By RICHIE MURRAY
KOKOMO, IN – Sprint Car racing is chock full of ups and downs. Sometimes you’re in victory lane and sometimes you end up on your head.
Tyler Courtney experienced both of these extremes Friday at Kokomo Speedway, recovering from a hard flip during qualifying before returning to action after several other teams pitched in to make repairs. With a lap 10 pass of Hunter Schuerenberg, Courtney persevered to win “Sprint Car Smackdown VI” Night 2 at the very track where it all began for the Indianapolis, Indiana driver affectionately known as “Sunshine.”
“My first USAC start was the first Smackdown,” Courtney reminisces. “To watch it come full circle is pretty cool. I know it’s not my first USAC win, but to get my first Kokomo sprint car win tonight is pretty dang special. This place is tough to tame and the guys who’ve won here are some of the best to ever do it. This one ranks right up there with a lot of the big ones I’ve had. Plus, if you would’ve told me I’d win four USAC races in one year, I would’ve said you’re crazy. I would’ve been happy just winning another one!”
Courtney’s ProSource Qualifying incident came a lap after nailing down second-quick time in his TOPP Motorsports/TOPP Performance Race Parts – Custom Pump & Controls/Maxim/Claxton. Track position is critical at every circuit on the schedule and each position gained through time trials is essential to making the task just a little easier with less cars to pass come feature time.
“I was really frustrated with qualifying 16th last night,” Courtney admitted. “I knew I had a pretty decent lap on the first one. You have to hang it out in qualifying to be up there in the top-six where you want to be. I just got in there too straight, biked ‘er up and set her down. That shot me right into the fence and it was over after that. It’s part of the deal. You just have to persevere through it. With help from half the pit area, we got it back together and almost transferred out of the heat race. Running the B-Main helped us tonight. My guys never give up on me and I never give up on them.”
Courtney’s fifth-place run in the heat put him one spot out of a transfer position, relegating him to the semi-feature and a second-place finish there. Courtney felt the car was a continuous “work in progress” throughout the night following the crash and that it was making a couple unfamiliar noises it wasn’t used to making. However, his qualifying efforts did procure him a spot inside the fourth-row for the feature where he quickly went to work.
Initially, it appeared as if the 30-lapper was going to be a carbon-copy of the night before when fourth-starting C.J. Leary ripped the cushion to the lead exiting turn two at the start. The rocket ship would quickly be grounded, though, when, on the second time around, Leary snagged the turn one curb before contacting the concrete and nosing over, ending the race for the previous night’s winner after only one lap.
The tumultuous start would continue one lap following the restart when two-time USAC Silver Crown champ seventh-place running Kody Swanson got sideways at the exit of turn four, then nailed the infield tire, sending him into a series of flips that he would walk away from unscathed.
Schuerenberg took a hold of the lead when racing resumed as a wild scramble for position ensued behind him between Justin Grant and Tyler Thomas. On lap eight, Thomas aimed for the race lead with a slider between turns one and two on Schuerenberg. Exiting the second turn, the two made contact, pitting Thomas sideways halfway down the back straightaway, yet was able to maintain control and hold onto the second position for the time being.
The little bit of contact was Courtney’s gain as he ate up ground on the bottom while running fourth and, a lap later, used a surge down the back straight to whip past both Grant, then Thomas in quick succession to get to second. On the tenth lap, Courtney continued to crawl the bottom to move past Schuerenberg for the race lead exiting turn four, holding the spot by a car-length at the line at the conclusion of the lap.
With ten to go, Schuerenberg found his second wind through the middle and began to pulley himself back to within range of Courtney. Schuerenberg showed a nose to the outside of Courtney off turn two and, as Courtney noticed the bottom beginning to fade, he slid up to the middle lane entering the first turn on the 24th lap just in the nick of time to shield his position and deter the Schuerenberg charge.
Following a yellow for the turned around car of Shane Cottle with six laps remaining, Courtney ventured to the top with Kevin Thomas, Jr., Brady Bacon, Tyler Thomas and Schuerenberg duking it out for the runner-up spot. T. Thomas rung it out on the topside on lap 26, crossing over from high to low off turn four, then splitting between Bacon and Thomas on the front straight entering turn one to take second. K. Thomas countered under T. Thomas through the middle as Bacon lay low to make it three-wide off two.
A half-lap later, T. Thomas swung wide off turn four, nearly making contact with the outside wall. K. Thomas then ramped his right rear over the left front of the sideways T. Thomas, stifling his trek to the front and sending him back to fourth. Bacon capitalized and ripped the second spot away from K. Thomas on the bottom in response and began to track down Courtney instantaneously.
On the final lap, Bacon clocked in with his fastest time of the race and got a nose underneath Courtney entering turn three. One more lap might have been all Bacon needed, but it was not to be as Courtney secured USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature win number four on the year ahead of Bacon, K. Thomas, T. Thomas and Schuerenberg.
In a 30-lap span, Courtney continuously searched for the right line at the right moment, venturing from the bottom to the middle to the high side throughout the event, then used a diamond maneuver during the final laps to keep all challengers at bay for his fifth career win in the series.
“My car was pretty good on the bottom in the B-Main,” Courtney recalls. “I was set up to run there most of the feature. The bottom went away and it got slick down there toward the end. Hunter showed me a nose with seven or eight to go, so I made the jump up. I knew I was going to have to make her wide and make it tough for those guys to get by me on the final restart. Doing this for a living, you got to know when to go where. Luckily, we made all the right moves tonight.”
Consecutive runner-up finishes have earned Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Brady Bacon the most points throughout the two nights of “Smackdown,” locking him into Saturday night’s $10,000 to win A-Main and a spot in B & W Auto Mart’s King of the Hill Qualifying along with K. Thomas, Schuerenberg, Kyle Cummins, Robert Ballou, Courtney, Leary and Scotty Weir.
Bacon’s run from 18th to 2nd on Friday night netted him KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award in his Dooling-Hayward/B & H Contractors – Dooling Machine/Spike/Stanton Mopar. Every lap counts when the competition is as tough as it is and, on Saturday night, Bacon will start no worse than eighth. That puts him in a better position on paper, but as the two-time series champ puts it, that isn’t necessarily a harbinger for success.
“On Thursday night, we thought we had a pretty good shot starting up front and we were just a little too tight,” Bacon remembers. Tonight, we started in the back and almost won. We were actually closer to winning tonight than we were last night even though we’ve run second both nights. I had only a lap or two where I could run the line I needed to run without someone beside me. We reeled Sunshine in pretty close at the end, but it’s only 30 laps, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Defending “Smackdown” winner Kevin Thomas, Jr. of Cullman, Alabama once again finished up front at Kokomo, wrapping up a third-place finish in his KT Motorsports/Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage – Abreu Vineyards/DRC/Speedway Chevy.
“I didn’t do very well at the start of the night,” Thomas admits. “I was pretty terrible in the heat race and we got way behind the eight-ball and had to run the B. Jeff Walker helped us figure a few things out and the car was a tick better. We’ve just been struggling with being tight. I knew we were going to have to run the top, but I just didn’t know if it was going to work. We set it up for that. With Sunshine running the bottom, there was a lane open around the top and I had to take it. Brady (Bacon) got by us there at the end, but second or third is the same to me. If it’s not a win, it really doesn’t matter.”
USAC contingency award winners Friday night at Kokomo included Tyler Thomas (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Shane Cottle (Simpson Race Products Heat 1 Winner), Tom Harris (Competition Suspension, Inc. Heat 2 Winner), Dave Darland (Chalk Stix Heat 3 Winner), Chase Stockon (Indy Race Parts Heat 4 Winner), Brady Bacon (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Josh Hodges (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 25, 2017 – Kokomo, Indiana – Kokomo Speedway – “Sprint Car Smackdown VI”
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Tyler Thomas, 17GP, Dutcher-12.754; 2. Tyler Courtney, 23c, TOPP-12.891; 3. Kody Swanson, 2E, Epperson-13.088; 4. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-13.100; 5. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-13.123; 6. Justin Grant, 11, McGhee-13.129; 7. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 9K, KT-13.187; 8. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-13.194; 9. Tyler Hewitt, 97x, One More Time-13.197; 10. Scotty Weir, 17G, On The Gass-13.229; 11. Hunter Schuerenberg, 19, Reinbold/Underwood-13.242; 12. Chad Boespflug, 69, Dynamics-13.258; 13. Aaron Farney, 15F, Farney-13.266; 14. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-13.280; 15. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-13.282; 16. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-13.300; 17. Shane Cottle, 57, Hazen-13.324; 18. Tom Harris, 5E, Harris-13.345; 19. Dave Darland, 40, Hery-13.361; 20. Brady Bacon, 63, Dooling/Hayward-13.364; 21. Kyle Robbins, 17R, Robbins-13.379; 22. Brady Short, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-13.407; 23. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-13.426; 24. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-13.445; 25. Cole Ketcham, 41, Ketcham-13.550; 26. Mario Clouser, 6, MCM-13.572; 27. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-13.610; 28. Colten Cottle, 1RL, Lambertson-13.732; 29. Brian Karraker, 23, Karraker-13.804; 30. Josh Spencer, 66J, Spencer-13.819; 31. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-13.940; 32. Jamie Frederickson, 58, Frederickson-13.956; 33. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-14.027; 34. Chet Williams, 38, Williams-14.100; 35. Travis Hery, 21H, Hery-14.282; 36. Parker Frederickson, 34, Frederickson-14.548; 37. Logan Jarrett, 29, Jarrett-14.703; 38. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-15.816.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps) 1. S. Cottle, 2. T. Thomas, 3. Leary, 4. Hewitt, 5. Robbins, 6. Farney, 7. Karraker, 8. Mattox, 9. Jarrett, 10. Ketcham. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Harris, 2. Cummins, 3. Short, 4. Grant, 5. Courtney, 6. Weir, 7. Clouser, 8. Spencer, 9. Williams, 10. Bell. 2:15.94
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Darland, 2. Windom, 3. Schuerenberg, 4. Chapple, 5. Hodges, 6. Swanson, 7. K. Thomas, 8. Goodnight, 9. Hery. 2:14.52
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Stockon, 2. Bacon, 3. Ballou, 4. Andretti, 5. Boespflug, 6. DiMattia, 7. C. Cottle, 8. P. Frederickson, 9. J. Frederickson. 2:16.32
C-MAIN: (10 laps) 1. Goodnight, 2. Hery, 3. Jarrett, 4. Mattox, 5. J. Frederickson, 6. Williams, 7. P. Frederickson, 8. Bell. NT
SEMI: (12 laps) 1. K. Thomas, 2. Courtney, 3. Swanson, 4. Farney, 5. Weir, 6. Hodges, 7. Karraker, 8. DiMattia, 9. C. Cottle, 10. Boespflug, 11. Hery, 12. Goodnight, 13. Jarrett, 14. Mattox, 15. Spencer, 16. Ketcham, 17. Robbins, 18. Clouser. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Tyler Courtney, 2. Brady Bacon, 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 4. Tyler Thomas, 5. Hunter Schuerenberg, 6. Robert Ballou, 7. Kyle Cummins, 8. Justin Grant, 9. Scotty Weir, 10. Chris Windom, 11. Jarett Andretti, 12. Brady Short, 13. Josh Hodges, 14. Dave Darland, 15. Chase Stockon, 16. Chad Boespflug, 17. Aaron Farney, 18. Shane Cottle, 19. Tom Harris, 20. Isaac Chapple, 21. Tyler Hewitt, 22. Kody Swanson, 23. C.J. Leary. NT
**Courtney flipped during qualifying. Bell flipped during the C-Main. Leary flipped on lap 2 of the feature. Swanson flipped on lap 2 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Leary, Laps 2-9 Schuerenberg, Laps 10-30 Courtney.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Brady Bacon (18th to 2nd)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Josh Hodges
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1-Grant-1607, 2-Windom-1542, 3-K. Thomas-1459, 4-Boespflug-1432. 5-Courtney-1423; 6-Stockon-1376; 7-Leary-1236, 8-Bacon-1220, 9-Ballou-1102, 10-Andretti-1053.
NEW “SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN VI” STANDINGS: 1-Bacon-311, 2-K. Thomas-308, 3-Schuerenberg-305, 4-Cummins-298, 5-Ballou-291, 6-Courtney-287, 7-Leary-281, 8-Weir-277, 9-Andretti-277, 10-Windom-276.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: August 26 – Kokomo, Indiana – Kokomo Speedway – “Sprint Car Smackdown VI”