The old notion of championships being aided by getting off to a good start is more than just a simple adage when it comes to the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship.
Tyler Courtney has already staked a claim by notching a pair of wins during the first two races of the season in Ocala, Fla. and leads the standings coming into Saturday’s “Shamrock Classic” at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin.
The prevailing thought is that, yes, he’s off to a roaring start, but the season is young, it’s a long season and there’s still a lot that can and will happen. Tis true, my friend. But odds and history both have their own thoughts on the subject, and they show the importance of a solid foundation to build on following the first two races that can springboard a driver and team into championship contention.
Since 2000, after the completion of the season’s first two races, the point leader at that moment went on to win the series championship in seven of those 19 years. On nine other occasions during that span, champions emerged from drivers who were in the top-four in the standings after two races. Bryan Clauson and Tanner Thorson defied the odds in their championship campaigns with Clauson coming from seventh after two rounds in 2010 and Thorson coming from sixth in 2016. Dave Darland upped the ante, coming from outside of the top-ten early in the season to win the title despite missing several races toward the end of the year due to injury.
Right now, as the top-four currently stands, Courtney leads the points by nine over Kevin Thomas, Jr. with C.J. Leary in third and Chad Boat in fourth. Since 2000, champions have emerged from the top-four after two events in 16 of 19 seasons, making this the most likely scenario based solely on odds-making.
Courtney’s already got two “w’s” in the book in this young season and is coming off a year in which he captured a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car title the previous year. Three previous drivers won their first USAC National Midget championship following titles in other USAC National divisions since the turn of the century, namely Dave Darland, J.J. Yeley and Tracy Hines. Courtney has the benefit of the mental test that goes into prevailing through a grueling championship run.
Kevin Thomas, Jr. locked horns and points with Courtney in the sprint title chase a year ago. Thomas has been tested and is ready to take the next step of becoming a USAC National champ. He’s a former Rookie of the Year with the series in 2014, and since 2000, eight of the 19 Midget champs have been previous Rookies of the Year just like him. Though he had three appearances with them last year, he’s in his first full season with Petry Motorsports in 2019, but only five of the 19 titles over the past two decades have been won by drivers in their first year with a team. Thomas has showed no qualms with that, tallying two runner-up finishes in his first two appearances.
C.J. Leary is in the same boat, racing for a new team this season. However, after all his success on the USAC Sprint Car and Silver Crown trails over the past several seasons, he’s tackling the full Midget schedule for the first time in a bid for Rookie of the Year. However, that might not be all the Greenfield, Indiana driver will be in contention for at season’s end, with a possible run at a championship in his sights. It happened last year when Logan Seavey became just the third Rookie champion in the history of USAC National Midget racing, following Danny Caruthers in 1971 and Christopher Bell in 2013.
Chad Boat has been knocking on the door to compete for a USAC National Midget title year-in, year-out and seems to be inching ever closer toward that goal. Last year, the Phoenix, Arizona native reached a career-high second in the final standings behind Seavey. Six drivers since 2000 have finished runner-up in the standings one year, then claimed the championship the following season, including J.J. Yeley (2003), Josh Wise (2005), Jerry Coons, Jr. (2006), Darren Hagen (2012), Tanner Thorson (2016) and Spencer Bayston (2017).
All are capable of reaching the pinnacle this season and each have some sort of history on their side no matter what prism you look through. That’s the beauty of the 2019 USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship. You can go down through the standings and pick anybody out and find a reason and an avenue they can take toward a title, with the aid of a little history on their side.
With all that said, yes, it’s still way too early to be predicting championships in the month of March after only two races. With a field this talented and equipment so solid, it’s going be unpredictable. That’s why we race and why we watch. History will someday prove that. It always does.
Next up is Saturday’s “Shamrock Classic.” With it being the fourth annual event, the base winner’s share is $4000, meaning if a driver could complete the challenge and win from the tail, he or she would collect $54,000 with the addition of the “Pot of Gold Challenge,” which would be the richest take-home pay any driver has ever earned for a single race in the history of the USAC NOS Energy Midget National Championship.
On raceday, the Southern Illinois Center opens for parking at 8am (Central). Front doors/ticket window opens at 10am. Clear the building/check pit passes & tickets at 11am. Micro Sprint drivers meeting at 11am. Micro Sprint hot laps with heats immediately following at 12:30pm. Public midget drivers meeting (front stretch grandstand) at 3pm. Midget hot laps at 4pm. (All Times Central).
General admission tickets are $20 for age 13 and up. Children’s general admission tickets (Age 6-12) are $10. Kids 5 and under are free.
The race will be live-streamed onhttp://www.FloRacing.com/.
YEAR / LEADER AFTER 2 RACES / CHAMPION: (Since 2000)
2018: Logan Seavey / Logan Seavey
2017: Brady Bacon / Spencer Bayston
2016: Brady Bacon / Tanner Thorson
2015: Tracy Hines / Tracy Hines
2014: Rico Abreu / Rico Abreu
2013: Christopher Bell / Christopher Bell
2012: Mario Clouser / Darren Hagen
2011: Bryan Clauson / Bryan Clauson
2010: Brad Sweet / Bryan Clauson
2009: Chad Boat / Brad Kuhn
2008: Tracy Hines / Cole Whitt
2007: Darren Hagen / Jerry Coons, Jr.
2006: Dave Steele / Jerry Coons, Jr.
2005: Jay Drake / Josh Wise
2004: Bobby East / Bobby East
2003: J.J. Yeley / J.J. Yeley
2002: Dave Steele / Dave Darland
2001: Jay Drake / Dave Darland
2000: Jay Drake / Kasey Kahne