It’s Gardner Again In USAC Opener
OCALA, Fla. — It must have seemed like a bad scene out of Groundhog Day to 29 of the competitors when the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series opened its 2012 season at Bubba Raceway Park Thursday night.
For the third consecutive year, Damion Gardner captured the victory in the first race of the series, running his record to five wins in six races on USAC’s sprint car opening weekends. This time Gardner narrowly edged Jon Stanbrough and Brady Bacon in the closing laps.
“It always gives you a big boost — big time,” Gardner allowed afterward. “As soon as we go home we’re going to be working with smiles in the shop, and that’s how it goes. We’re just all trying to get that first one. Whether it’s your first one ever or the first of the season, the first are always the hardest.”
Wheeling his Pace Lighting Eagle, Gardner jumped to the lead off turn two on the three-eighths-mile oval, but Bacon dove to the inside of turn four and shoved the Hoffman Mean Green/Mopar/XXX to the front for the first lap.
Bacon set the pace for the first five circuits, when Gardner was able to retake the lead with another pass on the bottom of four.
Although the box score shows Gardner leading the next 25 laps, Stanbrough and Bacon were on his heels every lap.
The final drama came four laps from the checkers when the caution flag slowed the action and bunched the cars behind the leader.
On the restart, Bacon found room under Gardner to take the lead off turn four, but another caution put Gardner back in front for the restart. Then two more quick cautions gave both Bacon and Stanbrough additional chances to challenge for the win, but each time Gardner was able to keep them at bay.
At the checkers, Gardner held a four-car-length lead over Stanbrough, with Bacon a close third. Darren Hagen crossed the finish fourth, but a penalty moved him to last in the standings.
Bryan Clauson was scored fourth, followed by Bud Kaeding.BREAKING NEWS: SPEED SPORT is back in print with a new monthly format! Subscribe for just $24.95. Special offer for former subscribers.