By Richie Murray – USAC Media
KOKOMO, IN.-Justin Grant made it copiously clear that we’re in the midst of the JG era at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway.
During Thursday night’s Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Cars Sprint Car Smackdown XI opener, the Ione, Calif. native prevailed over a rapidly closing, and 22nd place restarting, Kyle Cummins to win his fifth USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature start in his past six starts at Kokomo’s quarter-mile dirt oval.
Five wins in a six-race span equals the all-time high water mark for USAC Sprint Car success at Kokomo. The venue’s winningest driver, Dave Darland, also captured five during a six-race timeframe in 2013-14.
Part of that run for Darland included consecutive Smackdown championships, an encore performance of which Grant is vying to recreate at the conclusion of this weekend.
Meanwhile, Rochester, Ind. based TOPP Motorsports extended its record as the winningest team in Smackdown history with its sixth victory in totality – two with Tyler Courtney and now four with Grant.
Furthermore, Grant moved into sole possession of 15th on the all-time USAC National Sprint Car driver win list with his 33rd career triumph, elevating him ahead of 1973 series titlist Rollie Beale.
Despite leading all 30 laps, Grant still feels there’s plenty left in the tank and much more to be found in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy over the next two nights.
“Unfortunately, I feel like we’ve got a bit of work to do,” Grant admitted. “We held on, and we won, but the big (track) rework helped us. It was pretty wide open through the middle, and we were maybe a little tight, not thinking it was going to hang around as long as it did.”
Yet, Grant’s prevailing moment came in a narrow victory over the evening’s most undeterred driver, Cummins, who experienced early success only to have been snake bitten by the toughest of tribulations just prior to the green flag for the start of the feature.
During the pace laps, Cummins right rear tire went flat, forcing him to dip into the Indy Metal Finishing Work Area for fresh rubber before returning to an entirely new outlook – one that required him to start at the tail of the field after originally being slated to start sixth.
Up front, Grant maintained control of the proceedings throughout the first half of the contest, maintaining a three to four car length edge over second-running Robert Ballou before disposing the tail end of the lead lap cars to up the ante to the tune of 1.3 seconds.
By that time, Cummins had already barged into the top-ten by lap 12 and had slotted into the seventh position when the yellow flag was displayed on the 16th lap for fourth running Brady Bacon who slowed to a crawl between turns three and four with a flat right rear tire. He’d ultimately return with a new right rear but managed just an 11th at the checkered.
Now without the threat of traffic looming ahead in the near future, Grant stepped out to a comfortable advantage as he remained undaunted at the head of the class.
At the same time, Cummins’ real nice story quickly turned into him becoming a real potential threat on the lap 16 restart when he picked off Jadon Rogers for sixth in turn one, Emerson Axsom for fifth in turn three, then Anton Hernandez for fourth the next time around in turns one and two. With 11 laps remaining Cummins slid under Jason McDougal for third on the bottom of turn three, and only had the top two left to track down.
With only a single caution to aid him in his pursuit at the midway point, Cummins kept his hands firmly on the shovel as he dug a path right to the bumper of Ballou in turn one with three to go while Ballou simultaneously closed the gap between himself and Grant to less than a car length.
Cummins sped around the outside of Ballou in turn four with a mighty stride to nip him at the stripe for second coming to the white flag. With a half-second of ground to make up, Cummins nearly tracked him down in the final lap.
Nonetheless, all the work Grant had put into his craftwork following the mid-race restart gave him enough of an edge to withstand Cummins’ Hail Mary on the 30th and final circuit. Ultimately, Grant edged Cummins by a 0.266 second margin for his fifth series victory of the year and the sixth of his career at Kokomo, equaling him with Tyler Courtney for third all-time on the track’s USAC Sprint Car win list behind Darland’s nine and Tony Elliott’s eight.
Grant felt the heat from the flamethrowers Cummins was heaving at the finish, and while fully enthused about the win and partially dissatisfied with the overall performance, Grant feels an obligation to find more within in order to remain at the forefront of the competition throughout the balance of the weekend.
“Ol’ Cummins is getting around this place really good anymore; he went to the tail there and darn near got back to us,” Grant exclaimed. “We’ve still got some work to do, but we’ll get it figured out. We’ve got a lot of data and a lot of notes from this place. We’ll be all right come Saturday.”
What more can you say about Kyle Cummins? After suffering a flat right rear tire before the start of the feature, Cummins restarted 22nd and carved through to the finish a close second in his Rock Steady Racing/Ultimate Predator Boats – Mid-America Safety Solutions/Mach-1/Cummins Chevy. In the process, the Princeton, Ind. native collected the GSP North America Quality Driving Performance of the Night Award after setting Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifying Time, winning his heat race and, in the feature, came home one spot shy of becoming the first driver to “sweep” the night with the series since Tyler Courtney at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway three years earlier in 2019.
“Sitting back there, I was thinking, ‘this kind of sucks,’ but it might put a show on for the fans because I knew we had a really good car,” Cummins related. “It actually helped out switching the tire because we probably would’ve been too tight starting in the back. I wish we could’ve had a couple more laps. That would’ve been pretty cool going out and winning from the tail, but it shows we’ve got a pretty good car and we want this one badly.”
Robert Ballou’s Smackdown return was magnificent as he finished in the third position aboard his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Dragonfly Aviation – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy. He returned to the Smackdown podium for the first time since 2020 after an opening night accident sidelined him for the rest of the weekend a year ago during Smackdown’s opening night.
“My racecar was too tight,” Ballou revealed. “I didn’t expect it to stay really wet for that long. I couldn’t maneuver and do what I wanted to do. We’ll look at some video tonight and try to get a better grasp on it. I’m a pain in the butt as far as what I want to feel, but I just didn’t have what I wanted tonight. We’re just going to have to sharpen our pencils a little bit and go back to the drawing board. Hopefully, we’ll get a little bit better for these guys.”
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 25, 2022 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Sprint Car Smackdown XI Presented by Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-12.617; 2. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-12.648; 3. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-12.649; 4. Jason McDougal, 5m, KO-12.652; 5. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-12.666; 6. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-12.712; 7. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-12.718; 8. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-12.731; 9. Dave Darland, 36D, Darland/Curb-Agajanian-12.747; 10. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-12.757; 11. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-12.758; 12. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-12.770; 13. Kevin Thomas Jr., 15K, BGE Dougherty-12.794; 14. Thomas Meseraull, 2E, Epperson-12.816; 15. Tim Creech, 2c, Creech-12.896; 16. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-12.916; 17. Mario Clouser, 6, EZR-12.927; 18. Anton Hernandez, 2B, 2B Racing-12.951; 19. Jadon Rogers, 14, Engler-12.967; 20. Cole Bodine, 57B, DCT/Crow/Bodine-12.987; 21. Tom Harris, 84, Harris-13.018; 22. Max Adams, 17GP, Dutcher-13.052; 23. Jack Hoyer, 11, Hoyer-13.079; 24. Scotty Weir, 4p, Pedersen-13.153; 25. Riley Kreisel, 2, Yeley/Petty-13.158; 26. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-13.159; 27. Parker Frederickson, 34F, Frederickson-13.217; 28. Tyler Hewitt, 57, Hazen-13.253; 29. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-13.272; 30. Corey Smith, 66s, CS-13.332; 31. Dustin Clark, 75, Clark-13.369; 32. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-13.382; 33. Tayte Williamson, 20T, Williamson-13.410; 34. Dalton Stevens, 99x, Stevens-13.424; 35. Larry Kingseed Jr., 59, Powell-13.451; 36. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-13.472; 37. Alex Bright, 20, Hummer-13.535; 38. Korbyn Hayslett, 1H, Hayslett-13.622; 39. Cooper Welch, 2w, Welch-13.849; 40. Jack James, 99, James-13.915; 41. Paul White, 1, White-NT (Time of 13.535 disallowed to an illegal right rear tire).
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Cummins, 2. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3. Brady Bacon, 4. Mario Clouser, 5. Tom Harris, 6. Dave Darland, 7. Sterling Cling, 8. Alex Bright, 9. Riley Kreisel, 10. Tayte Williamson, 11. Paul White. 2:10.08
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Anton Hernandez, 2. Max Adams, 3. Thomas Meseraull, 4. Robert Ballou, 5. Chase Stockon, 6. Emerson Axsom, 7. Brandon Mattox, 8. Corey Smith, 9. Korbyn Hayslett. 2:10.96
PIT STOP USA THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Jadon Rogers, 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Mitchel Moles, 4. Justin Grant, 5. Jack Hoyer, 6. Parker Frederickson, 7. Tim Creech, 8. Dustin Clark, 9. Larry Kingseed Jr., 10. Cooper Welch. 2:10.88
ROD END SUPPLY FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. C.J. Leary, 2. Cole Bodine, 3. Jake Swanson, 4. Jason McDougal, 5. Scotty Weir, 6. Matt Westfall, 7. Carson Garrett, 8. Alex Banales, 9. Tyler Hewitt, 10. Jack James. 2:11.97
C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi-feature) 1. Carson Garrett, 2. Dustin Clark, 3. Tayte Williamson, 4. Alex Bright, 5. Larry Kingseed Jr., 6. Korbyn Hayslett, 7. Jack James, 8. Paul White, 9. Cooper Welch, 10. Alex Banales, 11. Dalton Stevens. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Emerson Axsom, 2. Chase Stockon, 3. Dave Darland, 4. Matt Westfall, 5. Scotty Weir, 6. Alex Bright, 7. Brandon Mattox, 8. Jack Hoyer, 9. Carson Garrett, 10. Parker Frederickson, 11. Tom Harris, 12. Sterling Cling, 13. Corey Smith, 14. Dustin Clark, 15. Tim Creech, 16. Tayte Williamson, 17. Riley Kreisel. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (2), 2. Kyle Cummins (6), 3. Robert Ballou (1), 4. Jason McDougal (4), 5. Emerson Axsom (10), 6. Jadon Rogers (9), 7. C.J. Leary (7), 8. Thomas Meseraull (16), 9. Chase Stockon (11), 10. Mitchel Moles (5), 11. Brady Bacon (3), 12. Jake Swanson (17), 13. Anton Hernandez (8), 14. Scotty Weir (21), 15. Mario Clouser (18), 16. Max Adams (20), 17. Logan Seavey (14), 18. Matt Westfall (12), 19. Dave Darland (13), 20. Cole Bodine (19), 21. Alex Bright (22), 22. Kevin Thomas Jr. (15), 23. Brandon Mattox (23-P). NT
(P) represents a provisional starter.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Justin Grant.
**Dalton Stevens flipped during qualifying. Alex Banales flipped during the C-Main.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-1784, 2-Brady Bacon-1647, 3-Robert Ballou-1615, 4-C.J. Leary-1602, 5-Emerson Axsom-1540, 6-Logan Seavey-1485, 7-Chase Stockon-1338, 8-Matt Westfall-1227, 9-Jadon Rogers-1190, 10-Jake Swanson-1065.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-117, 2-Thomas Meseraull-108, 3-Brady Bacon-98, 4-Buddy Kofoid-85, 5-Robert Ballou-75, 6-Logan Seavey-75, 7-Kaylee Bryson-71, 8-Emerson Axsom-70, 9-C.J. Leary-68, 10-Shane Cottle-67.
SMACKDOWN PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Thomas Meseraull-8, 2-Scotty Weir-7, 3-Emerson Axsom-5, 4-Jake Swanson-5, 5-Kyle Cummins-4, 6-Max Adams-4, 7-Jadon Rogers-3, 8-Mario Clouser-3, 9-Chase Stockon-2, 10-Justin Grant-1.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: August 26-27, 2022 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Sprint Car Smackdown XI Presented by Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Clinton Boyles/Carbon Safety Technologies Most Wheel Pack Laps: Chase Stockon (19)
Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: Mitchel Moles (12.590)
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Kyle Cummins (12.617)
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Kyle Cummins
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Anton Hernandez
Pit Stop USA Third Heat Winner: Jadon Rogers
Rod End Supply Fourth Heat: C.J. Leary
GSP Quality Driving Performance: Kyle Cummins
Country Josh Conder C-Main Winner: Carson Garrett
Hoosier Tire C-Main First Non-Transfer: Larry Kingseed Jr.
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Emerson Axsom
Hoosier Tire Semi-Feature First Non-Transfer: Brandon Mattox
ProSource Hard Work Award: Alex Bright
Feature Hard Charger: Thomas Meseraull (16th to 8th)