By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
GAS CITY, IN – James Dean was a rebel, one not exactly keen on following the rules. At least that’s how the 1950s movie star’s iconic roles were portrayed on the silver screen.
Friday night at Gas City I-69 Speedway’s “James Dean Classic,” Kevin Thomas, Jr. showed his rebellious side, not being content to follow in second. Instead, he strayed from the path and created his own way to glory for his sixth USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature victory of the year, moving himself into the top-20 all-time in series wins with 23, equaling legends A.J. Foyt and Roger McCluskey.
Thomas ran second behind Isaac Chapple in his Dynamics, Inc./Mean Green – Jonathan Byrd/DRC/Speedway Chevy for the first 25 circuits of the 30-lap feature, but steadily worked the top line until it became his red carpet, then drove around Chapple for the lead with five laps remaining to capture his second career USAC win at the quarter-mile dirt oval and first since 2013.
“Being in the second spot makes you move around, even if you don’t want to, and even if the bottom is the preferred line or the top, whatever it may be,” Thomas explained. “You have to move around and search, maybe use a slower line, but make it faster. We searched and searched and searched, tried two, three, four different times, different lines, different corners. It’s not that we even found the faster line. I think he just slipped up a little bit there in turns three and four and that let us get by. We were just on the right part of the racetrack at the right time.”
Thomas started fourth, yet managed to get up to the front in quick fashion as he and outside front row starter Chapple split around pole sitter Jason McDougal heading into turn one to occupy the top-two spots with Chapple up front and Thomas trailing just behind.
The two would be Elmer’s-glued to each other for the first two-thirds of the event as Chapple worked the middle-to-low line and Thomas danced around, top and bottom, in search of his own groove that would carry him to the front.
By the 19th lap, Thomas’ began to enjoy the fruits of his labor, finally finding consistent bite up top, relentlessly carving out the top groove to close within striking distance of Chapple while heavy lapped traffic loomed. However, the traffic game would be scrapped from the table when Dallas Hewitt spun to a stop off the banking between turns three and four, forcing Thomas to reset his gameplan on the fly.
“We were closing in on traffic pretty fast,” Thomas recalled. “You’re sizing him up when you’re in clean air. When you see lapped traffic, you start thinking other things. Is this line blocked whenever I get there or am I going to have to follow him? You know around about how many laps you have left, at least within two or so. I knew we were closing in on halfway and I started seeing lapped traffic. I didn’t want to get stuck and then have to ride around on the bottom and not be able to maneuver. Then the caution came out and then you have to reset. You have to do what you’ve been doing to get past him. On restarts, we weren’t that good because the top didn’t have the momentum right off the bat, so it took me a minute to get to him. If I follow him and he makes a mistake, then we both make a mistake.”
Once racing resumed, Thomas picked up right where he left off, ripping the top, while Chapple was nearly flawless on the bottom, taking the shortest road travelled in search of his first career series victory, just two races removed following the 2016 series Rookie of the Year’s best career finish of third at Eldora.
All it took was one less-than-perfect corner entry for Chapple and Thomas was there to pounce, driving around Chapple for the point on the outside on lap 26 to snare the lead before cruising away virtually unchallenged for victory while a chaotic final two-lap scramble behind him developed.
C.J. Leary got by Chapple for second with two to go, then McDougal put in his bid to steal away third from Chapple on the final lap. The two seemingly locked horns entering turn three. Still entangled, the seventh-place car of Josh Hodges plowed into McDougal. Chapple broke free and managed to drive away while McDougal and Hodges saw their solid days at the office crumble to a stop on the bottom of turns three and four. McDougal and Hodges were relegated to 18th and 19th place finishes, respectively, as a result. Meanwhile, Dallas Hewitt found himself upside down in turn two, an incident from which he walked away unscathed.
Leary ran second ahead of Chapple, Chris Windom and Chase Stockon to round out the top-five.
Thomas bounced back from a less-than-stellar result the night before at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway where he scored a tenth and saw his point lead vanish. But the Cullman, Ala. driver was jubilant as he got back on the proverbial horse at Gas City, earning his second win in the last four series races after a three-month winless drought. The recent outings have helped him surge to a 37-point lead entering Saturday’s “Fall Nationals” at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway ahead of Tyler Courtney who had a tumultuous night, starting and finishing 17th. Windom sits third, 59 points out of the lead.
Contingency award winners Friday night at Gas City I-69 Speedway were Tyler Courtney (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Isaac Chapple (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Kyle Cummins (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Dustin Ingle (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Matt Westfall (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier), Brady Bacon (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Kyle Cummins (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 28, 2018 – Gas City I-69 Speedway – Gas City, Indiana – “James Dean Classic”
QUALIFYING: 1. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-11.988; 2. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-12.016; 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-12.078; 4. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-12.144; 5. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-12.242; 6. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-12.251; 7. Jason McDougal, 71p, Daigh/Phillips-12.263; 8. Tyler Thomas, 2E, Epperson-12.272; 9. Shane Cottle, 5G, Goacher-12.293; 10. Thomas Meseraull, 00, Meseraull-12.297; 11. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-12.302; 12. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-12.
327; 13. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-12.346; 14. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-12.347; 15. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-12.382; 16. Carson Short, 5B, Briscoe-12.422; 17. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-12. 427; 18. Brian VanMeveren, 24, VanMeveren-12.442; 19. Kyle Cummins, 3c, EZR/Cummins-12.453; 20. Dustin Ingle, 2DI, Ingle-12.493; 21. Clinton Boyles, 57, Hazen-12.495; 22. Dallas Hewitt, 18H, Keen-12.553; 23. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-12.603; 24. Garrett Abrams, 32A, Abrams-12.603; 25. Tyler Hewitt, 97x, One More Time-12.731; 26. Travis Hery, 21H, Hery-12.748; 27. Billy Cribbs, 16, Cribbs-12.782; 28. Shane Cockrum, 24p, Paul-12.900; 29. Luke Harbison, 40, Harbison-13.261; 30. Frank Rodgers, 11, Rodgers-13.312; 31. Jack James, 99J, James-13.353; 32. Bob McMillin, 5m, McMillin-13.358; 33. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Courtney, 2. Boyles, 3. Windom, 4. Cottle, 5. Grant, 6. Westfall, 7. T. Hewitt, 8. Harbison. 2:03.21
COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Chapple, 2. D. Hewitt, 3. Bacon, 4. Leary, 5. Hery, 6. Meseraull, 7. Rodgers, 8. VanMeveren. NT
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Cummins, 2. K. Thomas, 3. McDougal, 4. DiMattia, 5. Goodnight, 6. Hodges, 7. Cribbs, 8. James. 2:03.79
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Ingle, 2. Darland, 3. Short, 4. Stockon, 5. T. Thomas, 6. Cockrum, 7. Abrams, 8. McMillin. 2:05.02
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Grant, 2. Hodges, 3. T. Thomas, 4. Westfall, 5. Meseraull, 6. T. Hewitt, 7. Abrams, 8. Cockrum, 9. Cribbs, 10. Hery, 11. Rodgers, 12. Harbison, 13. McMillin, 14. James, 15. VanMeveren, 16. Goodnight. 2:30.38
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (4), 2. C.J. Leary (5), 3. Isaac Chapple (2), 4. Chris Windom (6), 5. Chase Stockon (3), 6. Dave Darland (12), 7. Kyle Cummins (18), 8. Justin Grant (7), 9. Tyler Thomas (8), 10. Clinton Boyles (20), 11. Shane Cottle (9), 12. Matt Westfall (13), 13. Brady Bacon (14), 14. Carson Short (16), 15. Tyler Hewitt (22), 16. Tony DiMattia (15), 17. Tyler Courtney (17), 18. Jason McDougal (1), 19. Josh Hodges (11), 20. Dallas Hewitt (21), 21. Dustin Ingle (19), 22. Thomas Meseraull (10). NT
**D. Hewitt flipped on lap 30 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-25 Chapple, Laps 26-30 K. Thomas.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Kyle Cummins (18th to 7th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Brady Bacon
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Matt Westfall
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Garrett Abrams
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-K. Thomas-2330, 2-Courtney-2293, 3-Windom-2271, 4-Leary-2006, 5-Darland-2003, 6-Bacon-2002, 7-Stockon-1982, 8-Grant-1871, 9-Robert Ballou-1771, 10-Chapple-1334.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: September 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway – Lawrenceburg, Indiana – “Fall Nationals”