By RICHIE MURRAY
TERRE HAUTE, IN – Speed has never been an issue for Justin Grant when it comes to USAC Silver Crown racing at the Terre Haute Action Track.
Two years ago, the Ione, California driver set quick time and was dominant for the first 93 laps of the 100-lap event. But, it was just a slight mishap with seven laps remaining that cost him a shot at victory.
Fast forward to 2018 and a couple more years of experience under the belt, on a similar track surface he faced back then, Grant was determined to not let the past repeat itself on his way to Sunday night’s “Sumar Classic” victory.
“You have to keep your eye on the rubber or have your spotter keeping an eye on the rubber for you,” Grant detailed. “A couple years ago here, I was just concentrating on what I was doing, banging the fence and running as hard as I could. As I’ve gotten more comfortable in the Crown cars, I worry as much, or more, about what other guys are doing behind me and make sure to get to the rubber before somebody drives by.”
At the drop of the green, Jerry Coons, Jr. was the dominant figure, climbing to the top spot from his outside front row starting position to lead the first 10 circuits before 2016 “Sumar” winner C.J. Leary went topside to ride by the USAC Triple Crown champ on the lap 11 restart.
Leary rode into the western Indiana sunset with the advantage until lap 36 when Grant caught Leary in lapped traffic and outlasted him down the back straightaway in a side-by-side battle similar to the duels at the adjacent Action Dragway before sliding back up to the berm where he would stand pat until nearly three-quarters of the event were in the books.
On lap 70, Shane Cottle dueled with Grant as the two swapped the top spot four times over the span of a lap and a half. Cottle was credited with leading the lap before each exchanged their race-leading surge. Grant made the ultimate, lasting move, ducking down to the inside of Cottle off turn two to recapture the lead.
“(Shane) and I were both running hard,” Grant recalled. “He was on a harder compound tire than I was, so he could abuse his car a bit more. I was trying to keep my track position, but not burn my tire up doing it. Right before he slid past me and got into Kody, the team made the call that we needed to let him go because we weren’t going to make it to the end racing like that.”
By lap 77, Swanson, the 2014 “Sumar” winner who was relegated to the 18th starting position following an engine change prior to qualifying, was in position to pounce for the lead, ringing around the outside of both Cottle and Grant in a single move between turns three and four.
On the 84th lap, the now third-running Cottle took a chance on a two-for-one deal entering the third turn. In one fell swoop, Cottle breezed by Grant on the inside, then pulled along the inside of Swanson on the inner guardrail. The two touched wheels, sending both into 360-degree spin-cycles. Cottle’s race came to an end backwards near the outside wall while Swanson managed to continue, albeit with a flat left rear tire, forcing him to make a pit stop for new rubber and restart from the tail of the field.
Once racing resumed, Grant set off toward a comfortable margin with a lead of nearly three seconds while Swanson mounted a valiant charge to the front, threading the needle to slip past Tyler Courtney with seven laps to go for third in turn three, then motoring past Leary with an outside pass a lap later. With Swanson’s charge, the message was sent forth to Grant that this was no time to dawdle, this was ‘go time.’
“My spotter, Chris (Wheeler), let me know that Swanson was back to P2 and that, whatever we had left, we needed to use it now,” Grant exclaimed. “We saved everything as best we could up to that point. When he gave me the call, that’s when we went.”
It’s a chess game trying to save, yet be fast throughout a 100-lap race on the dirt that, on this day, included variables such as the sun setting early on in the race and the ever-changing track conditions throughout the event.
“On a rubber down racetrack, you’re slowing yourself down to not kill the tires,” Grant continued. “If you wear a tire out, you won’t make it to the end. You’re trying to go as fast as you can without using the tire up. You have to get yourself to the end, then you can go as fast as you can. You hope you have enough tire left to run the last ten (laps) hard and not have a whole lot of concern with it.”
The interval between Grant and Swanson was rapidly closing in the final laps as lapped traffic loomed. It’s one thing to navigate your way through gridlock with ease and another to catch them at exactly the right spot without interruption to your rhythm, which Grant executed with the precision of an X-Acto knife as he encountered the lapped cars of Neil Shepherd and Mike Haggenbottom in turn one.
“You have to catch them right,” Grant said point blank. “You don’t want to waste any time and you can’t let them break your momentum because somebody like Kody behind you will capitalize. You try to get through them as fast as you can and not let them break your stride and hope the guys behind you get caught up a little bit with them.”
“I figured if I got caught behind them in (turns) one and two, I was going to be pretty well toast or, at least, allow Kody a good shot at it,” Grant admitted. “I knew I needed to get by them there. I wasn’t real sure where they were going to go, though. I thought about splitting them and staying in the rubber, but the inside car kind of moved up a little bit. Fortunately, I had enough of a run to where I was able to get down in the dust and get by them.”
Grant flawlessly finished out the final lap to take his second career Silver Crown win by 1.33 seconds over KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Kody Swanson and pole sitter Tyler Courtney, who charged all the way from 22nd after an early race spin. Chris Windom was fourth after jumping into Bill Rose’s car following mechanical trouble in his regular Gene Nolen Racing ride while Leary rounded out the top-five.
Grant continued the streak of a new “Sumar Classic” winner each year since 1999 with the victory and assumes the series point lead, holding the tiebreaker over Swanson heading into Friday’s Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness “Rollie Beale Classic.”
Contingency award winners Sunday night at the Terre Haute Action Track included Kody Swanson (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Kyle Robbins (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Chris Windom (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier).
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE RESULTS: April 29, 2018 – Terre Haute, Indiana – Terre Haute Action Track – “Sumar Classic”
QUALIFYING: 1. Tyler Courtney, 97, Lein-22.990; 2. Jerry Coons Jr., 20, Nolen-23.004; 3. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-23.068; 4. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-23.359; 5. Brady Bacon, 6, Klatt-23.521; 6. Aaron Pierce, 26, Pierce-23.583; 7. Shane Cockrum, 71, Hardy-23.764; 8. Shane Cottle, 81, Williams-23.825; 9. Coleman Gulick, 114, Scorpion-23.844; 10. Jacob Wilson, 07, WBR-24.026; 11. Casey Shuman, 55, Bateman-24.167; 12. Johnny Petrozelle, 8, Cornell/Petrozelle-24.219; 13. Chris Windom, 17, Nolen-24.289; 14. Travis Welpott, 18, Welpott/Gorman-24.420; 15. Austin Mundie, 47, Butler-24.443; 16. Joss Moffatt, 32, Williams & Wright-24.516; 17. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-24.555; 18. Neil Shepherd, 04, Shepherd-24.611; 19. Kyle Robbins, 7, KR-24.919; 20. Joe Liguori, 4, Liguori-25.085; 21. Steve Buckwalter, 53, SET-25.192; 22. Austin Nemire, 16, Nemire/Lesko-25.384; 23. Mike Haggenbottom, 124, Haggenbottom-25.451; 24. Korey Weyant, 99, Weyant-25.460; 25. Chris Fetter, 89, Fetter-25.487; 26. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-25.597; 27. Chris Dyson, 9, Dyson-25.789; 28. Kody Swanson, 63, DePalma-NT; 29. Bill Rose, 66, Rose-NT.
QUALIFYING RACE: (15 laps, top-8 transfer) 1. David Byrne, 2. Kody Swanson, 3. Kyle Robbins, 4. Steve Buckwalter, 5. Joe Liguori, 6. Matt Goodnight,7. Neil Shepherd, 8. Mike Haggenbottom, 9. Austin Nemire, 10. Chris Dyson, 11. Korey Weyant, 12. Chris Fetter. NT
FEATURE: (100 laps – starting position in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (3), 2. Kody Swanson (18), 3. Tyler Courtney (1), 4. Chris Windom (13), 5. C.J. Leary (4), 6. Shane Cockrum (7), 7. Jerry Coons Jr. (2), 8. Joe Liguori (21), 9. Johnny Petrozelle (12), 10. Neil Shepherd (23), 11. Mike Haggenbottom (24), 12. Austin Nemire (25), 13. Kyle Robbins (19), 14. Shane Cottle (8), 15. Jacob Wilson (10), 16. Casey Shuman (11), 17. Steve Buckwalter (20), 18. Aaron Pierce (6), 19. Travis Welpott (14), 20. David Byrne (17), 21. Joss Moffatt (16), 22. Matt Goodnight (22), 23. Coleman Gulick (9), 24. Austin Mundie (15), 25. Brady Bacon (5). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-10 Coons, Laps 11-35 Leary, Laps 36-69 Grant, Lap 70 Cottle, Laps 71-76 Grant, Laps 77-83 Swanson, Laps 84-100 Grant.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER AWARD: Kody Swanson (18th to 2nd).
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Kyle Robbins
NEW USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES POINTS: 1-Grant-137, 2-Swanson-137, 3-Windom-110, 4-Coons-81, 5-Welpott-80, 6-Byrne-75, 7-Nemire-72, 8-Bobby Santos, 9-Pierce-70, 10-Goodnight-67.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE: May 4 – Toledo, Ohio – Toledo Speedway – “Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness Rollie Beale Classic”