Series News Release - USAC Media
Gas City, Indiana (July 21, 2023) - Justin Grant had been in this very position before during the Gas City I-69 Speedway round of USAC Indiana Sprint Week Presented by Honest Abe Roofing.
In this very same scenario one year ago, the Ione, Calif. native had the victory ripped away from him during the final laps, forcing him to settle for a runner-up finish.
On Friday night during the 2023 ISW opener, Grant turned the tables and met an entirely different fate in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – Bow Foundation – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
This time, after the lead slipped from his fingers with one lap remaining, Grant fought back and refused to loosen his grip. In turns three and four, Grant found himself boxed in behind a lapped car, but managed to break free past Ballou to beat him to the line by mere inches, exactly .005 of second ahead at the stripe in one of the closest Indiana Sprint Week finishes in the 36-year history of the series.
Grant, the reigning Indiana Sprint Week champion, had recently been in a self-admitted slump of late after finishes of 16th and 20th in early July at Macon (Ill.) Speedway. Furthermore, one night earlier during a USAC Silver Crown run at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway, the engine under Grant’s car’s hood experienced an issue, which sent Grant to the sidelines for the remainder of the event.
This circumstance ended Grant’s all-time record of 239 consecutive USAC National feature starts across all three divisions which had been intact since July of 2020.
Now, possessing a brand-new streak of one start and one win, Grant has returned to the top, earning his 38th career USAC National Sprint Car feature triumph, which surpassed Robert Ballou and Sheldon Kinser for 11th place on the all-time series win list.
“It’s no secret I’ve been struggling,” Grant admitted. “Everybody kept telling me that my luck was going to turn around. I just keep telling them that I needed to do a better job. I’ve just been getting myself in bad positions and bad places, and not executing like I need to execute in a racecar. But I finally felt like myself again tonight.”
Grant began his 30-lap venture from the outside of the front row and held the early advantage on the high line alongside pole sitter Colten Cottle. However, the action ceased just moments later in turn three on the opening lap when fast qualifier and sixth place running Brayden Fox biked and flipped. He was able to climb out of his car unscathed but highly disappointed with a damaged racecar.
Upon the resumption, Grant promptly pulled out to a half-straight lead over C. Cottle by lap eight when a violent two car crash ensued on the front straightaway. Fifth running Larry Kingseed Jr. and sixth place C.J. Leary connected with each other, resulting in both cars simultaneously somersaulting into turn one. Both drivers managed to step out from the wreckage under their own power, though both cars were finished for the evening.
By lap 10, Grant had reestablished his dominance up front as the leader while a tug-of-war for second raged on. Running second and third, respectively at the time, both Colten Cottle and Robert Ballou bounced through turns three and four. Once the door opened, Brady Bacon burst past underneath both drivers to advance and escape from fourth to second.
Bacon’s time in second was relatively brief as Ballou raced back to the runner-up spot on lap 13 after the two exchanged the position multiple times with back-and-forth slide jobs on both ends of the racetrack.
Grant pushed his lead to 1.6 sec. by the 20th lap, but heavy lapped traffic loomed just a few car lengths ahead with less than 10 laps to go. At that point, Ballou clamped down on Grant for the lead with seven remaining, and were separated by a car length as they worked within each other’s shadow on the bottom, nose-to-tail under traffic.
“Right as we were starting to catch the big pack of lappers there, I was starting to hear somebody,” Grant diagrammed. “I just heard somebody back there running more throttle, then a couple guys got tangled up off four, so I snuck through there and got into one and two pretty good. I think I got a little bit of a break there. I didn’t hear anybody, and then when I tried to circle that guy in three and four, I thought I had a little more room than I actually had.”
One could say that it was at that exact moment when Grant received Ballou’s undivided attention.
“It was 29 laps of riding around and riding around, and then it was, ‘oh boy, we better get to racing here,’” Grant recalled. “The heart rate definitely jacked up there on lap 29. There at the end, I tried to circle that lapped car on the outside, and it was ‘oh, that isn’t good.’
That lapped car was Geoff Ensign, and amid Grant and Ballou’s approach toward Ensign, Ballou knew it was go-time and carved out a path on the bottom of turns three and four to assume the lead by .009 second and a wheel ahead of Grant at the stripe with the white flag signaling above, signifying one lap to go.
On the 30th and final lap, the trio choo-choo’d in a straight-line exiting turn two. However, Ballou set up wide in turns three and four to work around the outside of Ensign while Grant remained committed to the bottom. With a bit of rolling momentum, Grant tapped the rear bumper of Ensign off turn four and followed his path for the final 50 feet.
That little bit of oomph from Grant was just barely enough to propel him ahead of Ballou’s high side momentum, with Grant beating him to the line in by just a few inches in one of the greatest finishes in series history, which served as Grant’s seventh career Indiana Sprint Week victory, tying him with Bryan Clauson for the fifth most all-time.
Robert Ballou came home a close second with Brady Bacon third, Mitchel Moles fourth and Kevin Thomas Jr. fifth.
Friday’s victory was special for Grant in a personal way as well. Earlier this month, legendary car owner Jeff Walker was brought on board to serve as crew chief for Grant. It was Walker who provided Grant with his first opportunity in sprint car racing all those years ago. Now, Grant was able to deliver a big win in his new but familiar surroundings consisting of Grant and Walker.
“I’m really grateful for my old buddy, my old pal, Jeff Walker coming back and crew chiefing for me again,” Grant said. “It’s pretty cool for me. Jeff was the first guy to hire me, and now I’ve gotten to hire him. We’re having a lot of fun racing, and it feels good to get in victory lane.”
Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) made a charge from his 12th starting position to take the lead on the white flag lap. At the checkered, he came up just inches short of his first USAC National Sprint Car win of the season in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.
“I knew I had to be getting near the end and I knew I had the best car from lap one,” Ballou attested. “You don’t just start 12th and charge to the front right away in seven laps. When we got to lapped traffic, I knew it was now or never. Sometimes you follow the lapped car, and you get your doors blown off around the outside. I knew the top wasn’t very good there, and I didn’t get a good enough run off the middle to get back to the top. I also had a tough battle with the 69 car. He likes to throw elbows, so if he wants to play hardball, we’re more than ready.”
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) finished a solid third in his Dynamics, Inc./Bullseye Pest Control – Daredevil Brewing – Tel-Star Technologies/Triple X/Rider Chevy. The result put him firmly in the Indiana Sprint Week points race right off the bat while also moving him up to second in the season long USAC National Sprint Car points.
“We were a little bit better than Robert for a while, but some people are harder to pass than others,” Bacon shot back. “We could’ve moved him out of the way like he probably would’ve done to me, but we’ll keep that in our pocket for when we can win a race. I didn’t think we had a car to win tonight. I just got a little shy with the rough earlier in the night. Toward the end of the feature, we just didn’t have enough drive. A lot of people had some trouble tonight, but we survived, so we’ll take it.”
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (2), 2. Robert Ballou (12), 3. Brady Bacon (3), 4. Mitchel Moles (14), 5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (9), 6. Kyle Cummins (11), 7. Emerson Axsom (5), 8. Colten Cottle (1), 9. Logan Seavey (19), 10. Matt Westfall (10), 11. Shane Cottle (22), 12. Braxton Cummings (15), 13. Alex Bright (4), 14. Geoff Ensign (17), 15. Jadon Rogers (21), 16. Jake Swanson (23-P), 17. Xavier Doney (20), 18. Chase Stockon (24-P), 19. Max Adams (13), 20. Carson Garrett (16), 21. Larry Kingseed Jr. (8), 22. C.J. Leary (7), 23. Thomas Meseraull (18), 24. Brayden Fox (6). NT
(P) represents a provisional starter
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Emerson Axsom-1255, 2-Brady Bacon-1235, 3-Jake Swanson-1227, 4-Justin Grant-1225, 5-Kyle Cummins-1196, 6-C.J. Leary-1129, 7-Mitchel Moles-1100, 8-Robert Ballou-1028, 9-Chase Stockon-1021, 10-Daison Pursley-999.
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK INDIANA SPRINT WEEK PRESENTED BY HONEST ABE ROOFING POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-76, 2-Robert Ballou-74, 3-Brady Bacon-71, 4-Kevin Thomas Jr.-66, 5-Mitchel Moles-63, 6-Emerson Axsom-62, 7-Kyle Cummins-60, 8-Colten Cottle-57, 9-Logan Seavey-53, 10-Matt Westfall-50.