By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
BLOOMINGTON, IN – Sometimes you’ve got to roll with what got you there in the first place. And, on those occasions when you change up the plan mid-stream, you’ve got to find your way back.
Kevin Thomas Jr. checked the boxes on all of the above throughout Friday night’s 30-lap Larry Rice Classic USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway.
Religiously trekking around the 1/4-mile on the top in turns one and two, and on the bottom of turns three and four, Thomas (Cullman, Ala.) ventured down low on a late restart with six laps remaining, losing the lead to Brady Bacon in the process, then raced his way back to the front past Bacon with three laps remaining to become the first multi-time winner with the series this season.
Keep in mind that, over the past two seasons, Thomas had won a grand total of two USAC Sprint Car features. With a pair of victories under his hat in just four appearances (Ocala & Bloomington), it’s marked a sea change of confidence and expectations for the driver of the KT Motorsports/Dr. Pepper – McDonald’s – KT Construction Services/DRC/Speedway Chevy.
“It’s very important, for me especially,” Thomas noted. “It’s one of those things. I got to get rolling and I’ve got to have that confidence that I’ve not had for the last couple years. (Crew chief) Davey (Jones) brings that to me. He’s kind of my safety blanket, and Jason (McDougal) and A.J. (Parker) as well. They got my season turned around last year in a pretty swift manner, so I have a lot of trust in those guys.”
“You’ve just got to be on kill,” Thomas continued. “That’s just kind of the way it is. You’ve got to be very aggressive, you’ve got to be smart, and you’ve got to have a good racecar. Brady (Bacon) is going to be a pain in my butt all year; Grant, Windom, Leary, they’re all going to be equal pains. We’ve just got to be the best that we can be every single night and it’ll work itself out. We’ll win the races that we’re supposed to and, hopefully, win half the ones we’re not supposed to. Tonight might’ve been one of those.”
Thomas’ triumph was the fourth of his USAC Sprint Car career at Bloomington, which made him the second winningest driver of all-time with the series at the track, trailing only Bryan Clauson’s five. In fact, the very first of Thomas’ 29 career series wins came at Bloomington in 2012.
Speaking of which, Thomas’ 29th career victory elevated him into 14th place on the all-time USAC National Sprint Car win list, surpassing the win totals of series champions Don Branson, A.J. Foyt, Levi Jones, Chris Windom and J.J. Yeley, all of whom have won 28.
Thomas started on the outside of the front row, yet it was pole sitter Shane Cottle who got to the point initially. Cottle led the opening lap before Thomas swiftly drove around the outside of Cottle in turns one two, nipping Cottle at the line at the conclusion of lap two. Thomas raced around the circumference of Cottle in turns one and two on the third circuit, then made a beeline for the bottom of turn three, stealing Cottle’s line and would remain on the same path for much of the remainder of the race.
While the majority of the 24-car driver lineup was deciphering whether to find traction high or low, Bacon had another idea to cut through the middle, slicing his way up to the second position and would continually press the issue with Thomas for the balance of the joust.
Bacon went on the offensive, riding the high line all the way around while Thomas swapped from high to low as he navigated each end of the racing surface. Bacon was able to stay within reach, but Thomas was “steady as he goes” on his current course.
However, with six laps remaining, 20th running Sterling Cling was uninjured after riding out a series of barrel rolls off the edge of the turn four banking. He walked away uninjured.
During the red flag period, Thomas surveyed the track and made the decision to alter his plan of attack.
“When we stopped there for that red, in one and two, I was like, ‘there’s a lot of moisture down here,’” Thomas recalled. “I know I was getting through one and two well, but I didn’t know if it was going to hold up. I knew it was getting thin off two. I was hanging a little bit, so I changed my line.”
After one lap following the restart, Thomas darted back to the high line in turns one and two, but that opened the door for Bacon to stick a foot into as he dove into turn one and slid up in front of Thomas in turn two to snare the lead. Thomas pretty much was required to commit himself to the bottom now, or otherwise follow Bacon’s lead and accept his fate of staring at the Dynamics, Inc. No. 69’s rear bumper.
“It’s a line I hadn’t been running,” Thomas explained. “I went down there, clipped the infield tire, got really tight and gave the lead up to Brady, and I just had to really work for it and focus on hitting my marks and doing what I was doing for the other 20 some odd laps. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do but we did still end up winning the race. That’s a lot to do with the racecar. It went wherever I wanted it to go. I just had to not screw up.”
Racing is a game of concentration as much as it is anything else, and Thomas set his focus on racing the racetrack before being reactionary to what hand his competition was ultimately going to show.
“I never saw Brady until he passed me,” Thomas reasoned. “The way I was running the top in one and two, I didn’t ever look left to see who was under me or if I could see anybody because it was pretty big up there, and treacherous, so I had to really make sure I was paying attention. I had that feeling that somebody was there, and somebody was coming.”
That somebody was Bacon who was now executing the middle/top as Thomas persistently dug his way on the low. With three to go, while exiting turn four, Bacon drifted just a tad high as Thomas nailed his four rubber soles to the huggy pole and shot off the corner in a might to clear Bacon and immediately jumped back to the top in turn one, back to his safe place where all had been relatively smooth for the first 24 laps.
Onward Thomas went unchallenged for the remaining two trips around as he locked up a 1.479 sec. margin victory over Bacon, Kyle Cummins, Cottle and Chris Windom.
A frightening incident at the finish line on the final lap saw Carson Garrett (13th) and Mario Clouser (14th) make wheel-to-wheel contact which sending Garrett careening nose first into the front straightaway wall before flipping over. Garrett climbed from the racecar under his own power but was later transferred to a local hospital for further observation.
Perhaps the most incredible of all longevity streaks in the history of USAC National Sprint Car racing came to an end Friday night at Bloomington when Chase Stockon finished 10th in the semi-feature, coming up shy of a transfer spot to the feature event. Although the team did have a provisional starting position available, they elected not to utilize it. Thus, Stockon’s all-time record streak of 324 consecutive feature starts in USAC National Sprint Car competition was over, a record which dated back to every series race run since 2012.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: April 16, 2021 – Bloomington Speedway – Bloomington, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Larry Rice Classic
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING FLIGHT ONE: 1. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-11.232; 2. Mario Clouser, 6, Clouser-11.269; 3. Max Adams, 17G, On The Gass-11.316; 4. Chris Windom, 19, Hayward-11.418; 5. Jadon Rogers, 61m, Edwards-11.479; 6. Logan Seavey, 17GP, Dutcher-11.483; 7. Shane Cottle, 74x, Hodges-11.520; 8. Dave Darland, 5, Baldwin/Fox/Curb-Agajanian-11.535; 9. Carson Short, 2E, Epperson-11.540; 10. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-11.606; 11. Carson Garrett, 15KO, KO-11.623; 12. Cole Bodine, 39BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-11.655; 13. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-11.684; 14. Davey Ray, 14AJ, FattFro/RayPro-11.695; 15. Travis Berryhill, 77s, Sturgeon-11.712; 16. Brent Beauchamp, 11, LB-11.721; 17. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-11.727; 18. Brandon Morin, 98, Morin-11.797; 19. Jordan Kinser, 70, Hurst-11.811; 20. Hunter O’Neal, 77, O’Neal-11.823; 21. Brady Short, 11p, Pottorff-11.895; 22. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 51T, Tafoya-11.914.
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING FLIGHT TWO: 1. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-11.297; 2. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-11.326; 3. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-11.391; 4. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-11.416; 5. Paul Nienhiser, 5N, KO-11.476; 6. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9K, KT-11.540; 7. Brayden Fox, 53, Fox-11.563; 8. Scotty Weir, 4p, Pedersen-11.611; 9. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-11.622; 10. Ricky Lewis, 11L, Lewis-11.752; 11. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-11.768; 12. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-11.796; 13. Isaac Chapple, 52, Chapple-11.859; 14. A.J. Hopkins, 04, Burton-11.873; 15. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-12.016; 16. Braxton Cummings, 71B, Cummings-12.102; 17. Tye Mihocko, 5T, Parker-12.136; 18. Jake Bland, 20, Bland-12.331; 19. Harley Burns, 16, Burns-12.337; 20. Ted Kirkpatrick, 63LK, Sturgeon-12.969; 21. Eric Perrott, 45, Perrott-13.187.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Carson Garrett, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Carson Short, 4. Justin Grant, 5. Max Adams, 6. Travis Berryhill, 7. Chase Stockon, 8. Brady Short, 9. Jadon Rogers, 10. Sterling Cling. 2:00.740
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Cummins, 2. Cole Bodine, 3. Chris Windom, 4. Dave Darland, 5. Mario Clouser, 6. Brent Beauchamp, 7. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 8. Hunter O’Neal, 9. Davey Ray, 10. Brandon Morin, 11. Logan Seavey. NT
INDY METAL FINISHING THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Paul Nienhiser, 2. Tye Mihocko, 3. Brady Bacon, 4. Brayden Fox, 5. Brandon Mattox, 6. Isaac Chapple, 7. Matt Westfall, 8. Matt Goodnight, 9. C.J. Leary, 10. Eric Perrott, 11. Harley Burns. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 2. Robert Ballou, 3. A.J. Hopkins, 4. Scotty Weir, 5. Tanner Thorson, 6. Jake Swanson, 7. Jake Bland, 8. Ricky Lewis, 9. Ted Kirkpatrick, 10. Braxton Cummings. NT
C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi) 1. Brent Beauchamp, 2. Braxton Cummings, 3. Brady Short, 4. Sterling Cling, 5. Jake Bland, 6. Brandon Morin, 7. Harley Burns, 8. Hunter O’Neal, 9. Eric Perrott, 10. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 11. Ted Kirkpatrick. 2:14.284
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. C.J. Leary, 2. Tanner Thorson, 3. Max Adams, 4. Mario Clouser, 5. Jake Swanson, 6. Ricky Lewis, 7. Brandon Mattox, 8. Davey Ray, 9. Isaac Chapple, 10. Chase Stockon, 11. Brent Beauchamp, 12. Sterling Cling, 13. Matt Goodnight, 14. Jadon Rogers, 15. Travis Berryhill, 16. Matt Westfall, 17. Brady Short, 18. Braxton Cummings. 2:40.395
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr. (2), 2. Brady Bacon (5), 3. Kyle Cummins (7), 4. Shane Cottle (1), 5. Chris Windom (4), 6. Tanner Thorson (11), 7. C.J. Leary (9), 8. Justin Grant (6), 9. Scotty Weir (16), 10. Robert Ballou (20), 11. Jake Swanson (13), 12. Dave Darland (15), 13. Carson Garrett (8), 14. Mario Clouser (10), 15. Tye Mihocko (22), 16. Paul Nienhiser (3), 17. Carson Short (17), 18. Max Adams (12), 19. Cole Bodine (19), 20. Brayden Fox (14), 21. Matt Westfall (23) (P), 22. A.J. Hopkins (21), 23. Sterling Cling (24) (P), 24. Ricky Lewis (18). NT
(P) represents a provisional starter
**Logan Seavey flipped during the second heat. C.J. Leary flipped during the third heat. Sterling Cling flipped on lap 24 of the feature. Carson Garrett flipped on the lap 30 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Shane Cottle, Laps 2-25 Kevin Thomas Jr., Laps 26-27 Brady Bacon, Laps 28-30 Kevin Thomas Jr.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-298, 2-Justin Grant-280, 3-C.J. Leary-255, 4-Kevin Thomas Jr.-252, 5-Chris Windom-243, 6-Tanner Thorson-233, 7-Kyle Cummins-210, 8-Robert Ballou-192, 9-Jake Swanson-186, 10-Paul Nienhiser-160.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-26, 2-Brady Bacon-24, 3-Chris Windom-24, 4-Tanner Thorson-21, 5-Bryant Wiedeman-21, 6-Buddy Kofoid-20, 7-C.J. Leary-14, 8-Justin Grant-13, 9-Jadon Rogers-13, 10-Jake Neuman-13.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: April 17, 2021 – Tri-State Speedway – Haubstadt, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track