Kokomo Smackdown: Grant Grabs Win on First Night
Series News Release - USAC Media
Justin Grant made it copiously clear that we’re in the midst of the JG era at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway.
During Thursday night’s Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Cars Sprint Car Smackdown XI opener, the Ione, Calif. native prevailed over a rapidly closing, and 22nd place restarting, Kyle Cummins to win his fifth USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature start in his past six starts at Kokomo’s quarter-mile dirt oval.
Five wins in a six-race span equals the all-time high water mark for USAC Sprint Car success at Kokomo. The venue’s winningest driver, Dave Darland, also captured five during a six-race timeframe in 2013-14.
Part of that run for Darland included consecutive Smackdown championships, an encore performance of which Grant is vying to recreate at the conclusion of this weekend.
Meanwhile, Rochester, Ind. based TOPP Motorsports extended its record as the winningest team in Smackdown history with its sixth victory in totality – two with Tyler Courtney and now four with Grant.
Furthermore, Grant moved into sole possession of 15th on the all-time USAC National Sprint Car driver win list with his 33rd career triumph, elevating him ahead of 1973 series titlist Rollie Beale.
Despite leading all 30 laps, Grant still feels there’s plenty left in the tank and much more to be found in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy over the next two nights.
“Unfortunately, I feel like we’ve got a bit of work to do,” Grant admitted. “We held on, and we won, but the big (track) rework helped us. It was pretty wide open through the middle, and we were maybe a little tight, not thinking it was going to hang around as long as it did.”
Yet, Grant’s prevailing moment came in a narrow victory over the evening’s most undeterred driver, Cummins, who experienced early success only to have been snake bitten by the toughest of tribulations just prior to the green flag for the start of the feature.
During the pace laps, Cummins right rear tire went flat, forcing him to dip into the Indy Metal Finishing Work Area for fresh rubber before returning to an entirely new outlook – one that required him to start at the tail of the field after originally being slated to start sixth.
Up front, Grant maintained control of the proceedings throughout the first half of the contest, maintaining a three to four car length edge over second-running Robert Ballou before disposing the tail end of the lead lap cars to up the ante to the tune of 1.3 seconds.
By that time, Cummins had already barged into the top-ten by lap 12 and had slotted into the seventh position when the yellow flag was displayed on the 16th lap for fourth running Brady Bacon who slowed to a crawl between turns three and four with a flat right rear tire. He’d ultimately return with a new right rear but managed just an 11th at the checkered.
Now without the threat of traffic looming ahead in the near future, Grant stepped out to a comfortable advantage as he remained undaunted at the head of the class.
At the same time, Cummins’ real nice story quickly turned into him becoming a real potential threat on the lap 16 restart when he picked off Jadon Rogers for sixth in turn one, Emerson Axsom for fifth in turn three, then Anton Hernandez for fourth the next time around in turns one and two. With 11 laps remaining Cummins slid under Jason McDougal for third on the bottom of turn three, and only had the top two left to track down.
With only a single caution to aid him in his pursuit at the midway point, Cummins kept his hands firmly on the shovel as he dug a path right to the bumper of Ballou in turn one with three to go while Ballou simultaneously closed the gap between himself and Grant to less than a car length.
Cummins sped around the outside of Ballou in turn four with a mighty stride to nip him at the stripe for second coming to the white flag. With a half-second of ground to make up, Cummins nearly tracked him down in the final lap.
Nonetheless, all the work Grant had put into his craftwork following the mid-race restart gave him enough of an edge to withstand Cummins’ Hail Mary on the 30th and final circuit. Ultimately, Grant edged Cummins by a 0.266 second margin for his fifth series victory of the year and the sixth of his career at Kokomo, equaling him with Tyler Courtney for third all-time on the track’s USAC Sprint Car win list behind Darland’s nine and Tony Elliott’s eight.
Grant felt the heat from the flamethrowers Cummins was heaving at the finish, and while fully enthused about the win and partially dissatisfied with the overall performance, Grant feels an obligation to find more within in order to remain at the forefront of the competition throughout the balance of the weekend.
“Ol’ Cummins is getting around this place really good anymore; he went to the tail there and darn near got back to us,” Grant exclaimed. “We’ve still got some work to do, but we’ll get it figured out. We’ve got a lot of data and a lot of notes from this place. We’ll be all right come Saturday.”
What more can you say about Kyle Cummins? After suffering a flat right rear tire before the start of the feature, Cummins restarted 22nd and carved through to the finish a close second in his Rock Steady Racing/Ultimate Predator Boats - Mid-America Safety Solutions/Mach-1/Cummins Chevy. In the process, the Princeton, Ind. native collected the GSP North America Quality Driving Performance of the Night Award after setting Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifying Time, winning his heat race and, in the feature, came home one spot shy of becoming the first driver to “sweep” the night with the series since Tyler Courtney at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway three years earlier in 2019.
“Sitting back there, I was thinking, ‘this kind of sucks,’ but it might put a show on for the fans because I knew we had a really good car,” Cummins related. “It actually helped out switching the tire because we probably would’ve been too tight starting in the back. I wish we could’ve had a couple more laps. That would’ve been pretty cool going out and winning from the tail, but it shows we’ve got a pretty good car and we want this one badly.”
Robert Ballou's Smackdown return was magnificent as he finished in the third position aboard his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru - Dragonfly Aviation - Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy. He returned to the Smackdown podium for the first time since 2020 after an opening night accident sidelined him for the rest of the weekend a year ago during Smackdown’s opening night.
“My racecar was too tight,” Ballou revealed. “I didn’t expect it to stay really wet for that long. I couldn’t maneuver and do what I wanted to do. We’ll look at some video tonight and try to get a better grasp on it. I’m a pain in the butt as far as what I want to feel, but I just didn’t have what I wanted tonight. We’re just going to have to sharpen our pencils a little bit and go back to the drawing board. Hopefully, we’ll get a little bit better for these guys.”
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (2), 2. Kyle Cummins (6), 3. Robert Ballou (1), 4. Jason McDougal (4), 5. Emerson Axsom (10), 6. Jadon Rogers (9), 7. C.J. Leary (7), 8. Thomas Meseraull (16), 9. Chase Stockon (11), 10. Mitchel Moles (5), 11. Brady Bacon (3), 12. Jake Swanson (17), 13. Anton Hernandez (8), 14. Scotty Weir (21), 15. Mario Clouser (18), 16. Max Adams (20), 17. Logan Seavey (14), 18. Matt Westfall (12), 19. Dave Darland (13), 20. Cole Bodine (19), 21. Alex Bright (22), 22. Kevin Thomas Jr. (15), 23. Brandon Mattox (23-P). NT
(P) represents a provisional starter.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-1784, 2-Brady Bacon-1647, 3-Robert Ballou-1615, 4-C.J. Leary-1602, 5-Emerson Axsom-1540, 6-Logan Seavey-1485, 7-Chase Stockon-1338, 8-Matt Westfall-1227, 9-Jadon Rogers-1190, 10-Jake Swanson-1065.