By RICHIE MURRAY
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Al Unser and Kody Swanson. Of course, Al Unser’s place in the history of the sport has long ago been cemented. Kody Swanson’s legacy continues to grow with each race, each year.
Following Thursday night’s 63rd running of the “Hoosier Hundred,” those two names will forever be linked as drivers who’ve mastered the 100-mile event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in four consecutive attempts. Unser got the job done in 1970-71-72-73 and now Swanson in 2014-15-16-18 (2017 was rained out).
It’s a feat that the Kingsburg, California driver admits he’s unsure will ever sink in. But this had a slightly different feel for the three-time Silver Crown champion. Rather than settling in and then pouncing to the lead about two-thirds of the way in as he had during his first three wins, Swanson became the rabbit early on after starting from the pole position, setting the pace.
“Sometimes coming from fourth or sixth is ideal here,” Swanson explained. “Winning the pole is important and getting those three bonus points is important. Two years ago, it proved that every point counts. I’ve won the pole before and still rode in third or fourth for a while. Tonight, the racetrack was different. I know the other three all came about the same way, but believe it or not, it wasn’t just by design. You try to run each race independently, try to manage your tires, your situation, your brakes and they happened to work out the same as those ones. I’d say it’s coincidence as much as anything.”
“Obviously, the later it gets, the more time becomes of the essence,” Swanson continued. “The way the racetrack was, I didn’t feel like I wanted to be fourth or sixth because there are a lot of good cars and maybe you don’t have as many passing opportunities to get them back. I was okay with leading early, for a little while, but the harder they wanted to press, the less I was okay with it. I didn’t want to get off my game because of what was going on behind me.”
At the start, Swanson set the tone, but two-time Du Quoin “Ted Horn 100” winner Shane Cockrum was an early challenger, peeking the nose of his No. 71 high and low on both ends of the racetrack on lap 12 before falling into line. There wasn’t much time for riding around, though, and eight laps later, two-time USAC National Sprint Car champ Brian Tyler stormed to second past Cockrum and quickly closed in on leader Swanson.
A yellow on lap 21 slowed the pace for a moment, but not Tyler’s. Tyler checked high, he checked low and, on lap 29, got a run on Swanson down the front straightaway that propelled him into the lead on lap 29. Tyler quickly put a large gap between he and Swanson which grew to four-plus seconds by lap 40 when the yellow flag flew following series Rookie Kyle Robbins’ turn three wall contact.
Sometimes plans change mid-stream and, when constant pressure was being applied to from Tyler, Swanson admitted that the game plan changed.
“It’s hard,” Swanson admits. “I’m trying to win the Depalmas a fifth-straight title, which has never been done. If I had let somebody outthink me, and I blow a tire and give it away, then that’s on me. I got to a spot where I couldn’t do it anymore. He got a big run and that seemed like the right time to change strategy a little bit and I tried to save as much as I could. If I’m going to be behind, I might as well save everything I can.”
“The racetrack was different and what it was going to require was different,” Swanson continued. “I hated leading early. I mean, I just hated it. Cockrum was good and (Shane) Cottle was good. I knew Tyler would be good too. If Tyler qualifies in the top-18, he’s going to be good. I know that from being his teammate. He was pushing hard, and I wasn’t going to hold him off for 70 (laps) in a row. He wanted to go faster than I felt I could go at the time.”
Following the lap 44 restart, Tyler reestablished a stranglehold at the front, but in racing, things can change in a hurry. On the 56th lap, Tyler made contact with a piece of brake rotor that came off Chris Windom’s car, sending Tyler hard into the outside wall and ending dreams of a first “Hoosier Hundred” victory for the veteran driver.
During that 12-lap stint following the restart, Swanson was fully-entrenched in his game plan, hanging a little bit closer to Tyler than before the yellow.
“We caught a caution there and I felt like I tried to stay with him a little bit and felt like I could,” Swanson said. “It wasn’t as easy to run him down as I was hoping. I felt like we could stay with him, and maybe the longer it went, the more things would come to us. You watch their cars and I could tell he was very good through the corner and good off the corner. I felt like we were running awful hard and I absolutely hated to see that happen to him. Brian’s been a teammate, he’s a friend of mine and I know he’s been after a “Hoosier Hundred” win for a long time. I can’t say that I would’ve gotten him, but I was going to give it everything I had at the end, but so would he, and he’s very good.”
When racing resumed, the show came down to a two-horse race between Swanson and Cockrum. Swanson established his dominance by never wavering from 10-15 car-length lead as the two orchestrated a cat-and-mouse chase through lapped traffic. However, each time Cockrum seemed to move his chess piece past one obstacle, Swanson picked one off himself and never gave Cockrum an opportunity to shave off any of the interval.
A lap 88 yellow for a turn three crash involving Jerry Coons, Jr. erased the gap, albeit momentarily. Swanson never allowed Cockrum to get close enough to challenge, finishing out an incredible run of success on the Indy Mile, winning by 2.7 seconds over Cockrum, Tyler Courtney, Cottle and a career-best finish for birthday boy Johnny Petrozelle.
The win was the 21st of Swanson’s Silver Crown career, moving him to within two of Jack Hewitt’s record 23 victories.
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE RESULTS: May 24, 2018 – Indianapolis, Indiana – Indiana State Fairgrounds – 63rd “Hoosier Hundred”
QUALIFYING: 1. Kody Swanson, 63, DePalma-33.522; 2. Shane Cottle, 81, Williams-33.722; 3. Shane Cockrum, 71, Hardy Boys-33.921; 4. Chris Windom, 17, Nolen-34.496; 5. Brian Tyler, 12, Galas-34.626; 6. Tyler Courtney, 97, Lein-34.749; 7. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-34.808; 8. Chris Dyson, 9, Dyson-34.843; 9. Jerry Coons Jr., 20, Nolen-34.946; 10. A.J. Fike, 711, Hardy-Boys-35.049; 11. Joe Liguori, 4, Liguori-35.053; 12. Jeff Swindell, 21, Swanson-35.089; 13. Kyle Robbins, 7, KR Racing-35.136; 14. Coleman Gulick, 114, Team Scorpion-35.251; 15. Kevin Thomas Jr., 56, Foxco-35.307; 16. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-35.370; 17. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-35.400; 18. Johnny Petrozelle, 8, Cornell/Petrozelle-35.484; 19. Mike Haggenbottom, 124, Haggenbottom-35.563; 20. Russ Gamester, 51, Gamester-35.651; 21. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-35.723; 22. J.C. Bland, 5, BBE-35.730; 23. Jacob Wilson, 07, WBR-35.745; 24. Austin Mundie, 47, Butler-35.818; 25. Brady Bacon, 6, Klatt-35.985; 26. Neil Shepherd, 04, Shepherd-36.021; 27. Dave Darland, 75, Rose-36.244; 28. Casey Shuman, 55, Bateman-36,297; 29. Patrick Lawson, 2, Lawson-36.306; 30. Steve Buckwalter, 53, Five-Three-36.415; 31. Bill Rose, 66, Rose-36.556; 32. Korey Weyant, 99, Weyant-36.722; 33. Daniel Robinson, 43, Felker/Nix-37.476; 34. Ken Schrader, 14, McQuinn-37.525; 35. Austin Nemire, 16, Nemire/Lesko-38.843; 36. Travis Welpott, 18, Welpott-39.734; 37. Dave Berkheimer, 31, Berkheimer-41.079; 38. Aaron Pierce, 26, Pierce-NT.
QUALIFYING RACE: (12 laps, top-6 transfer) 1. Shepherd, 2. Shuman, 3. Bacon, 4. Darland, 5. Buckwalter, 6. Weyant, 7. Lawson, 8. Rose, 9. Robinson, 10. Welpott, 11. Schrader, 12. Nemire, 13. Berkheimer.
FEATURE: (100 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kody Swanson (1), 2. Shane Cockrum (3), 3. Tyler Courtney (6), 4. Shane Cottle (2), 5. Johnny Petrozelle (18), 6. Jacob Wilson (21), 7. Joe Liguori (11), 8. David Byrne (15), 9. Dave Darland (28), 10. Austin Mundie (24), 11. Austin Nemire (29), 12. Matt Goodnight (19), 13. Chris Windom (4), 14. Mike Haggenbottom (17), 15. Casey Shuman (26), 16. Chris Dyson (8), 17. Korey Weyant (30), 18. Jerry Coons Jr. (9), 19. Brady Bacon (25), 20. Steve Buckwalter (27), 21. Justin Grant (16), 22. Travis Welpott (32), 23. Brian Tyler (5), 24. C.J. Leary (7), 25. Kyle Robbins (31), 26. Kevin Thomas Jr. (13), 27. J.C. Bland (22), 28. Russ Gamester (20), 29. Jeff Swindell (12), 30. Neil Shepherd (23), 31. Coleman Gulick (14), 32. A.J. Fike (10).
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-28 Swanson, Laps 29-55 Tyler, Laps 56-100 Swanson.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER AWARD: Dave Darland (28th to 9th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Chris Windom
NEW USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Swanson-286, 2-Grant-205, 3-Byrne-188, 4-Windom-180, 5-Nemire-168, 6-Goodnight-155, 7-Welpott-147, 8-Coons-145, 9-Pierce-138, 10-Bobby Santos-137.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR RACE May 25 – Brownsburg, IN – Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis – “Dave Steele Carb Night Classic”