By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
KOKOMO, IN – ”This weekend’s been a dream. I feel like I’m going to wake up tomorrow and it’s going to be Wednesday.”
The dream was most certainly a reality for Justin Grant during Saturday night’s Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Sprint Car Smackdown XII finale at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway.
But for every other driver who faced off against him during the past three nights at the quarter-mile dirt oval, the Ione, Calif. native was a nightmare.
Grant’s prowess over during the Thursday-Friday-Saturday stretch at Kokomo was no illusion as he reeled off three consecutive victories in as many nights to become the first driver in the 12-year history of Smackdown to sweep to three successive feature triumphs in a single weekend.
The take home pay for Grant after leading the final 29 laps on Saturday night totaled $44,500, pocketing the base pay of $30,000 while also adding a cool $500 per each lap led in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
When Grant migrated from his native California to take up residence in Indiana more than a decade ago, Kokomo Speedway became one of his adopted homes. Now, all these years later, he’s tied with the great Dave Darland as the winningest driver in USAC National Sprint Car competition at Kokomo with Saturday night’s run being the ninth of his career.
In total, seven of his nine career Kokomo USAC Sprint Car victories have come during Smackdown weekend, three of which have occurred on championship night in 2018, 2021 and 2023, making him just the third three-time Smackdown champion following Dave Darland (2013-14-15) and Tyler Courtney (2017-19-20). But few have been sweeter than his latest and none more lucrative.
“It feels amazing,” Grant exclaimed. “Kokomo Speedway is where I got my start and it’s where I cut my teeth. This event has always meant the world to me. The success I’ve been able to have here is just incredible and it feels incredible to be standing in victory lane here anytime.”
In the entire 68-year history of USAC National Sprint Car racing, few have captured three-straight USAC National Sprint Car features in a three-day-or-less span. In 1979, Steve Chassey won three in two days, all at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway. In 2002, Cory Kruseman reeled off three consecutive at Gas City, Lincoln Park and Tri-State Speedways during Indiana Sprint Week. Levi Jones had been the most recent to achieve the feat during Eastern Storm in 2010 Grandview, Lincoln and New Egypt Speedways.
Furthermore, Grant’s latest win was his 43rd in USAC National Sprint Car competition, moving him past 1974 and 1976 series champion Pancho Carter and into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list.
After Thursday and Friday night’s back-to-back Kokomo triumphs, Grant was the odds-on favorite to do it again on Saturday night. He kicked things off right by gliding through the Bill & Sandy Wever & The Grandkids King of the Hill two-car, three-lap duels, which earned him the pole position for the 40-lap grand finale.
Despite that fact, it was outside front row starter C.J. Leary who broke out front and grasped the initial lead, beating Grant to the line by a wheel at the completion of lap one. In fact, throughout the first 10 circuits, Grant remained completely draped over Leary while applying consistent pressure. Grant stayed true to the top while Leary dabbled on the bottom in turns three and four for much of the first quarter of the main event.
But on lap 12, and with traffic looming ahead of him just a single lap away, Grant felt the time was now as he got his momentum wound up on the high side and dove to the bottom of turn one, taking Leary for the top spot.
Grant immediately worked traffic like he was on the autobahn and all others were in a school zone as he constructed his lead to one, then to two and then three full seconds by the time the race reached the halfway mark on lap 20. But without any spotters or rearview mirrors, in sprint car racing, the ambition is to remain pushing and to keep pushing until the lap counter runs out.
“I felt like I really hadn’t had any pressure,” Grant revealed. “I got caught up behind lapped cars and I never heard anybody or felt pressure. I knew we had a really good racecar and I felt like we had a good lead. I didn’t want to get lulled into contentment because we had been so good all weekend. I was still pushing pretty hard.”
Meanwhile, Bacon, who had finished second on each of the two preliminary nights, grabbed second when he raced past Leary in turn four for the runner-up spot on lap 23. Cummins tagged along and ripped third from Leary in the thick of lapped traffic on lap 30. By lap 32, Cummins had flashed into second as he drove topside around Bacon to slot into the “place” spot with just eight laps remaining.
Leary’s troubles mounted and he began to drop through the field, running fifth before slowing to a halt on lap 37 with just three laps remaining. By that point in time, Grant had lapped all but the first eight drivers in the 22-car field and held a staggering 8.415 second lead. Leary ultimately returned to finish the feature, restarting on the tail end of the lead lap and finishing eighth.
For Grant, the stoppage was a gamechanger. When all seemed locked up and the ink on the headlines was nearly completely dry, Cummins and the rest of the field received a reprieve and a new lease on life. For Grant, however, it was much to his chagrin.
“I was bummed to see that yellow,” Grant said. “I was like, ‘dang, three to go, come on!’ I wasn’t too worried about it, but then I went in on the restart and just completely botched one and two, oh boy!”
Grant skittered straight up atop the cushion between turns one and two on the lap 38 restart, allowing Cummins to get himself within striking distance of Grant at the exit of turn two. Grant took an entry into three somewhat through the middle in order to avoid a slider attempt from Cummins. However, Cummins saw a possible opportunity and went after Grant, sliding side-by-side in turn four wheel-to-wheel without giving an inch, or a single lift, in the pursuit of Smackdown glory.
“I was driving down into three and four and Kyle was sliding across after I all but gave this race away in one and two, so I knew I had better get it back over here (in three and four),” Grant explained. “I snuck right around him, and I thought my left rear (tire) was going to get over his right rear there. There’s $30,000 on the line; it’s worth it to take a chance here and there.”
Just as that “was the meal” Kenny Bania had on an episode of Seinfeld, that “was the move” for both Grant and Cummins alike. Grant staved off the final effort from Cummins to score the biggest payday of his racing career by a 0.886 second margin over Cummins, Logan Seavey, Brady Bacon and Robert Ballou.
“I can’t say enough about my guys,” Grant praised. “This racecar is incredible. We spent some time on Dan Pace’s dyno last week getting ready to come here and make sure our motors were top notch. There are so many people who played a part in getting me here and allowing me to be successful.”
Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) took his shot at the win on the final restart but came up just short of winning his second straight Smackdown aboard his Rock Steady Racing/Avanti Windows & Doors – Tim Mason ReMax/Mach-1/Stanton Chevy. In his past five Saturday night Smackdown starts since 2019, Cummins has now finished inside the top-two in four of them.
“It’s a lot of money to win, but I’m not going to take him out,” Cummins said of his late-race duel with Grant. “He was there, and I was trying, trying, and I was like, ‘nope, he’s got it.’ I was hoping he was going to make a mistake and he kind of did, but I was just a little too far back. It was hard to make a move when he had enough momentum coming off both corners. I was good on momentum getting through, but I couldn’t get down the straightaways as quickly as he could. We were kind of mired back in fourth or fifth there just trying, but as the race went on, my car definitely got better. Before the yellow, I kept looking and trying to find him. I didn’t know where he was at, but I felt like if we got a yellow, we had a chance. I was clicking off some pretty good laps there.”
It was hands down the best Smackdown of Logan Seavey’s career as far as Saturday night finales go. That’s the story for the Sutter, Calif. racer who finished third in the feature after starting eighth. That earned him his best career Smackdown Saturday night finish in what was his sixth start in the event behind the wheel of his 2B Racing/Honest Abe Roofing – Benic Enterprises – Goodnight Racing/DRC/Claxton Chevy.
“When you’re racing with guys like that, you’ve got to jump at the first opportunity you see to make passes,” Seavey explained. “I had to capitalize really quick there early when a few guys were kind of searching and I knew where I was going. I got to fourth or fifth there pretty quickly and was happy with my car. I made a few passes there toward the end to get to third, which is really good. I felt like I could race with Kyle there a little bit, but Justin was in another league tonight.”
Briggs Danner (Allentown, Pa.) performed terrifically all weekend in his first career Smackdown appearance. The best run of them all for the reigning USAC East Coast Sprint Car champ and current point leader, however, came on Saturday night as he finished sixth. In doing so, he was named the 2023 Smackdown Rookie of the Year, which rewarded him with a $1,000 bonus.
Smackdown XII also served as the kickoff for the inaugural USAC NOS Energy Drink Hoosier Trifecta in which USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship competitors will be racing for major prizes across three marquee events in the state of Indiana in August, September and October.
Up next in the three-race series is the $20,000-to-win Haubstadt Hustler at Tri-State Speedway on Saturday, September 16. Another $20,000 winner’s share is posted for the Fall Nationals at Lawrenceburg Speedway, set to go on Saturday, October 7.
Winning all three Trifecta events in 2023 would net a driver a bonus of up to $30,000. The top driver finishing all three races in second place or better will receive a $20,000 payout. The top driver finishing all three races in third place or better will receive a $10,000 payout.
At the end of the three races during the USAC NOS Energy Drink Hoosier Trifecta, a driver could earn a potential $100,000-plus prize when all is said and done.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 26, 2023 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Sprint Car Smackdown XII
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Carson Garrett (#15 BGE Dougherty), 2. Max Adams (#5x Adams), 3. Emerson Axsom (#47BC Clauson Marshall Newman), 4. Trey Osborne (#6T Osborne), 5. Colten Cottle (#57 Hazen), 6. Dustin Ingle (#2DI Ingle), 7. Eddie Tafoya Jr. (#51T Tafoya), 8. Tyler Miller (#67 Miller). 2:13.96
ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Jadon Rogers (#17GP Dutcher), 2. Matt Westfall (#33m Marshall), 3. Stevie Sussex (#77s Sturgeon), 4. Cole Bodine (#57B Bodine), 5. Dave Darland (#36D Darland/Curb-Agajanian), 6. Kobe Simpson (#21K Simpson), 7. Nate Schank (#1 Schank), 8. Larry Kingseed Jr. (#21 Kingseed). 2:12.67
T.J. FORGED THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Ricky Lewis (#41 Brown), 2. Chase Stockon (#5s KO), 3. Sterling Cling (#34 SCR), 4. Korbyn Hayslett (#1H Hayslett), 5. Geoff Ensign (#17 On The Gass), 6. Devan Myers (#75 Myers), 7. Bryar Schroeter (#21s Schroeter), 8. Jack Hoyer (#5 Baldwin-Fox). 2:13.65
CAR IQ FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Jake Swanson (#21AZ Team AZ), 2. Joey Amantea (#88J JPA), 3. Daison Pursley (#5p KO), 4. Rylan Gray (#81G Gray), 5. Riley Kreisel (#2J Yeley), 6. Brayden Clark (#42G Jackson-Clark), 7. Brandon Mattox (#28 Mattox), 8. Jack James (#99 James). NT
FIRST BILL & SANDY WEVER & THE GRANDKIDS KING OF THE HILL QUARTERFINAL: (3 laps) #1 Justin Grant (#4 TOPP) defeats #8 Logan Seavey (#2B 2B Racing)
SECOND BILL & SANDY WEVER & THE GRANDKIDS KING OF THE HILL QUARTERFINAL: (3 laps) #5 Kyle Cummins (#3R Rock Steady) defeats #4 Robert Ballou (#12 Ballou)
THIRD BILL & SANDY WEVER & THE GRANDKIDS KING OF THE HILL QUARTERFINAL: (3 laps) #3 C.J. Leary defeats #6 Shane Cottle (#2E Epperson)
FOURTH BILL & SANDY WEVER & THE GRANDKIDS KING OF THE HILL QUARTERFINAL: (3 laps) #7 Briggs Danner (#39 Hogue) defeats #2 Brady Bacon (#69 Dynamics)
FIRST BILL & SANDY WEVER & THE GRANDKIDS KING OF THE HILL SEMIFINAL: (3 laps) #1 Justin Grant defeats #5 Kyle Cummins
SECOND BILL & SANDY WEVER & THE GRANDKIDS KING OF THE HILL SEMIFINAL: (3 laps) #3 C.J. Leary defeats #7 Briggs Danner
BILL & SANDY WEVER & THE GRANDKIDS KING OF THE HILL FINAL: (3 laps) #1 Justin Grant defeats #3 C.J. Leary
LUGS LAWN CARE SERVICE C-MAIN: (8 laps, top-2 transfer to the semi) 1. Brandon Mattox, 2. Nate Schank, 3. Larry Kingseed Jr., 4. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 5. Bryar Schroeter, 6. Jack James, 7. Tyler Miller. 1:52.15
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Emerson Axsom, 2. Trey Osborne, 3. Stevie Sussex, 4. Daison Pursley, 5. Cole Bodine, 6. Geoff Ensign, 7. Korbyn Hayslett, 8. Colten Cottle, 9. Rylan Gray, 10. Dave Darland, 11. Brayden Clark, 12. Dustin Ingle, 13. Brandon Mattox, 14. Devan Myers, 15. Nate Schank, 16. Sterling Cling, 17. Kobe Simpson. NT
FEATURE: (40 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (1), 2. Kyle Cummins (3), 3. Logan Seavey (8), 4. Brady Bacon (5), 5. Robert Ballou (6), 6. Briggs Danner (4), 7. Jadon Rogers (10), 8. C.J. Leary (2), 9. Shane Cottle (7), 10. Jake Swanson (12), 11. Ricky Lewis (11), 12. Emerson Axsom (17), 13. Daison Pursley (20), 14. Carson Garrett (9), 15. Joey Amantea (16), 16. Geoff Ensign (22), 17. Matt Westfall (14), 18. Trey Osborne (18), 19. Cole Bodine (21), 20. Stevie Sussex (19), 21. Max Adams (13), 22. Chase Stockon (15). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-11 C.J. Leary, Laps 12-40 Justin Grant.
**Kobe Simpson flipped during the semi.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-1851, 2-Justin Grant-1842, 3-Emerson Axsom-1743, 4-Kyle Cummins-1724, 5-Jake Swanson-1697, 6-C.J. Leary-1638, 7-Robert Ballou-1552, 8-Chase Stockon-1434, 9-Daison Pursley-1377, 10-Mitchel Moles-1374.
OVERALL USAC NATIONAL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Daison Pursley-152, 2-Logan Seavey-104, 3-Shane Cottle-102, 4-Robert Ballou-87, 5-Matt Westfall-86, 6-Brady Bacon-85, 7-Justin Grant-79, 8-Emerson Axsom-76, 9-Chase Stockon-69, 10-Kevin Thomas Jr.-54.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: September 7, 2023 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway – Mesquite, Texas – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track – Co-Sanctioned by the ASCS Elite Non-Wing Sprints
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Clinton Boyles/Carbon Safety Technologies Most Wheel Pack Laps: Colten Cottle (38)
Dirt Draft Fastest Hot Laps Driver: Brady Bacon (12.807)
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Carson Garrett
Rod End Supply Second Heat Winner: Jadon Rogers
T.J. Forged Third Heat Winner: Ricky Lewis
Car IQ Fourth Heat Winner: Jake Swanson
Bill & Sandy Wever & The Grandkids King of the Hill Champion: Justin Grant
Lugs Lawn Care Service C-Main Winner: Brandon Mattox
Hoosier Tire First C-Main Non-Transfer: Larry Kingseed Jr.
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Emerson Axsom
Hoosier Tire First Semi Non-Transfer: Korbyn Hayslett
ProSource Hard Work Award: Geoff Ensign
Green APU Green Flag Challenge First Lap Leader: C.J. Leary
J & J Trucking Hard Charger: Daison Pursley (20th to 13th)
Clinton Boyles Top Local Driver: Ricky Lewis (11th)
Collin Grissom Smackdown Rookie Move of the Night: Briggs Danner
Smackdown ProSource Passing Master: Shane Cottle
Smackdown Rookie of the Year: Briggs Danner