Grant Goes Back-to-Back at Kokomo Smackdown
Series News Release - USAC Media
Kokomo, Indiana (August 25, 2023) - Justin Grant. Justin Grant.
No, you’re not seeing double. In fact, what you’re actually seeing is a repeat.
The recurring theme thus far throughout Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Smackdown XII has been the success of the Ione, Calif. native who captured his second USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature victory in as many nights on Friday at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway.
Grant advanced from his fourth starting position to take over the lead from racelong leader Jadon Rogers just before the midway point following an exchange of slide jobs at each end of the 1/4-mile dirt oval between the pair. Grant then led the final 17 circuits to pick up yet another monumental triumph behind the wheel of his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
The sixth career Smackdown win (prelims & final nights combined) of Grant’s career made him the winningest driver in the event’s 12-year history. Additionally, the win was Grant’s eighth overall in USAC National Sprint Car competition at Kokomo, tying him for second all-time with Tony Elliott and now trails only Dave Darland (9) for the most ever.
In becoming only the second driver to score wins on the opening two nights of Smackdown (Kyle Cummins in 2020), Grant also set a new career high in terms of single-season USAC National Sprint Car victories with eight, surpassing his former highwater mark of seven in 2021.
Grant’s 42nd career USAC National Sprint Car main event win moved him up another notch on the all-time series win list to seventh all-time. In doing so, he moved past Bryan Clauson (41) and into a tie with 1974 and 1976 series champion Pancho Carter. Grant now stands just three victories behind 1968-70-75 series titlist Larry Dickson’s mark of 45, which currently ranks sixth all-time.
Since teaming up with car chief Jeff Walker in early July, Grant has won five of 11 USAC National Sprint Car starts this season. Confidence in himself and with his ride is at an all-time high for Grant who feels as if he can go anywhere at any time in any place on the track in order to complete the task despite the physical nature of the 30-lap journey.
“This car has been a rocket,” Grant exclaimed. “No matter where I go, it’s just really, really good. Jeff Walker and I are working really well together. But I’m going to have to get some AC and maybe some more food tomorrow if we’re going to do 40 laps. I’m in pretty good shape, but I was starting to fall out of the seat at the end there. It was pretty physical tonight, and it was hot.”
With a much better view from the front on this night in comparison to Thursday’s program, Jadon Rogers took off from the pole position to assume the point in the early going. Twenty-four hours earlier, Rogers made a spectacular high side charge in the feature from 23rd to 5th.
The first and only yellow flag of the feature was displayed on lap five when Smackdown Rookie Trey Osborne slowed to a stop on the front straightaway. Earlier in the evening, Osborne scored his first career heat race victory in USAC competition. However, after starting eighth in the feature, he’d have to settle for a 23rd place result.
When action resumed, Rogers’ race lead was under attack from Briggs Danner and C.J. Leary who took the battle three-wide through turn four. Rogers thwarted the challenge by maintaining his high side momentum. However, doing much the same behind the trio was another driver doing much the same – Justin Grant.
Using the opposite approach, Brady Bacon had the bottom line working to his liking, and on lap 12, he took two-for-one as he slipped under both Leary and Danner in turn one to slot into third.
Just before the halfway point, the race for the lead officially became a free-for-all. Grant took his initial stab on the 13th lap when he slid by Rogers in turn three. However, Rogers countered off the turn four banking to lead the lap, but immediately, Grant reloaded by sliding Rogers into turn one.
Rogers mashed stood on the pedal and slid across the nose of Grant at the entry to turn three only to have Grant cross over to beat Rogers to the line by a car length on lap 14. Rogers fired one more shot from the musket, briefly retaking the lead in turn one, but by the back straight, Grant had re-cleared and re-taken the top spot, and for good, in a scenario and moment when both himself and his car shine on like crazy diamonds.
“Typically, when a racetrack has a really fast cushion, I’m not necessarily that great at it,” Grant admitted. “I’m okay at it, but as it starts to slow up, and it gets technical and tricky and gets some spots where you’ve got to start picking and choosing, that’s when I feel like I can shine, and I’ve got a racecar that shines when it’s like that. I wait for it to get technical, then I go to work.”
Bottom feeding Bacon ultimately corralled second from Rogers on lap 17 and set forth toward Grant. At the same time, Shane Cottle was putting on a passing clinic of epic proportions as the 21st place starting driver got by Rogers for third on lap 18 – the 18th driver he’d passed in a mere 18 laps.
Cottle ascended as far as second place with eight laps remaining but soon became stifled by a continuous row of lapped cars which aligned themselves on the bottom. Bacon moved up to the middle groove and reclaimed second a lap later, which also forced Cottle to leave the comfort zone of the bottom as well.
The race to the top of the pylon was in total control under the reign of Grant who finished off the night with a 2.197 second margin of victory over Brady Bacon, Shane Cottle, Jadon Rogers and Kyle Cummins.
Grant is a showman by nature; therefore, he wholeheartedly confesses to enjoying the thrill of being both fast and spectacular, a cocktail that he fully endorses.
“I’m a racecar driver and I like to think that I’m the guy to beat every time, no matter what,” Grant stated. “But I certainly have an extra boost of confidence when it’s like that and I love doing it. I love doing it for all the fans. Watching a guy lead a race is really cool when he might crash for no reason. So, I think it’s cool when it’s like that. I love putting on a show and doing what I can.”
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) collected a runner-up finish for the second night in a row in his Dynamics, Inc./Alumitech Products – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts/Triple X/Rider Chevy. For the 10th time in his USAC National Sprint Car career at Kokomo Speedway, Bacon finished as the runner-up, and to this day, remains on the hunt for his own first USAC Sprint Car win at the track as well as the Dynamics/Hoffman Auto Racing team as well.
“We were definitely faster on the bottom,” Bacon noted. “But when we got to lapped traffic, they were all on the bottom. So, I pretty much had to get in line at the top, follow them around and try not to crash up there. It was pretty gnarly in turn three and the cushion got so big and so low, you couldn’t really get a good approach to it getting into turn one. We got tight a couple times but kept a decent speed up there.”
Some individuals equate running the bottom to having a job. Not so for Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.) who makes it a way of life. Cottle advanced from his 21st starting spot to finish third, earning J & J Trucking Hard Charger honors and a $300 bonus in his Epperson Racing/Epperson Painting – PPG Paints/DRC/Claxton Chevy. Amazingly, for Cottle, it’s his sixth hard charger award in the past nine series races.
“They went out and worked the bottom, which fit right into my wheelhouse,” Cottle said of the quick track prep work session prior to the feature. “The Epperson crew did an awesome job tonight. Tony Jarrett and Logan, they put up the money for this, and like I said during Indiana Sprint Week, I like that Jarrett money.”
Eight drivers locked themselves into Saturday night’s $30,000-to-win Smackdown feature as well as the King of the Hill duels at Kokomo by virtue of accumulating the most combined points during Thursday and Friday’s programs: Justin Grant, Brady Bacon, C.J. Leary, Robert Ballou, Kyle Cummins, Shane Cottle, Briggs Danner and Logan Seavey.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (4), 2. Brady Bacon (7), 3. Shane Cottle (21), 4. Jadon Rogers (2), 5. Kyle Cummins (5), 6. Logan Seavey (10), 7. C.J. Leary (1), 8. Jake Swanson (9), 9. Briggs Danner (3), 10. Ricky Lewis (6), 11. Robert Ballou (14), 12. Chase Stockon (12), 13. Matt Westfall (16), 14. Emerson Axsom (19), 15. Daison Pursley (15), 16. Sterling Cling (11), 17. Cole Bodine (20), 18. Dave Darland (13), 19. Carson Garrett (23-P), 20. Stevie Sussex (22), 21. Kevin Thomas Jr. (17), 22. Korbyn Hayslett (18), 23. Trey Osborne (8). NT
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-1790, 2-Justin Grant-1772, 3-Emerson Axsom-1704, 4-Kyle Cummins-1657, 5-Jake Swanson-1654, 6-C.J. Leary-1589, 7-Robert Ballou-1494, 8-Chase Stockon-1411, 9-Mitchel Moles-1374, 10-Daison Pursley-1340.
SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN XII PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Kevin Thomas Jr.-22, 2-Shane Cottle-19, 3-Joey Amantea-17, 4-Carson Garrett-14, 5-Brady Bacon-11, 6-Justin Grant-10, 7-Briggs Danner-10, 8-Robert Ballou-8, 9-Emerson Axsom-8, 10-Cole Bodine-8.