Bullard wins race, Gardner gains in series
Pure racing luck, not to mention some hard work and a little bit of patience, went a long way for both Bryan Bullard and Jeff Gardner on Saturday night when the U.S. Auto Club (USAC) Western Sprint Car Series returned to Champion Speedway.
Bullard emerged from a three-way battle for the lead – thanks in part when Bryan Stanfill blew a tire with seven laps to go – and the Sacramento driver went on to win the 50-lap main event before an estimated crowd of 2,300 that turned out to watch the first of two stops the sprint car series will make in Carson City this season.
And while Bullard won his second series race in the past month, Gardner survived a mishap in his heat race and came back to finish second in the featured race – a performance that put him back into the overall lead for the series.
Coming into the night, Gardner trailed Tony Hunt by six points in what has developed into a nip-and-tuck duel for the championship. Hunt finished sixth in Saturday’s main event.
“Based on some rough calculations, I think we got the point lead back,” said Gardner, a Fresno, Calif., driver who logged his eighth top-five finish of the season. “We’ll just go to the next one and see if we can’t keep it going forward. Tony and I are having a really competitive battle. I think this is the sixth race in a row that we’ve literally switched the points lead back and forth.”
There was some back-and-forth action in the main event before Bullard got the checkered flag, and picked up a measure of redemption from an earlier visit to Carson City.
“I ran the pavement here back in ’95 or something and I finished second to Jeff Gardner two or three times, so it was good to get by him,” Bullard said with a smile.
Gardner was towed from the track after a mishap in his heat race but came back to win the semi-main. In the main, he shot into the lead at the start and held the position for 30 laps.
“We had to do some serious work to the car,” Gardner said. “After running the B, we knew we were pretty strong and the car was close. It wasn’t just right, but it was close, and we figured if we could get out there in the lead and run the pace we did in the B, no one was going to get around us.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep the car underneath us for that pace, we weren’t running as fast at all, so we just held on for what we could.”
In the meantime, Bullard quickly moved up from the fourth position and waited for his opening.
“It’s a very narrow track. It’s hard to pass here, but I was running good,” said Bullard, who is fifth in the season points. “I was going to wait until we got to last laps and start firing, but I knew I was getting pressure from behind so I knew I had to make a move fairly soon, so I started trying the outside. He got a little loose one time coming off Turn 2, I was able to get alongside him and I was able to drive around him, so it worked out good.”
Bullard, a series main event winner July 13 at Meridian Speedway in Boise, Idaho, surged into the lead and Stanfill followed right behind. The two began to pull away, then began to run into lapped traffic on lap 38. Stanfill made a move on lap 43 and took over the lead.
But only momentarily because Stanfill blew a tire, and was struck by Mike McCreary.
“He had a flat left rear going into 1 there and kind of lost it,” Bullard said. “That’s the way it goes. What can you do?”
Nor did racing luck favor Minden’s Amy Barnes, whose homecoming was spoiled when she was involved in a collision with John Wilkinson at the start of her heat race and was knocked out for the rest of the night.
“It was pretty much everything,” said the 21-year-old Barnes, who is 10th overall in the series points standings. “We tried to get the car ready again. If we’d had 15 more minutes, I think we could have made it back out there … but that’s racing.
“We’ll be back on the 15th,” she said, referring to the USAC series’ return to Champion Speedway on Sept. 15.
Travis Johnson from Tacoma, Wash., wound up third in the main event, followed by Scott Hansen of Simi Valley, Calif., and Damion Gardner of Concord, Calif. Hunt was sixth to stay right in the thick of the championship points race.
“Considering that little event in the heat race, finishing second was pretty good,” Gardner said. “Right now we’re just going back and forth. It’s going to come down to something like this, where somebody has a bad night and can’t come through. This started out as a bad night and we actually turned it into a positive. My guys are awesome, but that’s how good teams win championships.”