It has been a few years since Ricky Stenhouse, Jr’s breakout USAC season, 2007 to be exact. However, last Saturday night in DuQuion, IL Stenhouse relived some of those memories that were carved out in 2007 when he (Stenhouse) put the classic slide job on all USAC everything driver, Bryan Clauson, to win the inaugural Junior Knepper 55 USAC midget special event in Southern Illinois.
Stenhouse was caught up in a lap-one logjam, but recovered after restarting the event in the 20th, the last position, before making his way forward to the $3,000 payday.
After heat races and qualifying races accumulated finish and passing points to set feature lineups, Bryan Clauson earned the pole, but fellow front-row starter Tyler Thomas looped his mount in turn-one to set off the six-car stack-up.
Clauson led early and encountered the tail of the field on lap six, but that was no deterrent. Behind him, Joey Saldana worked to the inside of Chase Briscoe on lap nine to take the second spot. The pace was fast at the front, with the first half of the race clicking off with just one caution.
On lap 34, third-running Spencer Bayston looped in turn-one but was able to keep going, drawing a caution flag but assuming his position in the field as it was deemed an inadvertent yellow. Thomas, who was putting on a show with his drive back through the field without the aid of cautions, benefitted from that to take the third spot.
Saldana shadowed Clauson after flashing just behind on lap 27. He finally tried a slider for the lead on lap 44, but Clauson was able to hold him back. As Saldana slid up in turn four, Thomas took his shot at second and had a head of steam into turn-one, riding up and over Saldana as both cars went spinning to bring a caution with 111 laps to go.
On the restart, Stenhouse went after his teammate Bayston for the second spot as Clauson pulled away. He started to smoke at the head of the field with less than 10 laps to go, though, and Stenhouse started to close. One final caution with four laps to go gave Stenhouse his chance at Clauson for the win.
On the restart, Stenhouse ran high through turns one and two, hitting turn three with a head of steam as he slid up in front with the lead in turn four. Clauson didn’t give in, though, and he countered with a slider of his own that Stenhouse was able to hold off. Over the final two laps, Stenhouse covered the bottom by sliding across each set of corners, winning by .657 seconds in the Bryan Clauson Racing – Priority Aviation No. 17 Spike/Esslinger.
“I ran it in as hard as I could on that restart and knew that if I could get a good run off of two, I could slide him (Clauson),” Stenhouse said. “I thought I would clear him, but he just hung right there with me. I had to go back in my head and think what I would do back in 2007 running USAC. It was eventful, and it was such a blast. I passed some cars top and bottom, but I was shocked when I saw Thomas and Saldana crash, and knew then we had a shot. Winning for Tim (Clauson) as a car owner is special after all he has done to help me race midgets still and for Richard and Jennifer Marshall at Priority Aviation. It was so much fun racing with Bryan, and being able to beat him makes you feel really good about racing a midget again.”
It has been a couple of years since Stenhouse has had the joy that comes with driving your race car into Victory Lane, but last Saturday day rekindled that joy once again!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!