ELMA — Saturday night was the right time for Jason Johnson to party at Grays Harbor Raceway.
Parlaying Friday night’s top-four finish with an advantageous draw into the A-main front row, Johnson used an increasingly fast track to reel in pole-sitter Dustin Morgan and series rival Johnny Herrera to win Saturday night’s ASCA Nationals 30-lap feature in Elma.
The victory for Johnson is his third at GHR in his career and it enabled the reigning 2012 champion to take the ASCS National season points lead by four points over Herrera.
Kyle Miller, of Eugene, Ore., went wire-to-wire in the Northwest Wingless Sprint Tour 30-lap A-main earlier in the night.
It took 15 laps for Johnson to gain the lead from Herrera, who grabbed the top spot from Morgan seven laps and two caution flags earlier. The Eunice, La. driver got down in the low groove on a lap-11 restart on Herrera and was one of the very few drivers to make it stick. Johnson stayed on Herrera’s hip pocket for the next three circuits before he used a sling-shot from the high-middle groove down into the low exit of turn 4 to take the lead.
Earlier in the night, ASCS and track officials stopped the proceedings to water down and rework turns 1 and 2 in the hopes of creating and re-establishing the track’s middle grooves. The qualifying and heat races were primarily one-groove — low — affairs, which led to very few chances for movement within the field.
By the time the ASCS Nationals, with support from the ASCS Northwest tour and GHR regulars, got onto the track for the main event, the middle grooves were down, sticky and prepared for action.
Herrera, of Albuquerque, N.M., used the high-middle groove through most of the race, first to get past Morgan, of Tulsa, Okla., on lap 8 in turns 3 and 4 and later to keep Johnson in view in the second half of the race.
With Johnson, Herrera and Morgan fighting for the lead, with Jeff Swindell, of Bartlett, Tenn., and Tony Bruce Jr., of Liberal, Mo., getting into the action later, caution flags bunched up the field to keep the leaders from turning the race into a rout.
Nine caution flags were scattered throughout the race. One caution flag eliminated one of the race favorites, Travis Rilat, of Forney, Texas, on lap 10. Rilat lost his rear right tire and his car hit the first-turn wall before stopping. He got out of the car.
Two other caution flags claimed Northwest drivers — Cottage Grove, Ore’s Roger Crockett and Shelton’s Jay Cole — later in the race.
After a lap 19 restart, Johnson and Herrera were joined by Swindell, who weaved around traffic into third and contention. However, the brother of World of Outlaws driver Sammy Swindell got as high as second place for one lap before settling back for fourth overall.
Bruce Jr. made his presence felt in the final six laps, making life difficult for Herrera, allowing Johnson to gain some valuable space in the lead. After the final restart on lap 25, Johnson took advantage of the Herrera vs Bruce Jr. battle to pull away for the victory. Herrera held off Bruce for second.
Snohomish’s Seth Bergman was the top Northwest and GHR regular in the race, moving up from the middle of the pack to take fifth overall. Bergman was joined by Enumclaw’s Henry VanDam as two of the three GHR regulars to win a heat race earlier in the day.
A pill draw featuring the top-four drivers from Friday’s A-main, plus the next two points earners, set up the top-three rows in Saturday’s A-main race.
Miller, one of the more prolific wingless sprint drivers in the Northwest, didn’t face much competition in this 30-lap A-main on Saturday. The Eugene, Ore. native was unchallenged as he lapped all but five drivers in the 12-car race.
Pat Canfield, of Ariel, Wash., represented the victor in the most hotly contested spot in the field — second place. Canfield held off Damascus, Ore,’s Kyle Mehner, Vancouver’s Mike Romig and Wilsonville, Ore.’s Rob Lindsey for the spot. The three represented the rest of the top-five finishers.
Qualifying at the start of the night set up the A-main, giving the heat races a practice-race feel. Miller took top speed honors at 16.383 seconds.
Grays Harbor Raceway is dark next weekend with the cancellation of the AMA Grand Nationals event on July 20.
The raceway kicks off again on July 26-27 for the 14th annual Shipwreck Beads Northwest Modified Nationals.
At Grays Harbor Raceway, Elma
A Feature (30 Laps): 1. 41-Jason Johnson; 2. 45X-Johnny Herrera; 3. 18-Tony Bruce Jr; 4. 94-Jeff Swindell; 5. 23-Seth Bergman; 6. 05-Brad Loyet; 7. 194-Steven Tiner; 8. 93-Dustin Morgan; 9. 33V-Henry VanDam; 10. 2L-Logan Forler; 11. 33-Colton Heath; 12. 29-Brandon Hahn; 13. 3-J.J. Hickle; 14. 9R-Reece Goetz; 15. 88-Brent Hoover; DNF 55-Trey Starks; DNF 17W-Cole Wood; DNF 71-Chadd Noland; DNF 7N-Jared Peterson; DNF 0J-Jay Cole; DNF 11-Roger Crockett; DNF 39C-Travis Rilat
B Feature 1 (12 Laps): 1. 05-Brad Loyet; 2. 55-Trey Starks; 3. 194-Steven Tiner; 4. 33-Colton Heath; 5. 7N-Jared Peterson; 6. 88-Brent Hoover; 7. 21T-Zack Spaulding; 8. 4J-Allison Journey; 9. 9A-Luke Didiuk; 10. 97-Jason Reed
Heat 1 (8 Laps): 1. 94-Jeff Swindell; 2. 2L-Logan Forler; 3. 9R-Reece Goetz; 4. 4J-Allison Journey; 5. 3-J.J. Hickle; 6. 194-Steven Tiner; DNF 05-Brad Loyet; DNF 7N-Jared Peterson
Heat 2 (8 Laps): 1. 23-Seth Bergman; 2. 71-Chadd Noland; 3. 17W-Cole Wood; 4. 11-Roger Crockett; 5. 33-Colton Heath; 6. 55-Trey Starks; 7. 21T-Zack Spaulding
Heat 3 (8 Laps): 1. 33V-Henry VanDam; 2. 18-Tony Bruce Jr; 3. 29-Brandon Hahn; 4. 0J-Jay Cole; 5. 9A-Luke Didiuk; 6. 88-Brent Hoover; 7. 97-Jason Reed
Northwest Wingless Sprints
At Grays Harbor Raceway, Elma
Fast Time: Kyle Miller, 16.383
Heat Race Winners: Mark Herz (1), Rob Lindsey (2)
A-Feature: 1. Kyle Miller, 2. Pat Canfield, 3. Kyle Mehner, 4. Mike Romig, 5. Rob Lindsey, 6. Bill Winsley, 7. Garret Johnson, 8. Sterling Kane, 9. Mark Herz, 10. Guy Weedman, 11. John Butler, 12. Jeff Bell, DNS Rich Kelly.