Grant Wins Third Smackdown Opener
Series News Release - USAC Media
Kokomo, Indiana (August 24, 2023) - When Smackdown begins, Justin Grant wins.
Over the past three seasons, that just seems to be the order of business on the opening night of the three-night event annually held during the month of August at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway.
After notching back-to-back Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Sprint Car Smackdown opening night victories in 2021 and 2022, the Ione, Calif. driver once again found victory lane on Thursday night, becoming the first driver win three-straight Smackdown openers.
This time around, Grant was the force from start to finish in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MVP Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy, leading all 30 laps to earn his season-leading seventh USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature win of the year.
Grant’s fifth overall Smackdown victory (prelims & final nights combined) places him in a three-way tie for the most all-time alongside Dave Darland and Tyler Courtney. Furthermore, the win was Grant’s seventh in USAC National Sprint Car competition at Kokomo, which now trails only the two undisputed Kokomo Speedway kings – Dave Darland (9) and Tony Elliott (8).
Additionally, Grant’s victory at Kokomo was the 41st of his USAC National Sprint Car career, which moved him past 1969 and 1971 series championship Gary Bettenhausen on the all-time list. Grant now stands tied with 2012-13 series champ Bryan Clauson for eighth all-time and just one behind Pancho Carter, the 1974 and 1976 titlist, for seventh on the list.
Grant started on the pole for the main event alongside Kyle Cummins. It was a row of Smackdown mastery as, between the two, the pair had won each of the past two Smackdown finales and the past three Smackdown openers. As a matter of fact, a year ago, the opening night Smackdown feature came down to the wire between the same two individuals.
Things quickly came to a halt on lap one as a stack-up occurred in turn two, entangling Logan Seavey, Matt Westfall, Trey Osborne, Dave Darland and Colten Cottle, all of whom stopped. Osborne and Cottle incurred the most misfortune as both did not return.
When the race finally did resume with a complete restart, Grant was like a Concorde among hang gliders as he shot ahead to lead the opening lap several car lengths ahead of Cummins while Brady Bacon slid into third ahead of C.J. Leary on the bottom of turn one on lap two.
Halfway through, Grant reached the tail end of the field while carrying a solid 0.766 second lead. At that point, Bacon was hovering over Cummins’ shoulder for second. Grant played offense in traffic as he took to the top of turn four to fly by Korbyn Hayslett, Westfall and Rylan Gray in one fell swoop as he escaped the approaching duo of Cummins and Bacon to reconstruct his lead from a few car lengths to a half-straightaway with only 10 laps to go.
With the competition running high, middle and low out in front of him, Grant had to be on high alert, looking left, right and down the middle as if playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. Making decisions quickly and pouncing rapidly is the name of the game, and fortunately for Grant, his car was hooked up and he was able to make all the right moves at all the right times in all the right places.
“I had to run a bunch of different lanes but (car chief) Jeff Walker and I had this car so good,” Grant stated. “I could run above the cushion; I could run through the slick; I could run the bottom; I could run the top; I could just do anything. The only concern I had was how high the car was going to wheelie on the straightaways.”
When everything’s clicking, as it did in the case for Grant, it opens up options instead of leaving a driver with a one-track mind when making split-second decisions at a place in which laps are clicked off at a rate of every 13 seconds.
“With traffic being the way it was and with the track being the way it was, it allowed me to have so many options where it looked like a lot of guys maybe didn’t have those options,” Grant explained. “We were able to cut through those lapped cars at a really good pace. I didn’t feel like I had to be super aggressive, but I had a car that was good to enough to allow me to jump into every hole I needed to and clear guys when I needed to. It was a whole lot of fun.”
With seven to go on lap 24, Bacon scooched on the bottom of turn three, dead even with Cummins before taking the second position. However, with just a handful of trips around the 1/4-mile remaining, Bacon found himself still a full two seconds behind the leader.
Grant never relented down the stretch, lapping all but the first nine finishers at closing time as he crossed under the checkered flag 2.007 seconds ahead of Brady Bacon, who finished as the runner-up. Robert Ballou grabbed third with Carson Garrett fourth and Jadon Rogers rounded out the top-five with a miraculous high-side run from 23rd to 5th after taking a provisional starting position.
Cummins had been running third with just two laps remaining when he began to slow dramatically, dropping through the field before finishing 10th in the final rundown, the victim of a nozzle line that came off.
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) made a late race move to grab a second-place result in his Dynamics, Inc./Alumitech Products – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts/Triple X/Rider Chevy. In doing so, he padded his overall USAC National Sprint Car point lead while earning his ninth career second place finish with the series at Kokomo, where he came one spot away from winning his and his team’s first at the track.
“I thought we had a good car in open track,” Bacon said. “While I was racing Kyle, he got past a gaggle of lapped cars, and that kind of held us up after that. So, he got a little breathing room. We could move around on the top or the bottom and wherever we needed to go. It just wasn’t meant to be once again."
Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) endured a night in which he kicked off as the fastest qualifier, then got caught up in a heat race accident only to recover by driving from the tail to a transfer spot. Then, he was forced to change the engine just before the feature, yet still managed to persevere and finish on the podium in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.
“We were in the back changing motors,” Ballou revealed. “We had a motor that dropped oil pressure pretty severely, but it was still running well. It was quick time and ran through that heat race, so it did what it needed to do. (Engine builder) Don Ott recommended we change it, so we put another motor in. This is actually the Farney’s motor we used just to get us through. I was a knucklehead as we just had one delivered today but I didn’t bring it. So, we put this thing in and obviously it got us to where we needed to be. I wasn’t sure where to go on gear because we haven’t run that thing in so long and we missed it a little bit.”
It was a successful Smackdown debut for reigning USAC East Coast Sprint Car champ and current point leader Briggs Danner (Allentown, Pa.) as his first career start in the event netted a $300 bonus as the feature's J & J Trucking Hard Charger after advancing from 16th to 8th. To clarify, although Jadon Rogers passed 18 cars in his move from 23rd to 5th, he was ineligible for official hard charger honors due to taking a provisional.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (2), 2. Brady Bacon (4), 3. Robert Ballou (5), 4. Carson Garrett (6), 5. Jadon Rogers (23-P), 6. C.J. Leary (3), 7. Shane Cottle (8), 8. Briggs Danner (16), 9. Joey Amantea (9), 10. Kyle Cummins (1), 11. Emerson Axsom (24-P), 12. Chase Stockon (12), 13. Logan Seavey (11), 14. Jake Swanson (14) 15. Ricky Lewis (18), 16. Max Adams (7), 17. Cole Bodine (20), 18. Matt Westfall (13), 19. Rylan Gray (10), 20. Korbyn Hayslett (22), 21. Dave Darland (21), 22. Daison Pursley (15), 23. Trey Osborne (17), 24. Colten Cottle (19). NT
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-1715, 2-Justin Grant-1691, 3-Emerson Axsom-1662, 4-Jake Swanson-1596, 5-Kyle Cummins-1587, 6-C.J. Leary-1531, 7-Robert Ballou-1447, 8-Mitchel Moles-1374, 9-Chase Stockon-1371, 10-Daison Pursley-1305.
SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN XII PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Kevin Thomas Jr.-22, 2-Briggs Danner-9, 3-Jack Hoyer-7, 4-Jadon Rogers-6, 5-Carson Garrett-5, 6-Cole Bodine-5, 7-Sterling Cling-5, 8-Devan Myers-5, 9-Brady Bacon-4, 10-Robert Ballou-4.