By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
KOKOMO, IN – The difference was night and day for Kevin Thomas Jr. during Friday’s Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Sprint Car Smackdown night two at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway.
In one sense, the Cullman, Ala. racer captured the second round of Smackdown for the second consecutive year – last year’s running being held in the daytime – while this year’s was held under the lights.
On the other hand, the juxtaposition of KTJ’s Thursday night result compared to Friday’s was just as stark as the contrast between the sun and the moon itself.
Pulling to the infield with smoke pouring out from under the hood 24 hours earlier was replaced by a joyous relief in victory lane for Thomas and his BGE Dougherty Motorsports team for the first time in USAC competition aboard their Altoz – Schaeffer Oil – Hornbeck Concrete/DRC/1-Way Chevy.
An overnight engine change cured the ails for the team as Thomas raced to the lead around the outside of Jake Swanson on lap 11 and led the remainder of the 30-lap distance to score his first USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship triumph of the season in the unlikeliest of manners.
“I think I just ran 30 laps on the top,” a surprised Thomas interjected. “That was pretty fun; I hadn’t done that in a while.”
Thomas’ 37th career USAC National Sprint Car victory proved historic as he officially entered the top-ten in terms of career series victories and now stands tied with three-time series champion Sheldon Kinser in the series’ upper echelon.
Winning never gets old, and Thomas embraces each one to the fullest. However, possibly none meant more to him at this juncture than this one, which proved to be a longtime coming for the driver who had only finished inside the top-ten once throughout his first eight USAC National Sprint Car feature starts this season.
“I was over losing so much; man, it feels good to be back,” Thomas sighed with an air of accomplishment. “For the past month, we’ve been contemplating when it was going to turn around. But these guys just don’t quit. I’m usually pretty persistent and I get a little ramped up but, man, I was down. I hadn’t been that down in a long time. Whether it was a winged car, a non-winged car, midget or a damn golf cart for all I care, it’s been frustrating.”
Over that two-month stretch, Thomas had seen his fair share of heartache and heartburn with a variety of twists and turns that had taken its mental toll, and had become jarringly wearing ever since the team/driver combination connected to start the summer months back in June.
“I’m so happy for these guys,” Thomas exclaimed. “We got a win during one of our first nights out at Haubstadt (with the Midwest Sprint Car Series). I’ve junked a car since then, hurt some engines, done some stupid stuff and flipped in qualifying. I’ve done everything except be spectacular for these guys. There have been a lot of downs, but tonight, we finally got an up.”
Thomas started third in the field of 22, while outside front row starter Swanson jetted out to the opening lap lead as pole sitter Emerson Axsom and Thomas swarmed side-by-side amid a tussle for the second position.
After 15th running Chase Stockon slowed to a stop on lap nine, Swanson reignited the torch to pick up the lead right from where he left off. Thomas, however, tracked him down and made a beeline for the bottom in turn three on lap nine, only to witness Swanson rebuff by driving right back by while holding a car length advantage at the stripe. Thomas reloaded on the high line and rode the momentum around Swanson a lap later on the back straightaway to secure the position.
Just a short clip later, the surging Kyle Cummins, who had earlier picked up Fatheadz Fast Qualifying honors for the second consecutive night, snagged the outside retaining wall in turn two with his right rear tire as he chased the rear bumper of Swanson. The chance meeting of rubber to concrete for Cummins allowed C.J. Leary to slip under for the third position.
In the meantime, Thomas gained ample separation from Swanson with the aid of two lapped cars (Dave Darland and Anton Hernandez) occupying the space between with a 0.890 difference among the two front runners being the margin on lap 23 when past Smackdown prelim winners Thomas Meseraull (11th) and Logan Seavey (12th) tangled in turn two, resulting in a caution.
The incident served as no deterrent for Thomas who immediately reestablished control on the restart with eight laps to go, refocused with a clear vision of the cushion, and remained unbothered by any sense of a challenge as he put the clamp on his long-awaited return to USAC victory lane by 0.774 second margin over Swanson, Leary, Cummins and Axsom.
Exactly one month ago to the day, Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) was laid up in a hospital bed following a vicious crash at the very same Kokomo quarter-mile dirt oval. One month later, to the day, he turned in his best USAC National Sprint Car performance at Kokomo with a runner-up finish in his Team AZ Racing/Stratis Construction – Lucas Oil – RSS Industries/DRC/Claxton Chevy.
“I’m just absolutely stoked to be able to come back like that,” Swanson shared. “To be racing so soon is awesome and I wish, if I had some more laps, I would’ve known to move up there a little bit sooner. I could tell the bottom was wearing out and the top was probably where the race ended up. Maybe I should’ve gone up and tried it, but I was worried it was going to leave the door open.”
An engine swap paid off for C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) as the 2019 USAC National Sprint Car driving champion rounded out the podium with a third place result in his Michael Motorsports/Kodiak Products – Gray Auto – Highsmith Guns – DMI/DRC/Chevy.
The top-eight drivers in combined points from Thursday and Friday’s programs locked themselves into Saturday night’s three-lap King of the Hill races featuring two cars going head-to-head in a bracket style tourney, with the winner advancing each time, will go on to determine the top-eight starting positions for that night’s feature event, with the winner of all three rounds securing the pole position for Saturday night’s 40-lap main event.
Locked into both the King of the Hill and feature events on Saturday are Princeton, Indiana’s Cummins (688 points), C.J. Leary (666), Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Jason McDougal (646), Franklin, Indiana’s Emerson Axsom (642), Ione, California’s Justin Grant (638), Anaheim, California’s Swanson (634), Rocklin, California’s Robert Ballou (634) and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Brady Bacon (632).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 26, 2022 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Sprint Car Smackdown XI Presented by Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-12.715; 2. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-12.726; 3. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-12.857; 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 15K, BGE Dougherty-12.901; 5. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-12.916; 6. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-12.929; 7. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-12.935; 8. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-12.938; 9. Thomas Meseraull, 2E, Epperson-12.957; 10. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-12.963; 11. Jadon Rogers, 14, Engler-12.977; 12. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-12.985; 13. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.052; 14. Scotty Weir, 4p, Pedersen-13.064; 15. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-13.073; 16. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-13.087; 17. Jason McDougal, 5m, KO-13.110; 18. Dave Darland, 36D, Darland/Curb-Agajanian-13.115; 19. Max Adams, 17GP, Dutcher-13.162; 20. Anton Hernandez, 2B, 2B Racing-13.163; 21. Mario Clouser, 6, EZR-13.256; 22. Korbyn Hayslett, 1H, Hayslett-13.260; 23. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-13.289; 24. Parker Frederickson, 34F, Frederickson-13.318; 25. Larry Kingseed Jr., 59, Powell-13.357; 26. Zack Pretorius, 9z, Pretorius-13.372; 27. Keith Sheffer II, 86, Sheffer-13.382; 28. Jack Hoyer, 11, Hoyer-13.390; 29. Tim Creech, 2c, Creech-13.391; 30. Tom Harris, 84, Harris-13.396; 31. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-13.401; 32. Cole Bodine, 57B, DCT/Crow/Bodine-13.485; 33. Corey Smith, 66s, CS-13.495; 34. Alex Bright, 20, Hummer-13.520; 35. Dustin Clark, 75, Clark-13.535; 36. Tyler Hewitt, 57, Hazen-13.631; 37. Paul White, 1, White-13.639; 38. Riley Kreisel, 2, Yeley/Petty-13.640; 39. Dalton Stevens, 99x, Stevens-13.666; 40. Cooper Welch, 2w, Welch-14.170; 41. Derek Crane, 19WI, Crane-14.205; 42. Jack James, 99, James-14.233; 43. Tayte Williamson, 20T, Williamson-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Jason McDougal, 2. Thomas Meseraull, 3. Jake Swanson, 4. Kyle Cummins, 5. Justin Grant, 6. Larry Kingseed Jr., 7. Tim Creech, 8. Paul White, 9. Corey Smith, 10. Derek Crane, 11. Mario Clouser. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Dave Darland, 4. Emerson Axsom, 5. Scotty Weir, 6. Tom Harris, 7. Korbyn Hayslett, 8. Alex Bright, 9. Riley Kreisel, 10. Jack James, 11. Zack Pretorius. NT
PIT STOP USA THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Carson Garrett, 2. Jadon Rogers, 3. Matt Westfall, 4. Mitchel Moles, 5. Brandon Mattox, 6. Sterling Cling, 7. Dustin Clark, 8. Max Adams, 9. Tayte Williamson, 10. Keith Sheffer II, 11. Dalton Stevens. 2:16.55
ROD END SUPPLY FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Logan Seavey, 2. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3. Anton Hernandez, 4. Chase Stockon, 5. Robert Ballou, 6. Cole Bodine, 7. Parker Frederickson, 8. Jack Hoyer, 9. Tyler Hewitt, 10. Cooper Welch. 2:15.58
COUNTRY JOSH CONDER C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi-feature) 1. Alex Bright, 2. Cole Bodine, 3. Dustin Clark, 4. Corey Smith, 5. Tyler Hewitt, 6. Riley Kreisel, 7. Cooper Welch, 8. Derek Crane, 9. Jack James, 10. Paul White, 11. Brandon Mattox. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Robert Ballou, 3. Max Adams, 4. Scotty Weir, 5. Parker Frederickson, 6. Korbyn Hayslett, 7. Sterling Cling, 8. Cole Bodine, 9. Alex Bright, 10. Jack Hoyer, 11. Tom Harris, 12. Mario Clouser, 13. Tim Creech, 14. Dustin Clark, 15. Zack Pretorius, 16. Larry Kingseed Jr., 17. Corey Smith. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr. (3), 2. Jake Swanson (2), 3. C.J. Leary (5), 4. Kyle Cummins (6), 5. Emerson Axsom (1), 6. Brady Bacon (7), 7. Jason McDougal (10), 8. Robert Ballou (12), 9. Justin Grant (15), 10. Mitchel Moles (4), 11. Matt Westfall (11), 12. Jadon Rogers (14), 13. Max Adams (19), 14. Dave Darland (18), 15. Thomas Meseraull (13), 16. Anton Hernandez (20), 17. Korbyn Hayslett (21), 18. Parker Frederickson (22), 19. Carson Garrett (9), 20. Logan Seavey (8), 21. Chase Stockon (17), 22. Scotty Weir (16). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-10 Jake Swanson, Laps 11-30 Kevin Thomas Jr.
**Mario Clouser flipped during the first heat. Dalton Stevens flipped during the third heat. Paul White flipped during the C-Main.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-1834, 2-Brady Bacon-1710, 3-C.J. Leary-1678, 4-Robert Ballou-1667, 5-Emerson Axsom-1604, 6-Logan Seavey-1516, 7-Chase Stockon-1366, 8-Matt Westfall-1274, 9-Jadon Rogers-1236, 10-Jake Swanson-1140.
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SMACKDOWN XI POINTS: (Top-8 locked into Saturday’s feature) 1-Kyle Cummins-688, 2-C.J. Leary-666, 3-Jason McDougal-646, 4-Emerson Axsom-642, 5-Justin Grant-638, 6-Jake Swanson-634, 7-Robert Ballou-634, 8-Brady Bacon-632.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-123, 2-Thomas Meseraull-108, 3-Brady Bacon-99, 4-Buddy Kofoid-85, 5-Robert Ballou-79, 6-Logan Seavey-75, 7-Kaylee Bryson-71, 9-C.J. Leary-70, 8-Emerson Axsom-70, 10-Shane Cottle-67.
SMACKDOWN PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Alex Bright-21, 2-Max Adams-11, 3-Carson Garrett-11, 4-Scotty Weir-10, 5-Justin Grant-8, 6-Thomas Meseraull-8, 7-Parker Frederickson-8, 8-Cole Bodine-8, 9-Kyle Cummins-6, 10-Korbyn Hayslett-6.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: August 27, 2022 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Sprint Car Smackdown XI Presented by Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts