By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
HAUBSTADT, IN – In a year that had produced one first-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car winner at Tri-State Speedway this past June, lightning struck twice at the Haubstadt, Ind. quarter-mile dirt oval Saturday night when Kendall Ruble reached victory lane for the first time, collecting $10,000 at the 13th annual Haubstadt Hustler co-sanctioned by the Midwest Sprint Car Series.
Ruble (Vincennes, Ind.) joined Stephen Schnapf as the second first-time winner with the series this season, and became the sixth-ever driver to earn his first USAC National Sprint Car feature triumph at Tri-State along with Schnapf, Daron Clayton (2006), Hunter Schuerenberg (2008), Blake Fitzpatrick (2010) and Carson Short (2016).
Prior to Ruble, the most recent driver to win his first career USAC National Sprint Car in a 40-lapper was current USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point leader, Chris Windom, who won at Pennsylvania’s Big Diamond Speedway in 2010.
Making just his eighth career USAC National Sprint Car feature start, Ruble lined up fourth on the starting grid for the 40-lap feature event aboard his Ruble-Martin Motorsports/Martin’s Auto Care – Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance/DRC/SPEC Chevy. Meanwhile, he had two-time Haubstadt Hustler winner Kyle Cummins and 2016 TSS USAC winner Chase Stockon in front of him, plus three-time Haubstadt Hustler winner Kevin Thomas Jr. to his inside in the second row.
To the surprise of many, by the exit of turn two on the opening lap, Cummins had dropped from the pole to third as Stockon raced around the outside to the lead while Ruble pulled a wheel stand as he shot underneath Cummins on the back straightaway to move to second.
Early on, Ruble found the bottom of the racetrack to his liking, and on the third lap, edged Stockon to lead by a car length at the stripe. Stockon, however, reestablished the grip through the middle and cruised back around Ruble to retake the position. Ruble, nonetheless, never wavered from his stranglehold of the bottom.
“In the middle and on the top, if you keep your momentum up around here, you can be very fast,” Ruble explained. “But on the bottom, if you can come off the corner here, you’re going to be really fast. Also, it kind of helps you protect against people from passing you entering the corner.”
Ruble continually badgered Stockon following a caution for Jonathan Vennard, who spun sideways in turn two on the seventh lap where he was then clipped by Chayse Hayhurst, resulting in terminal front end damage to Vennard’s ride. Ruble was able to pull even with Stockon several times but was unable sew up the spot, and on lap 13, Stockon closed the door on him in turn one as traffic loomed, securing his escape from the clutches of Ruble for the time being.
“When Stockon got in front of me, he was pretty stinking fast, and he kept pulling on me and pulling on me,” Ruble recalled. “With me being a little less experienced driver, every time I got up to lapped traffic, I was hoping somebody would mess up or slow him down a little bit. But, with him being more experienced, he always seemed to get through it a little better than I was.”
Following that early caution, Ruble had to talk himself into calming down and letting the race come to him without forcing the issue. That, plus a bit of an adjustment on the shocks, allowed Ruble to stalk Stockon through the halfway point and onto the 31st lap where Ruble stuck it in turns one and two while Stockon swung just a bit wide at the exit of turn two.
As Ruble shot underneath for the lead, Stockon kissed the back straightaway concrete with his right side tires, which scrubbed his speed and also opened the door for Cummins to pounce for the second spot with an inside turn four pass of Stockon.
With six laps remaining, as Ruble tried to negotiate Dakota Jackson on the tail end of the lead lap, Ruble misjudged just slightly, closing a tad too fast on corner entry in turn one, which sent his car straight up the hill just as Cummins peeked underneath to overtake Ruble for the lead. Ruble recalibrated and immediately went to the outside of Cummins exiting turn two while Cummins’ surge became stifled as he tried to maneuver under Jackson on the back straightway.
When Cummins and Ruble entered the bottom of turn three side-by-side just moments later, the two grazed wheels with Ruble’s left rear tire and Cummins’ right rear rubber grazing sidewalls against each other. That sent Cummins into a 90-degree spin backward up the track that also collected 15th running Dave Darland and 16th place Carson Short. Kevin Thomas Jr., running fourth at the moment, also careened into Short, but kept on going, albeit briefly as he pulled into the infield under the ensuing yellow flag, putting him out of the race and out of contention for a record fourth career Haubstadt Hustler victory.
“It was a little bit of racing deal,” Ruble admitted. “I could hear an engine behind me and I knew it was either Cummins or Stockon. Once I saw the red nose, I knew it was Cummins. I think he was trying to not nudge me but trying to scare me away from the bottom a little bit and I came down a little bit too much. I got into him, unlike I should’ve, and I feel pretty bad about that. Not the way I wanted to do it, but here we are.”
With a clear path ahead, and just seven laps remaining, Ruble could feel his heart pounding like a jackhammer under his firesuit. Just six laps now stood in the way of him becoming the 258th different driver to win a USAC National Sprint Car race. Once the green flag dropped, Ruble showed no nerves in keeping Stockon at bay lap-after-lap with Stockon seemingly following and setting up one final shot at Ruble and the race lead.
On the final circuit, Stockon maintained a two car length gap behind Ruble, and when the time came to fire his shot, Stockon made a run at him to the bottom of turn three. However, Ruble nailed the bottom perfectly, leaving no gap for Stockon to take advantage of as he pitched his car sideways and slid up the racetrack with Ruble closing out the victory by a 0.830 sec. margin over Stockon.