SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. – Was there any more indicative way for C.J. Leary and Reinbold/Underwood Motorsports to achieve their USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car championship than how they performed in Saturday night’s season finale at Arizona Speedway?
The team rolled off the trailer for the second night of Western World and clicked off fast time during qualifying, then won their heat race from the third row and finished off with a solid top-five run. Night-after-night, track-after-track, Leary and crew chiseled the competition with their unrelenting consistency.
Their 11 fast qualifying times rank as the third most ever in a single USAC National Sprint Car season behind Kevin Thomas Jr.’s 15 in 2018 and Tom Bigelow’s 14 in 1978. Along the way, the team accrued a series-high 32 top-10 finishes in 34 starts and series-high-equaling 25 top-five finishes.
It’s an astonishing stat line for a team and driver of any caliber in any particular year, let alone by a team that had never run the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car schedule prior to 2019 and a team who’s core players were not a cohesive unit at this point one year ago.
A deal was struck late last year which brought the youthful and talented Leary on board to take the wheel along with highly successful winning crew chief Davey Jones turning the wrenches. At that point, a winning combination was born.
“We’ve just been really consistent all year long,” Leary explained. “Davey’s given me a fast hot rod night in and night out. I just felt like if we got through Pennsylvania, we’d have a good shot at getting the championship because Pennsylvania’s always been my weak link.”
Leary steam rolled through the first part of the season when all the bugs and kinks are yet to be ironed out and the working relationships between driver, crew and owner are still in the development process. Fairly quickly, a team can tell if they’ll eventually sink or swim with what they have. From its initial appearances, the team could’ve swam the entire Atlantic Ocean with as good as they were right out of the box.
The team won their third night out in Ocala, Fla., in February, then took over a point lead they wouldn’t relinquish following the first night of #LetsRaceTwo at Eldora in May. The team powered through the aforementioned Eastern Storm swing through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, finishing second, fifth and third to collect the mini-series title.
The magic continued through the eight-race stretch in July through the Hoosier State to earn an Indiana Sprint Week title, the third driver to win both Eastern Storm, Indiana Sprint Week and the USAC National Sprint title within a year after Bryan Clauson (2013) and Robert Ballou (2015). Through the summer heat in Indiana, Leary and company took six top-fives and eight top-10s and reached a season-high 134-point lead following the Bloomington round of ISW in July.
The team’s first finish outside the top-10 didn’t arrive until late August at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway when Leary biked it while running fourth on the first night of Sprint Car Smackdown. However, the team was able to withstand the minor setback and continued their flourishing ways with a firm grip of a 100-plus point lead for two months of the season.
That is, until late September’s 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora, where Leary was involved in a tangle with Chris Windom while running fourth, which relegated him to a 22nd place finish while Courtney earned max points with a sweep of the night, narrowing the canyon in the championship race to 58, the closest margin seen since June, three months earlier.
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