of the season.