C.J. Leary Wires Smackdown Opener At Kokomo

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C.J. Leary celebrates after winning Thursday’s portion of the Sprint Car Smackdown at Kokomo Speedway. (Travis Branch photo)

KOKOMO, Ind. — Nearly one year to the day after his breakthrough USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory, C.J. Leary once again found Sprint Car Smackdown gold after capturing Thursday’s Sprint Car Smackdown VI opener at Kokomo Speedway.

In 2016, Smackdown weekend was owned by Leary and Kevin Thomas Jr., who alternated victories throughout the three nights.

The trend continued Thursday night when it became Leary’s turn to plant the figurative flag for the Leary Racing/Leary Construction – Highsmith Guns/DRC/1-Way Chevy at the quarter-mile dirt oval.

Earlier in the night, things didn’t appear to be as rosy for Leary, as he struggled to snare a transfer spot in his heat race until misfortune found another competitor in front of him, thus moving him into position to earn a spot in the feature event.

After a fortuitous series of events, Leary wound up starting from the pole for the main event.

From there, the Greenfield, Indiana driver knew there were no excuses for not getting the job done.

“In the heat race, we were junk,” Leary said. “We probably shouldn’t have transferred, but we were fortunate, which allowed us to start on the front row for the feature. By starting up front, I felt like it was my race to lose. If something was going to go wrong, it was probably going to be my fault.”

Leary set his course for the lead from the drop of the green, sliding up to the top of Turn 1 to take the spot. Outside front row starter Hunter Schuerenberg quickly countered using a high-low switch off Turn 2 to pull even with Leary on the back straightaway.

However, Leary was too strong on the top and secured the position off turn four to lead lap one.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s #GYATK Night winner Thomas sliced through the field from eighth to fifth on the opening lap, then became involved a tussle with series points leader Justin Grant for fourth on lap four when the left rear of Thomas and the right front of Grant greeted each other at the flag stand.

The contact damaged Grant’s steering and brought him to a complete stop in Turn 1. Thomas continued, while Grant was relegated to a last-place finish of 22nd.

Meanwhile, a pair of restarts in the second half of the 30-lapper didn’t rattle Leary’s nerves a bit, as he pulled away each time.

Bacon ran the middle in pursuit of Leary, pulling alongside multiple times to no avail while Leary ripped the top, a place in which he had no intentions of leaving.

“Donnie and I argued over the setup a little bit right before the feature,” Leary said. “These past eight weeks, we’ve been running up here in the weekly shows. Even in the Indiana Sprint Week race, we were tight in the feature. We’ve just been tight, tight and tight. We figured if we lost tonight, it would be because we were too loose. We got it freed up and I ran it hard. I felt like I could run it as hard as I wanted to up there.”

Bacon, Robert Ballou, Thomas and Schuerenberg completed the top five.

Full race results can be viewed on the next page…

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