#51 R.J. Johnson
#51 R.J. Johnson

By Lance Jennings

PEORIA, AZ – FEBRUARY 4, 2013… In the most dramatic finish of the new season, R.J. Johnson of Phoenix claimed Saturday’s “Winter Challenge” daytime main event. Narrowly holding off a last corner surge to the finish by Jon Stanbrough, the $2,000 victory snapped Bryan Clauson’s four race win streak at Canyon Speedway Park. Following Johnson to the checkered flags were Stanbrough, Ryan Bernal, Charles Davis Jr., and Josh Pelkey.

Officially leading all 30-laps, Johnson’s wire-to-wire victory does not tell the whole story. Rescheduled from the January 26th rainout, 30 drivers signed in to battle at Kevin Montgomery’s 1/3-mile facility. With five-time Arizona Champion Jeremy Sherman and Johnson pacing the 22 car main event, it was R.J. that grabbed the early lead. Also looking for his first “Winter Challenge” triumph, fourth starting Davis charged past Sherman to claim second on the opening lap.

As drivers searched for racing room on the tricky surface, Johnson reached slower traffic at the halfway point. Clauson was on the move from sixth, taking third from Sherman and giving chase after Davis. Two laps later, Bryan powered to second and was looking for more. Johnson continued to lead the way as track conditions were changing and tire management would become a factor.

Within a few laps, the battle for the lead began to heat up. Clauson drove deep into the turns as R.J.’s machine rocketed off the corners. Both drivers were on the throttle, racing harder with every turn and smoke peeling off the right rear tires. Clauson managed a great drive and shot past Johnson for the lead. It was not to be as caution lights flashed over the speedway for debris.

Back to lap twenty-one, Johnson set the pace on the restart with Clauson on his rear bumper. Resuming his bid for the lead, Bryan was all over former Arizona Midget Champion. R.J. held tough and began to inch away from the USAC National Champion. Fighting through the lapped cars, Sherman had reclaimed third and Stanbrough was up to fourth. Four laps later, a flip by Bud Kaeding brought out a red flag and stopped the action. After battling for seventh, Bud walked away uninjured and was done for the race.

Johnson had a great restart and opened up his lead as Clauson was in pursuit. Coming to the white flag, Bryan’s right rear tire popped and Sherman pulled off the speedway. Now in second, Stanbrough closed the gap and had one last shot at Johnson. With checkered flags waving, Jon dove to the inside and blasted off the final corner to a photo finish at the line. Track officials had confirmed that Johnson had held on by a narrow margin and scored the victory.

Piloting Bobby Martin’s #51 Weiler Farms / Pecon Builders Maxim, R.J. Johnson won his first main event of 2013. After running fourteenth the previous night, the second generation driver ran third in his heat race and would have his sights on the night’s $5,000-to-win finale.

Avon, Indiana’s Jon Stanbrough made a valiant charge behind the wheel of Shon Deskins’ #20 Performance Plus / Ellis Race Cars entry. After claiming second in his heat race, the controversial ending was the veteran’s second straight runner-up finish of the Winter Challenge. With extra prize money on the line, Stanbrough would be a favorite in the night finale at CSP.

After scoring fourth on Friday, Ryan Bernal of Hollister, California came home third from eleventh. Driving Keith Ford’s #73 King Racing Products / A&A Precision Machine Spike, Bernal was second to Clauson in his heat race. Bernal won last year’s Grudge Series title at Canyon and could be in the mix for the $5,000 victory.

Buckeye’s Charles Davis Jr. ran fourth in Saturday’s early main event. Piloting the Massey Motorsports #50 RSS Industries / Rod End Supply entry, the five-time Arizona Champion won the first 8-lap heat race of the program. Davis scored fifth the previous night and leads a strong Arizona roster chasing the Winter Challenge crown.

Josh Pelkey of Peoria had his best run of the Winter Challenge with a fifth place showing. After crashing the Reagles #4JR on Friday, the former “Copper State” Champion returned to Robbie & Gaye Allen’s #12 ABC Body Shop / Napa Auto Parts DRC. Pelkey claimed fourth in his heat race and could challenge in the night time main event.

Tempe’s Stevie Sussex earned the program’s “Hard Charger / Best Passing Job” honors with a twelfth place run after starting twenty-first. Driving his #1AZ Pro Tech Coatings / KSE Custom Drywall Maxim, the young driver has struggled in Winter Challenge and claimed fifth in his heat race. Sussex is another hard charger looking to battle for a Canyon feature win.

Surprise’s Jeremy Sherman won his second heat race of the Winter Challenge and ran up front before dropping out of the feature. Racing Bill Michael’s #77M Mammoth Sound / Beal’s Auto Body Sherman, Jeremy scored seventeenth in the day race. “The Shermanator” will be looking to rebound and claim the $5,000 main event.

Rocklin, California’s “The Madman” Robert Ballou won the show’s third 8-lap heat race. Piloting Jack Hockett’s #77 Lucas Oil / ParkerStore of Phoenix DRC, USAC National driver finished sixth in the main event. With Jack Yeley turning the wrenches, Ballou is among the drivers in the mix for the Winter Challenge crown.

Bryan Clauson of Noblesville, Indiana leads all drivers with his third heat race in as many shows. Driving Mike Martin’s #16B Ultimate Offroad / Naquin Precision Earth Moving Maxim, the Western World Champion battled for the lead before losing a tire. With two Winter Challenge victories under his belt, Clauson is the heavy favorite to score the Winter Challenge title and the $5,000 feature.

Visalia, California’s Richard Vander Weerd won the first 10-lap semi-main. Piloting the family’s #10 Vander Weerd Construction / Battery Worx Maxim, the former USAC West Coast Champion was eighth in the feature after starting thirteenth. Vander Weerd was third in his heat race and has three top-10 finishes on the season.

Jason Grady of Farmington, New Mexico claimed the second 10-lap semi-main of the program. Racing his #45 RSS Industries / Revis Auto Finish entry, Grady placed thirteenth in the main event and ran fifth in his heat race.

The USAC Southwest Sprint Car Series would like to thank Sunoco Race Fuels, Hoosier Tire, and the Hose Advantage Store for their support. For more information on the series, visit www.southwestsprintcars.com, www.usacracing.com, or follow the series on Facebook (www.facebook.com/SouthwestSprintCars).

For more information on the USAC West Coast Sprint Car Series, visit www.westcoastsprintcars.com, www.usacracing.com, or follow the series on Facebook (www.facebook.com/#!/pages/USAC-West-Coast-Sprint-Car-Series/369549755817)
February 2, 2013 (Day) – Peoria, Arizona – Canyon Speedway Park – “Winter Challenge”

FIRST HEAT: (8 laps)
1. Charles Davis Jr. (#50 Massey), 2. Bruce St. James (#7K St. James), 3. Mike Martin (#97 Colcord/Norman), 4. Bud Kaeding (#29 Bowman), 5. Andy Reinbold (#19 Underwood), 6. Ronnie Clark (#6 Clark), 7. Glen Brace (#13 Brace), 8. Colby Copeland (#74 Williams). NT

SECOND HEAT: (8 laps)
1. Jeremy Sherman (#77M Michaels), 2. Josh Hodges (#74X Hodges), 3. R.J. Johnson (#51 Martin), 4. Josh Pelkey (#12 Allen), 5. Stevie Sussex (#1AZ Sussex), 6. Brian Hosford (#32B Weber), 7. Tony Everhart (#55 Everhart), 8. Jace Vander Weerd (#88 Vander Weerd). NT

THIRD HEAT: (8 laps)
1. Robert Ballou (#77 Hockett), 2. Jon Stanbrough (#20 Deskins), 3. Tom Ogle (#48 Ogle), 4. Kevin Thomas Jr. (#21 Ellis), 5. Jason Grady (#45 Grady), 6. Tom Lee (#53 Lee), 7. Mike Visser (#16X Visser). NT

FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps)
1. Bryan Clauson (#16B Martin), 2. Ryan Bernal (#73 Ford), 3. Richard Vander Weerd (#10 Vander Weerd), 4. Jimmy Crawford (#3X Crawford), 5. Rick Ziehl (#20Z Ziehl), 6. Matt Lundy (#20L Reinbold), 7. Mark Morin (#28 Morin). NT

FIRST SEMI: (10 laps)
1. Richard Vander Weerd, 2. Rick Ziehl, 3. Colby Copeland, 4. Jimmy Crawford, 5. Stevie Sussex, 6. Ronnie Clark, 7. Matt Lundy, 8. Tony Everhart, 9. Tom Lee. NT

SECOND SEMI: (10 laps)
1. Jason Grady, 2. Jace Vander Weerd, 3. Brian Hosford, 4. Mike Martin, 5. Tom Ogle, 6. Mike Visser, 7. Glen Brace, 8. Mark Morin. NT

FEATURE: (30 laps – With Starting Positions)
1. R.J. Johnson (2nd), 2. Jon Stanbrough (3rd), 3. Ryan Bernal (11th), 4. Charles Davis Jr. (4th), 5. Josh Pelkey (5th), 6. Robert Ballou (7th), 7. Rick Ziehl (15th), 8. Richard Vander Weerd (13th), 9. Kevin Thomas Jr. (10th), 10. Colby Copeland (17th), 11. Bruce St. James (12th), 12. Stevie Sussex (21st), 13. Jason Grady (14th), 14. Mike Martin (20th), 15. Brian Hosford (18th), 16. Bryan Clauson (6th), 17. Jeremy Sherman (1st), 18. Bud Kaeding (9th), 19. Josh Hodges (8th), 20. Jace Vander Weerd (16th), 21. Jimmy Crawford (19th), 22. Tom Ogle (22nd). NT
**Morin flipped during the second semi. Kaeding flipped during the feature.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Johnson.
HARD CHARGER: Steve Sussex (21st to 12th)

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