By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
LAWRENCEBURG, IN – Justin Grant’s wait to win his second USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature of the season didn’t take nearly as long as it took to get his first.
Following his first series victory in nearly 16 months on Thursday, the Ione, Calif. native only had to endure two more nights to tally up his next triumph, Saturday’s “Fall Nationals” at Lawrenceburg Speedway.
The waiting may be the hardest part, but patience does reap its own rewards in the end. For the second time in three nights, Grant pocketed 10-grand by virtue of his victory in the TOPP Motorsports/TOPP Performance Race Parts – The Bow Foundation/Maxim/TOPP Gaerte.
“It’s been a rough year and we can definitely use the money at the Grant household. We’re happy to have it,” Grant said with a laugh. “To win one race that pays anything against these guys right now is awesome. To win a couple big ones in a single weekend, you can’t ask for better than that. I feel like a sprint car driver again. I’m having a blast and remembering why I do this stuff now.”
Grant pushed to the lead from his outside front row starting spot around pole sitter Dave Darland on the initial lap, but any early momentum he gained was stifled when C.J. Leary found trouble in turn one on the second lap, sending him into a wild flip and a not-so-graceful landing. Leary, who had earlier set fast time, won his heat and had moved from sixth to fourth on the opening lap, gingerly exited his war-torn machinery and would ultimately have to take a visit for X-rays on his neck and back.
On the ensuing restart, second-running Bacon put his tail up on the fence and used a diamond move to run Grant down like a cheetah tracking down a gazelle, blowing by Grant for the lead midway down the back straightaway. Grant fought back, trying to slide underneath Bacon, but each time, Bacon’s diamond shined brighter than 10 karats, pulling away and stretching out his lead until Brandon Spithaler’s turn four spin and small flare-up flame brought out the caution on lap 12. Grant now had a reprieve and he wasn’t going to let it go to waste.
“I was running the bottom in (turns) three and four and shortcutting it to the cushion, staying out of the holes getting into one,” Grant recalled. “But I was kind of hanging off two. I knew I was hanging there, but I didn’t know if you could run in above the holes or through the holes into one and two and diamond down. And I knew Leary had gotten into the fence in one, so I figured that’s what he had done. So, I was a bit hesitant to try it. When Brady drove by us doing the diamond off two, I followed him for a few laps and figured out how our car wanted to get through there to do it right. I felt like we were nipping at his lead a little bit.”
Grant immediately rared back his axe and took his first swing in turn one on the lap 12 restart, sliding up in front of Bacon briefly for the point. Bacon got back by, but Grant had wrapped his lasso to the #99 of Bacon by then. When push came to shove at the exit of turn four on the 13th lap, Grant was there to capitalize and move his way back into the lead.
“On the restart, I was able to get in, slide him and chalk him up,” Grant remembered. “He went to block the slider into three and got to bouncing and we were able to sneak by. I felt like his car was a little better in turns one and two and I was freed up enough to run three and four hard and he just got to bouncing. Once we figured out how to use the holes in one and two and get the diamond down off two, I felt really good and I didn’t know if anybody had anything for us once we got rolling in that line. I couldn’t do it faster than how I was doing it. Every time during the cautions, I started to settle down in the seat and I reminded myself I’ve got no stake in points in this deal and I really need the money. It’s 10-grand to win. If there’s a night to hang one in the fence trying to win, this is the night.”
As Bacon tussled with Courtney for the second spot, Grant gained some leeway to a one-second-plus lead until lap 22 when lapped traffic came into play. Grant was in expert mode as he navigated through the back part of the field, keeping Bacon at an arm’s length distance entering the final five laps.
The distance became closer and nearer, with Bacon cutting the interval to eight tenths, six tenths and, finally, four tenths. On the final lap, Bacon had one more bullet in the chamber as he followed Grant into turn one. However, his right rear caught the outer concrete, took a hop and skip that was enough for Grant to gain back his breathing space, which he used to secure his second USAC National Sprint Car victory of the season (and the weekend) and the 10th of his career, tying him with Tony Stewart for 48th all-time.
After a seven-month dry spell in USAC competition since Grant and TOPP paired up at the beginning of the 2018 season, the two have finally found the recipe for success that so many felt this combo was capable of all along.
“We’ve been gaining on them a little bit around Indiana Sprint Week time,” Grant explained. “The big kick is we found stuff with the cars and got our engine program ripping a lot better. The motors are hitting really hard now and it’s just letting me do a lot of stuff that I couldn’t do before. I can get in the cushion and I’ve got enough motor to get myself out of trouble now. Between that, having a few good runs and getting some confidence going, we’re feeling like we know what we’re doing again.”
Bacon finished second ahead of Courtney, Chris Windom and Kevin Thomas, Jr. Windom had to move to a backup car after a violent flip during qualifying in his primary, picking up hard charger honors after racing from 18th to 4th. Thomas, meanwhile, had his point lead clenched up to 34 points over Courtney in second and 62 in front of Windom in third.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Lawrenceburg Speedway were C.J. Leary (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Carson Short (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Indy Race Parts Semi Winner), Dakota Jackson (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Brian VanMeveren (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier) and Chris Windom (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 29, 2018 – Lawrenceburg Speedway – Lawrenceburg, Indiana – “Fall Nationals”
QUALIFYING: 1. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-13.877; 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-13.946; 3. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-13.954; 4. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-13.998; 5. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-14.
028; 6. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-14.105; 7. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-14.122; 8. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-14. 181; 9. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-14.207; 10. Shane Cottle, 5G, Goacher-14.238; 11. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-14.267; 12. Jason McDougal, 71p, Daigh/Phillips-14.271; 13. Brian VanMeveren, 24, VanMeveren-14.351; 14. Carson Short, 5B, Briscoe-14.383; 15. Dickie Gaines, 44, Soudrette-14.391; 16. Dakota Jackson, 3, Jackson-14.457; 17. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-14.506; 18. Justin Peck, 04, Burton-14.535; 19. Nick Bilbee, 17, Bilbee-14.549; 20. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-14.563; 21. Dallas Hewitt, 18H, Keen-14.585; 22. Tyler Thomas, 2E, Epperson-14.741; 23. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-14.754; 24. Garrett Abrams, 32A, Abrams-14.808; 25. Brandon Spithaler, 77, Gagliardi-14.942; 26. Frank Rodgers, 11, Rodgers-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Leary, 2. Jackson, 3. Grant, 4. Cottle, 5. Stockon, 6. VanMeveren, 7. T. Thomas, 8. Spithaler, 9. Bilbee. 2:00.05
COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Short, 2. Westfall, 3. Andretti, 4. Darland, 5. K. Thomas, 6. Windom, 7. DiMattia, 8. Rodgers, 9. Courtney. NT
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Bacon, 2. Gaines, 3. Hodges, 4. Peck, 5. McDougal, 6. Chapple, 7. Hewitt, 8. Abrams. 1:57.93
INDY RACE PARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-7 transfer to the feature) 1. Courtney, 2. Windom, 3. Chapple, 4. Hewitt, 5. T. Thomas, 6. Spithaler, 7. Bilbee, 8. VanMeveren, 9. DiMattia, 10. Abrams, 11. Rodgers. 2:58.67
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (2), 2. Brady Bacon (4), 3. Tyler Courtney (7), 4. Chris Windom (18), 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (5), 6. Dave Darland (1), 7. Jarett Andretti (11), 8. Chase Stockon (3), 9. Isaac Chapple (8), 10. Josh Hodges (9), 11. Dallas Hewitt (19), 12. Tyler Thomas (20), 13. Dakota Jackson (13), 14. Nick Bilbee (16), 15. Matt Westfall (14), 16. Justin Peck (15), 17. Jason McDougal (12), 18. Shane Cottle (10), 19. Dickie Gaines (17), 20. Brandon Spithaler (21), 21. C.J. Leary (6). NT
**Windom flipped during qualifying. Leary flipped on lap 2 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Grant, Laps 2-12 Bacon, Laps 13-30 Grant.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Chris Windom (18th to 4th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Dakota Jackson
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Brian VanMeveren
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Brian VanMeveren
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-K. Thomas-2397, 2-Courtney-2363, 3-Windom-2335, 4-Bacon-2081, 5-Darland-2063, 6-Leary-2043, 7-Stockon-2038, 8-Grant-1947, 9-Robert Ballou-1771, 10-Chapple-1383.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: October 5 – Lake Ozark Speedway – Eldon, Missouri