By Richie Murray
Kokomo, Indiana (August 28, 2021)………In essence, Saturday night’s 40-lap Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Smackdown X feature at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway came down to a two-lap conquest for Justin Grant.
A frequent storyboard for the event throughout its first decade has demonstrated that a final restart and, consequently, how one responds to it, can ultimately decide a driver’s fate regardless of the success that led up to that point.
Case in point came earlier in the day for Kevin Thomas Jr. and Logan Seavey, and the same was true for Grant himself who faced, and conquered, a similar scenario just 24 hours earlier versus Kyle Cummins at the quarter-mile dirt oval.
This time, $15,000 was on the line, and the green-white-checkered conclusion gave us a Grant/Thorson gem that provoked both to bring out all the stops in order to put this one in their personal win column.
Race leader Grant answered Thorson’s slide job in turn one by returning the favor in turn three, then fending Thorson off on the final circuit to claim his second career Smackdown victory (2018), making him the third multi-time winner in the event’s history (Dave Darland and Tyler Courtney) in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
“Smackdown comes down to late-race restarts like this a lot,” Grant explained. “You never know that you have it. Even when it’s green and going well, these guys are so good, and everyone that we race with is so tough and so savvy at what they do. It’s easy to get snookered on a restart; you got to do your job as good as you can.”
TOPP Motorsports became the second three-time Smackdown winning team following previous scores with Tyler Courtney in 2017 and Grant in 2018. Phillips Motorsports also won three-straight with Dave Darland in 2013-14-15.
Additionally, Grant’s 28th career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car win tied him with series champions Don Branson, A.J. Foyt, Levi Jones and J.J. Yeley for 18th on the all-time list, and it took nearly everything the Ione, Calif. driver could generate out of himself and out of the car.
“I was smashing this thing off the fence all the way around,” Grant recalled. “I about crashed coming to the checkered. It’s hot. I’m out of breath. That was 40 laps of everything this car had.”
The race belonged to Thorson for the first 15 revolutions, holding a lead upwards of a full second until he became trapped in a box between the cars of Matt Westfall and Stevie Sussex at the tail end of the lead lap on the bottom of turn one. That halted Thorson’s progress momentarily and gave Grant the go-ahead to levy a full-on attack.
Grant ducked under Westfall midway down the back straight, then tossed his car all the way from the bottom of turn three to the top of turn four, which screamed right past the front bumper of Thorson, who turned down and answered the bell to edge Grant at the stripe by a whisker.
Reloaded and ready to fire again, Grant made a beeline to the bottom of turn one and stuck the slider in turn two to secure the lead with 24 laps still remaining. With Grant upping his lead to more than two seconds, much seemed to be relatively well in hand. However, the car of Scotty Weir nearly spun in front of him in turns one and two, hampering Grant’s progress, undotting his i’s and uncrossing his t’s as his advantage melted to just a single second in the blink of an eye.
With two to go, any and all daylight for Grant was overcasted as eighth-running Shane Cottle slowed dramatically with a ball of flame and smoke emanating from his ride, putting an end to his evening and setting up one final restart.
Grant was an up-close and personal witness to Thorson snagging the lead away from him on the lap 29 restart in turn one. Grant took it right back in turn three, rising right up to the outside wall in the fourth turn and giving it a kiss with the right rear. Taking the white flag, Grant slid himself from the middle to the top in turns one and two in an attempt to stifle Thorson’s momentum.
“He was able to slide me there and I was afraid that was going to happen just with the moisture being low on the front stretch, but I didn’t want to give up the speed down the back stretch,” Grant explained. “It worked out, and I was able to get him crossed back over and then just go on defense and block his sliders when he was throwing them to try to make momentum when he wasn’t.”
Thorson climbed the ladder as he charged from the bottom of turn three to the top in turn four, coming up short and falling into line behind Grant, who subsequently ricocheted his right rear tire and right front tire off the outside wall, yet maintained control, and led Thorson across the line underneath the double checkers by a margin of 0.773 sec.
As the leaders crossed the finish line, a melee took place in the aftermath of the battle for the seventh spot which resulted in both C.J. Leary and Jake Swanson flipping through turns three and four. Kyle Cummins also became entangled and nosed into the turn four wall. All drivers walked away with Leary, Swanson and Cummins finishing 11th, 12th and 13th, respectively.
Grant and crew had two schools of thought and two approaches to take set-up wise entering Smackdown. The path ultimately chosen became the winning combination on this night, and twice throughout the weekend.
“I felt pretty confident around the middle section of the race; I felt like we had a pretty good car,” Grant said. “But there at the end, it got all shaken up. We went back and forth on this car whether to make it drive forward really, really hard or have momentum around the fence with a lot of stability. We went back and forth all week but ultimately decided, if we were going to win this thing, it was going to be momentum around the fence. The first couple of laps after a restart, we’re a sitting duck because we don’t launch, but we do go out and rail around the fence better that way. It’s a gamble but tonight it paid off.”
Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) had the best Smackdown “Rookie” performance in the history of the event, running through all three rounds of the brackets to claim the B & W Auto Mart King of the Hill title, then finished as the runner-up in the feature in his Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – CSI – MVT/Spike/Stanton Chevy, which garnered him The Frolic Bar & Grill Smackdown X Rookie of the Year award.
Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) was the only driver to finish inside the top-three during both events held at Kokomo on Saturday, under the sun and under the moon, finishing third to close out the night cap in his KT Motorsports/Dr. Pepper Presents the Ronald McDonald House Charities/DRC/Speedway Chevy.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 28, 2021 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Smackdown X – (Nighttime Event)
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST QUALIFIER: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Shane Cottle (#74x Hodges), 2. Brent Beauchamp (#29 LB), 3. Scotty Weir (#4p Pedersen), 4. Chase Johnson (#22 Goodnight), 5. Max Guilford (#79BT Goodnight), 6. Steven Drevicki (#19s DeGre), 7. Zack Pretorius (#9z Pretorius), 8. Ryan Barr (#21B Barr). 2:17.150
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND QUALIFIER: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Jake Swanson (#21AZ Team AZ), 2. Max Adams (#57 Hazen), 3. Stevie Sussex (#77 Wingo), 4. Koby Barksdale (#16K Knight), 5. Anthony D’Alessio (#01 D’Alessio), 6. Tye Mihocko (#2E Epperson), 7. David Hair (#44 Hair), 8. Cole Bodine (#57x DCT). NT
INDY METAL FINISHING THIRD QUALIFIER: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Jadon Rogers (#14 Rogers), 2. Emerson Axsom (#39BC Clauson Marshall Newman), 3. Mario Clouser (#6 EZR), 4. Jason McDougal (#5m KO), 5. Sterling Cling (#34 Cling), 6. Brayden Clark (#42 Jackson-Clark), 7. Matt Goodnight (#39 Goodnight), 8. Jack James (#99 James). 2:13.683
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH QUALIFIER: (10 laps, top-2 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas Meseraull (#2 Yeley), 2. Chase Stockon (#5s KO), 3. Matt Westfall (#33m Marshall), 4. Alex Bright (#20 Hummer), 5. Ryan Thomas (#77FR Wingo), 6. Brandon Mattox (#28 Mattox), 7. Brandon Long (#12 Ballou), 8. Ted Kirkpatrick (#63LK Sturgeon). NT
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL FIRST QUARTERFINAL: (3 laps) #1 Justin Grant (#4 TOPP) defeats #8 Kyle Cummins (#3R Rock Steady).
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL SECOND QUARTERFINAL: (3 laps) #4 Tanner Thorson (#19AZ Reinbold-Underwood) defeats #5 Brady Bacon (#69 Dynamics).
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL THIRD QUARTERFINAL: (3 laps) #2 Logan Seavey (#5 Baldwin-Fox) defeats #7 Chris Windom (#19 Hayward).
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL FOURTH QUARTERFINAL: (3 laps) #6 Kevin Thomas Jr. (#9K KT) defeats #3 C.J. Leary (#77m Michael).
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL FIRST SEMIFINAL: (3 laps) #4 Tanner Thorson defeats #1 Justin Grant.
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL SECOND SEMIFINAL: (3 laps) #6 Kevin Thomas Jr. defeats #3 C.J. Leary.
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL FINAL: (3 laps) #4 Tanner Thorson defeats #6 Kevin Thomas Jr.
THE FROLIC BAR & GRILL C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi) 1. Brandon Mattox, 2. Brayden Clark, 3. Steven Drevicki, 4. Brandon Long, 5. Ryan Barr, 6. David Hair, 7. Zack Pretorius, 8. Ted Kirkpatrick, 9. Jack James. 2:25.587
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (15 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Scotty Weir, 2. Mario Clouser, 3. Stevie Sussex, 4. Chase Johnson, 5. Jason McDougal, 6. Matt Westfall, 7. Max Guilford, 8. Alex Bright, 9. Koby Barksdale, 10. Sterling Cling, 11. Steven Drevicki, 12. Brandon Long, 13. Brayden Clark, 14. Ryan Thomas, 15. Brandon Mattox, 16. Anthony D’Alessio. NT
FEATURE: (40 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (3), 2. Tanner Thorson (1), 3. Kevin Thomas Jr. (2), 4. Brady Bacon (6), 5. Logan Seavey (4), 6. Chris Windom (7), 7. Emerson Axsom (15), 8. Chase Stockon (16), 9. Jadon Rogers (11), 10. Mario Clouser (18), 11. C.J. Leary (5), 12. Jake Swanson (10), 13. Kyle Cummins (8), 14. Jason McDougal (21), 15. Brent Beauchamp (13), 16. Stevie Sussex (19), 17. Shane Cottle (9), 18. Thomas Meseraull (12), 19. Chase Johnson (20), 20. Scotty Weir (17), 21. Matt Westfall (22), 22. Max Adams (14). NT
**Cole Bodine flipped during the second heat. C.J. Leary & Jake Swanson flipped on lap 30 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-16 Tanner Thorson, Laps 17-40 Justin Grant.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-2085, 2-Kevin Thomas Jr.-2041, 3-Justin Grant-2034, 4-C.J. Leary-1842, 5-Tanner Thorson-1821, 6-Chris Windom-1753, 7-Jake Swanson-1686, 8-Robert Ballou-1618, 9-Chase Stockon-1332, 10-Kyle Cummins-1163.
FINAL SMACKDOWN X PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Cole Bodine-23, 2-Chase Stockon-20, 3-Steven Drevicki-20, 4-Max Adams-16, 5-Brady Bacon-14, 6-Mario Clouser-14, 7-Logan Seavey-12, 8-Shane Cottle-12, 9-Jason McDougal-12, 10-Justin Grant-11.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Chris Windom-137, 2-Brady Bacon-130, 3-Justin Grant-123, 4-Tanner Thorson-118, 5-Robert Ballou-109, 6-Thomas Meseraull-103, 7-Kevin Thomas Jr.-101, 8-Logan Seavey-100, 9-Kyle Cummins-79, 10-Emerson Axsom-75.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: September 10-11-12, 2021 – Huset’s Speedway – Brandon, South Dakota – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track – Inaugural Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals
Smackdown X ProSource Passing Master: Cole Bodine
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Brent Beauchamp
B & W Auto Mart King of the Hill: Tanner Thorson
The Frolic Bar & Grill Smackdown X Rookie of the Year: Tanner Thorson
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Shane Cottle
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Jake Swanson
Indy Metal Finishing Third Heat Winner: Jadon Rogers
Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner: Thomas Meseraull
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Scotty Weir
KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger: Emerson Axsom (15th to 7th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Kyle Cummins
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Max Guilford
ProSource Hard Work Winner: Chase Johnson