By Richie Murray
Kokomo, Indiana………Throughout the 2018 season, it almost seems as if Tyler Courtney owns a share of land down in the infield at the start/finish line. With eight USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victories to his credit, his footprint has already been imprinted on several different victory lanes this year.
However, the one victory lane he seems to have a stranglehold of lately is Kokomo Speedway on “Smackdown” weekend.
In Thursday night’s “Smackdown VII” opener, the Indianapolis, Indiana driver became the first to win three consecutive “Smackdown” features, winning the final two nights of last year’s edition before capturing his latest, leading the final 11 laps after sliding past last year’s opening night victor C.J. Leary on the way to his 14th career series victory, tying him with the likes of Billy Cassella, Jim Hurtubise, Lee Kunzman and Bruce Walkup on the all-time list aboard the Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Priority Aviation – Competition Suspension, Inc./Spike/Rider Chevy.
Leary slid up to the lead on the opening lap from his pole starting position, while Courtney slotted into the fourth spot. By lap four, though, Courtney was applying the pressure on the winningest “Smackdown” driver of all-time, Dave Darland, for second. After swapping the spot with Darland multiple times, Courtney reemerged with the second position, clearing Darland off turn four.
However, Courtney immediately found himself having to overcome a substantial deficit as Leary set the tone up front. By the time Leary reached lapped traffic, Courtney remained a half-straightaway back, ripping the top along with Leary as lapped traffic tethered themselves to the bottom of the racetrack.
Little by little, Courtney found his rhythm and began to close the gap on Leary just a few ticks at a time when seventh-running Kevin Thomas, Jr. slowed to a stop in turn three with a flat right rear tire. At the time, Leary and Courtney were separated by less than a second, but those two held an advantage in excess of 7.5 seconds over third when the yellow flew.
When you’re mired in lapped traffic, a yellow flag can go one of two ways: it can either clear out the traffic that’s holding you up or it can clear up the traffic that your opponent could’ve gotten caught behind. Either way, Courtney feels like it this was his race to win.
“I didn’t really need a caution,” Courtney admits. “You get in a rhythm there and you don’t know if you’re going to be able to get back in that rhythm. You just kind of hit and miss, especially when it’s tricky like it was on the top. I felt like we were better, and we could’ve gotten him without a caution, but the caution definitely didn’t hurt, and I was able to get back into my rhythm.”
On the lap 20 restart, some may have expected Courtney to deliver his slider on the entry into turn one, but instead, he waited patiently and saved his for the next go-around after he built his momentum through three and four, ultimately pulling the trigger entering turn one on the 21st circuit, sliding up the top past Leary for the race lead.
“I couldn’t really get a good restart off four,” Courtney explained. “I just couldn’t get enough grip off the bottom and he could always pull me a little bit. I knew if I could maintain it through one and two, I was really good through three and four, so I maintained through one and two and I got a run through three and four and felt like I was going to have a good enough run to clear him by what I felt was a fair enough amount, and we did. I expected a slider; he threw one and I stayed in it and drove around him. From there, I just got to run my own race there for the last ten laps.”
Thursday night “Smackdown VII” winner Tyler Courtney. (Travis Branch Photo)
Nonetheless, Leary remained in hot pursuit of Courtney as he tried to get himself back in the game, but while exiting turn four, Leary’s right rear tire kissed the concrete wall. As he ramped up the wall and the fence, it appeared certain he was going on his lid, but that was not the case as he miraculously landed back on all fours and kept on going, albeit two spots further behind the leader with the lap counter melting away.
Down the stretch, Courtney underwent a couple of challenges that he successfully overcame following his ricochet off the turn two wall on lap 23. From that point, he withstood a restart that saw Justin Grant and Brady Bacon enter the fray, thought they were not able to hang as Courtney who drove away for a 3.656 second margin of victory over Leary, who made a miraculous comeback to move from fourth to second in the final four laps past Grant and Bacon. Bacon was third ahead of Grant and USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point leader Chris Windom.
Contingency award winners Thursday night at Kokomo Speedway were Justin Grant (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Shane Cottle (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Chris Windom (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Dave Darland (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (KSE Racing Products/Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Hard Charger), Scotty Weir (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Dakota Jackson (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier), Matt Westfall (Saldana Racing Products/High Side Designs First Non-Transfer), Josh Hodges (Hoosier Racing Tire Perseverance Award) and Chad Boespflug (High Side Designs First Flipper).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 23, 2018 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – “Sprint Car Smackdown VII”
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-12.643; 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-12.699; 3. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-12.738; 4. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-12.826; 5. Tyler Thomas, 2E, Epperson-12.842; 6. Kyle Cummins, 3c, EZR/Cummins-12.866; 7. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-12.900; 8. Chad Boespflug, 19, Reinbold/Underwood-12.909; 9. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-12.963; 10. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-12.988; 11. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-13.022; 12. Jason McDougal, 71p, Daigh/Phillips-13.060; 13. Dakota Jackson, 3R, Rock Steady-13.065; 14. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-13.069; 15. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-13.111; 16. Logan Seavey, 5B, Briscoe-13.136; 17. Shane Cottle, 5G, Goacher-13.157; 18. Scotty Weir, 22s, Simon-13.174; 19. Carson Short, 5CB, Briscoe-13.218; 20. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, LNB-13.270; 21. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-13.307; 22. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-13.310; 23. Colten Cottle, 5c, Cottle-13.318; 24. Carmen Perigo, 21, Stehman-13.345; 25. Dallas Hewitt, 2, Hewitt-13.388; 26. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-13.436; 27. Stevie Sussex, 17GP, Dutcher-13.439; 28. Clinton Boyles, 57, Hazen-13.470; 29. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-13.488; 30. Chet Williams, 38, Fortune-13.548; 31. Brian Karraker, 23, Karraker-13.593; 32. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox/Nigg-13.710; 33. Brian VanMeveren, 24, VanMeveren-13.911; 34. Paul Dues, 87, Dues-13.926; 35. Chad Wilson, 14, Wilson-14.362.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. S. Cottle, 2. Bacon, 3. T. Thomas, 4. Grant, 5. Hodges, 6. Westfall, 7. Jackson, 8. Hewitt, 9. VanMeveren. 2:13.69
COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. K. Thomas, 2. Weir, 3. Chapple, 4. Stockon, 5. Cummins, 6. DiMattia, 7. Andretti, 8. Williams, 9. Dues. NT
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Windom, 2. Leary, 3. Courtney, 4. Short, 5. Sussex, 6. C. Cottle, 7. Karraker, 8. Wilson, 9. Ballou. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Darland, 2. Buckwalter, 3. McDougal, 4. Perigo, 5. Boyles 6. Mattox, 7. Seavey, 8. Boespflug. NT
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Cummins, 2. Ballou, 3. Seavey, 4. Jackson, 5. Andretti, 6. Hodges, 7. Westfall, 8. Boyles, 9. C. Cottle, 10. DiMattia, 11. Mattox, 12. Karraker, 13. Sussex, 14. Hewitt, 15. Wilson, 16. Williams, 17. Dues, 18. VanMeveren. 2:47.54
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Tyler Courtney (4), 2. C.J. Leary (1), 3. Brady Bacon (8), 4. Justin Grant (6), 5. Chris Windom (10), 6. Dave Darland (3), 7. Jason McDougal (11), 8. Kyle Cummins (7), 9. Tyler Thomas (2), 10. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (5), 11. Chase Stockon (9), 12. Jarett Andretti (13), 13. Scotty Weir (17), 14. Carson Short (18), 15. Logan Seavey (15), 16. Tony DiMattia (24), 17. Dakota Jackson (12), 18. Isaac Chapple (20), 19. Carmen Perigo (21), 20. Robert Ballou (14), 21. Timmy Buckwalter (19), 22. Shane Cottle (16), 23. Josh Hodges (22), 24. Matt Westfall (23). NT
**Boespflug flipped during the fourth heat. Buckwalter flipped after the checkered flag in the fourth heat.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-19 Leary, Laps 20-30 Courtney.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS HARD CHARGER: Brady Bacon (8th to 3rd)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Scotty Weir
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS/HIGH SIDE DESIGNS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Matt Westfall
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Dakota Jackson
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Windom-1807, 2-K. Thomas-1789, 3-Courtney-1767, 4-Bacon-1561, 5-Darland-1550, 6-Stockon-1548, 7-Leary-1505, 8-Grant-1459, 9-Ballou-1433, 10-Boespflug-1084.
NEW “SMACKDOWN VII” POINTS: 1-Courtney-166, 2-Leary-161, 3-Grant-161, 4-Bacon-157, 5-Darland-157, 6-Windom-152, 7-K. Thomas-151, 8-T. Thomas-148, 9-Cummins-147, 10-McDougal-145.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: August 24-25 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – “Sprint Car Smackdown VII”