STORM: Grant Sprints to Port Royal Victory
Series News Release - USAC Media
Port Royal, Pennsylvania (June 17, 2023) - Leading up to Saturday night’s event at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway, Justin Grant felt he was getting right back to where he needed to be in the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship hunt.
After a unsavory trend of five finishes of 13th or worse in a six-race stretch that reached from early May and endured into the beginning of USAC Eastern Storm earlier this week, Grant settled in with a ship-steadying third place result on Thursday at Big Diamond followed by a fourth on Friday at Williams Grove.
On Saturday, during the penultimate round of Eastern Storm at Port Royal’s half-mile dirt oval, Grant came full circle back to victory lane for the first time in more than six weeks in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – Bow Foundation – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
“It feels like forever since we won a race,” Grant exclaimed. “I had a blast running against the wall; that’s my jam. I was happy up there, but I think I bent the wheel up with two to go there and it was shaking. But it was good to bring it home.”
For the Ione, Calif. native, it was his fourth career Eastern Storm score and the 37th overall in his USAC National Sprint Car career, tying him for 11th all-time alongside fellow series champions Robert Ballou and Sheldon Kinser.
Grant’s latest triumph also came during a momentous occasion with it being the 2,000th USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship event ever held dating back to the organization’s infancy in 1956.
Rolling off third on the grid, Grant gave chase to early race frontrunners Emerson Axsom and Brady Bacon. Axsom, winner of the two most recent series races at Big Diamond and Williams Grove, jetted out to the initial lead from the pole position and was gunning to become the first driver to win three consecutive Eastern Storm features since Robert Ballou in 2015.
By lap four, Axsom had already positioned himself as the commander by a 1.369 second margin. Meanwhile, Grant was in hot pursuit and ably powered past Bacon for the second spot on the bottom of turns three and four on lap five.
From there on, Grant began inching his way forward toward Axsom, gradually sneaking up on the race leader, and eventually, had stripped his deficit to within a second as the race neared the halfway mark of the 30-lap venture. Axsom's lead shrank even further moments later, to a mere two car lengths with Grant reeling him in on the high side while Axsom occupied the middle groove.
On lap 16, Grant propelled himself into the race lead, utilizing the top side to fly around the outside of Axsom for the top spot in the narrow alley between Axsom’s right side wheels and the outside wall at the exit of turn four.
Axsom didn’t burn out nor did he fade away in the ensuing aftermath after dropping to second in the pecking order. On a restart following the stoppage of first time USAC National Sprint car feature starter and 19th running Ed Aikin on lap 18, Axsom caught his second wind and made a resurgence at the forefront of the pack.
On the lap 18 restart, Axsom used the bottom/middle byways to advance past the high-riding Grant in turn two and retake the spot. The two waged an epic side-by-side battle that lasted the duration of two entire laps around The Speed Palace with Axsom in front before Grant picked his way back past Axsom to reclaim his place at the top of the leaderboard with a back straight pass that led him to the stripe a mere half car length ahead of Axsom at the conclusion of lap 20.
Grant’s resurgence came by the virtue of a bit of patience, at least initially, and later paid its share of dividends when Grant needed something to get ahold of in the final stanza.
“We finally got the top cleaned off up there,” Grant noted. “I was riding around, and just kept looking, waiting for it to clean up to where we could get up there right against the wall.”
Riding clean rather than dirty, Grant began to edge away from Axsom, building his interval to three-quarters of a second with the checkered flag finally within his reach. Grant grasped the warm embrace of victory for the third time overall during the 2023 USAC National Sprint Car season by a 0.841 second margin with Axsom second, Daison Pursley third, Bacon fourth and Chase Stockon fifth.
Additionally, the Port Royal round had a bit of an extra incentive for Grant as it was round five of the Bubby Jones Master of Goin’ Faster Presented By Spire Sports + Entertainment event, a 10-race series honoring Grant’s father-in-law, and a series in which he is the defending champion.
“These races are all about big racetracks and about sacking up and getting it done,” Grant explained of the miniseries. “We’ve been terrible; I don’t think we’ve even finished one so far this year. To get in victory lane for the family and everybody is awesome and I’m just grateful.”
Axsom’s second place result in his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Lubricants/Spike/Kistler Chevy essentially locked up the Eastern Storm title for the Franklin, Ind. racer who now owns a 31-point advantage entering Sunday’s finale at Kutztown, Pennsylvania’s Action Track USA. With Sunday’s event being an appearance points only event, all Axsom must do is push off for hot laps and the title is all his. Axsom’s Eastern Storm record thus far has been impeccable with a pair of wins at Big Diamond and Williams Grove, plus runner-up finishes at both Grandview and now Port Royal.
For Daison Pursley (Locust Grove, Okla.), it was yet another stirring, hard-charging effort, one that moved him up to second in the Eastern Storm points in his KO Motorsports/Hutson John Deere – S & C Machine – Peterbilt/Flea RC/J & D Chevy. Pursley’s charge on this evening in his debut Port Royal run took him from 10th to 3rd in the main event. Earlier in the evening, the recent high school grad set fast time during Honest Abe Roofing Qualifying and also won the semi-feature, setting a new 10-lap track record in the process of 3:39.34.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (3), 2. Emerson Axsom (2), 3. Daison Pursley (10), 4. Brady Bacon (1), 5. Chase Stockon (11), 6. Steven Drevicki (8), 7. Kyle Cummins (7), 8. Mitchel Moles (6), 9. Jake Swanson (5), 10. Briggs Danner (12), 11. Matt Westfall (18), 12. Robert Ballou (4), 13. Logan Seavey (14), 14. Carson Garrett (15), 15. Charles Davis Jr. (13), 16. Kevin Thomas Jr. (19), 17. C.J. Leary (9), 18. Mario Clouser (16), 19. Preston Lattomus (21), 20. Max Adams (17), 21. Ed Aikin (22), 22. Alex Bright (20). NT
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Emerson Axsom-933, 2-Jake Swanson-902, 3-Kyle Cummins-877, 4-Justin Grant-876, 5-Brady Bacon-857, 6-C.J. Leary-828, 7-Mitchel Moles-777, 8-Chase Stockon-743, 9-Daison Pursley-740, 10-Robert Ballou-677.
USAC EASTERN STORM POINTS: 1-Emerson Axsom-299, 2-Daison Pursley-268, 3-Justin Grant-264, 4-Jake Swanson-242, 5-Kyle Cummins-212, 6-Briggs Danner-211, 7-Chase Stockon-209, 8-Thomas Meseraull-205, 9-Robert Ballou-202, 10-Mitchel Moles-198.