GRANT GAINS THE UPPER HAND AT HURTUBISE CLASSIC
Story By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Photos By: David Nearpass/USAC
Terre Haute, Indiana (September 13, 2019)………Justin Grant remembers going a long way in his first visit to the Terre Haute Action Track in 2010.
Friday night, the Ione, Calif. native showed he’s come a long way in another aspect since his humbling introduction to the famed western Indiana half-mile nearly a decade earlier, winning the 20th running of the Jim Hurtubise Classic for USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars, his first Sprint Car win of any kind at the track.
“In my first race here in 2010, I sailed it out of the park in turn one and I smashed a guy’s Buick or Plymouth, or something, whatever it was,” Grant recalled. “I made it a long way out there too. Terre Haute had my number for quite a while and it’s taken me nine years to finally get a win here, but we did it, and it feels really good. At one point, it was probably my worst track on the tour. To come here and win, it means a lot to me personally.”
Grant, a 2018 Sumar Classic Silver Crown winner at Terre Haute, had a topsy-turvy turn of events to begin his night. Shortly after racing from 5th to 1st to win the first heat race, on his cooldown lap, Grant encountered trouble, without warning, that nearly spelled complete disaster.
“We had a left front radius rod come apart, and you can’t steer,” Grant explained. “The axle rolls back and falls off the arm. I lifted off of (turn) two, and halfway down the back stretch, it started squirrelling all around and I thought ‘Whoa, we got a problem here.’ I knew the front end was falling out, and when you get on the brakes, it just folds them up. I was just trying to coast it to a stop; I got it whoa’d down pretty slow, then it dropped, and the frame rail dug in and it just turned me right into the inside wall. Luckily, it just front-bumpered into it. No harm, no foul. We brought it back, put a bolt in it and we were ready for the feature.”
If the incident would’ve occurred one lap earlier, the outcome and the progression of the night could’ve been disastrously different. However, on this particular night, in the first ever USAC National event held simultaneously on Friday the 13th and with a full moon hovering overhead, perhaps good fortune was on his side.
Grant rolled off for the 30-lap feature from the third position, but it took no time flat for him to race his way into the lead, grooving the bottom past pole sitter Nick Bilbee in the first turn to secure the lead while 7th starting Jason McDougal charged all the way to 2nd by the conclusion of the opening lap, but a full second behind Grant.
In the ensuing laps, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Brady Bacon and Tyler Courtney had worked their way around McDougal to occupy positions 2-3-4 and formed a triumvirate in their pursuit to run down Grant with seven laps completed.
Grant was introduced to lapped traffic by the tenth lap, allowing Thomas to close the gap to under a second. The lapped cars of Dustin Christie and Aric Gentry battled for position in their own right, but Grant escaped from Thomas for the time being, maneuvering around the outside of Christie off turn four, then dove low, sliding by Gentry at the entrance of turn one.
Thomas kept Grant in check, and as Grant slid into the fluff on the outside of turn two on the 11th lap, Thomas used a massive run to drive by Gentry and charge into turn three side-by-side momentarily to the inside of Grant. Grant withheld the challenge and remained in control past halfway, until lap 18, when Thomas went on the attack once again, throwing a monster slider on Grant who was able to stand his ground and firm his grip of the lead as he split the lapped cars of Steve Thomas and Dustin Smith to sneak away and increase the interval to 2.5 seconds.
From that point forward, the crystal clear message was sent to Grant. There was no more time to be conservative and ride around as Grant stood up in the seat and regularly entered above the cushion as he began to assert his authority and rebuild his advantage.
Courtney, who had won three of the last five USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car features at Terre Haute entering the night, had carved his way into second under Thomas on the 21st lap. Meanwhile, Grant was sitting pretty up front with a comfortable lead in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – Bow Foundation – Challenger Construction/Maxim/Claxton Chevy.
With just five laps remaining, however, Grant’s two-plus second lead was deleted when two-time Jim Hurtubise Classic winner and 4th running Brady Bacon encountered trouble and heavy right-side damage, coming to a rest against the turn one wall.
“I didn’t want to see that,” Grant said of the yellow flag. “I knew I had gotten through lapped traffic pretty quickly for as thick it was. We were honestly in a pretty good rhythm. Here, you never want to see a yellow when you’re leading. The front stretch is so long and so slick, and if you slide yourself, there’s nothing off of two and you’re a sitting duck. You can’t block the slider; you just hope you get a good enough restart and you can beat the slider to the center.”