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Defending USAC Sprint Car points champion Jones looks for another win at LPS tonight

Saturday, May 1, 2010

PUTNAMVILLE -- Levi Jones, Jerry Coons Jr., Tracy Hines and Dave Darland have all been champions in USAC's Amsoil National Sprint Car Series, but they're chasing Damion Gardner going into the ninth race of the season in the Billy Marvel Classic tonight at Lincoln Park Speedway.

Gardner leads Coons 459-447, in the points. Jones is third at 404, followed by Bryan Clauson (387), Hines (380), Robert Ballou (376), Chris Windom (359), Henry Clarke (359), Darland (266) and Jon Stanbrough (241).

The champion of the West Coast USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series in 2005, the 33-year-old Gardner decided to relocate to the Midwest to pursue the National title in 2007. He finished 10th in the points in 2007 and 2008 and sixth last season.

"We want to run for championships and we want to run against the best and right now, USAC has those guys," Gardner said. "We're trying to win the championship so we can say we're the best non-wing guy out there."

Gardner runs his team, DG Racing, and has sponsorship from Pat Kehoe's Pace Lighting.

"When I moved back here, Pat told me and I knew it was going to be a commitment," Gardner said. "It was going to be going from being the toughest on the West Coast to the bottom back here. I knew it was going to take four, five, six years to build the team to get there. I wasn't happy where I was three years ago.

"We've got the team and we've got a shot (at the championship)."

Gardner, originally from Concord, Calif., opened the season with four victories in five races.

"I could imagine winning one or two, but four of five was amazing," Gardner said.

Two of Gardner's wins in 2010 have come at East Bay Raceway in Gibson, Fla. He's also won at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track and Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway and finished third at Gas City, Ind., fourth at Tucson, eighth at Lawrenceburg, Ind., and 19th at Kokomo, Ind., in the most recent event.

Coons drove the famed No. 69 Hoffman Racing entry to the team's 75th USAC victory at Lawrenceburg this season. He also has a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh in 2010. The 38-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., won the ninth USAC Sprint Car National championship for Hoffman in 2008. The team has been racing since 1929 and is in its second generation of family ownership.

Jones' championships have been in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Jones won at Tucson this season.

A former high school basketball star in Olney, Ill., Jones has driven for Tony Stewart Racing since 2006 in the No. 20 Bass Pro Shops/Chevy entry. He's attempting to become the sixth USAC driver to win the same series four times. A.J. Foyt (Championship/Indy cars) and Mel Kenyon (Midgets) lead with seven, Butch Hartman (Stock cars) has five and Steve Butler (Sprints) and Rich Vogler (Midgets) have four.

Jones won Lincoln Park's Sprint Car feature on April 10.

Hines, from New Castle, Ind., won his 38th USAC Sprint Car race, tops among active drivers, at Gas City. Hines, who turns 38 years old today, was USAC's 2002 Sprint Car champion.

Darland won the USAC National Sprint Car event at Lincoln Park in 2005, the last time the series competed on the 5/16-mile oval. The 43-year-old from Lincoln, Ind., has 28 wins in the series, second among active drivers to Hines. Darland captured the series' championship in 1999 and is a USAC Triple Crown (Sprints, Midgets, Silver Crown) champion.

Clauson, a 20-year-old from Noblesville, won last Sunday at Kokomo.

Pit gates open at 3 p.m., main gates at 4:30, hot laps begin at 5:30 and racing starts at 7 tonight in the first USAC national event at Lincoln Park since 2005. The race is named in honor of Marvel, killed from a crash at Lincoln Park in 1993.