KTJ’S LOVIN’ IT IN 2ND FALL NATIONALS WIN
Story By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Photos By: Dallas Breeze
Lawrenceburg, Indiana (October 5, 2019)………Kevin Thomas, Jr. was bound and determined not to make any mistakes entering Saturday’s Fall Nationals at Indiana’s Lawrenceburg Speedway.
Exactly one week earlier at Eldora Speedway, the Cullman, Ala. native had a pair of chances, first in the sprint car feature where he led the first 18 laps of the 30-lap race before slapping the turn four wall and losing the lead. Later that same night, he was a dominant figure in the Silver Crown main, leading the first 40 circuits of the 50-lapper before wall contact again knocked him out of the lead.
Saturday at Lawrenceburg, flawless was the word that comes to mind in describing Thomas’ run down the stretch to win his second Fall Nationals in the last three years, a $10,000 grand prize and his 27th career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature, moving him past Tony Elliott and Dave Steele and into a tie for 16th on the all-time list alongside Brady Bacon.
“I know our stuff’s running really well and I like Lawrenceburg already,” Thomas said. “For us to come down here and have speed right off the bat, it’s just something we’ve been really working hard for this whole year. We’ve had our ups and downs, got a win and struggled a little bit. We’ve had pretty much every variation of luck and runs and what not. It’s just nice for the hard work these guys have put in at the shop to show on the track.”
Thomas began the race from the 5th position in his Hayward Thomas Motorsports/McDonald’s – Dr. Pepper/DRC/Speedway Chevy while, up front, the two front row combatants – Justin Grant and Brady Bacon nearly met calamity as they took the green flag. Grant got sideways at the start/finish line, dropping back to 4th before working his way back to 3rd by the end of the initial lap while point leader C.J. Leary raced around the outside of Bacon to lead the opening two laps.
Bacon returned with authority on the third lap, driving back by Leary to retake the lead as Grant regathered himself to challenge Leary for the runner-up spot with Thomas in fourth just behind. Grant nabbed the second position with a turn one slider past Leary on the eighth lap, while Thomas followed suit with a similar move in the same spot for third past Leary on lap nine.
Meanwhile, Bacon set a blistering pace up front, turning the fastest lap of the race just moments prior on lap six and jetted into traffic with a 2.791 second lead by lap 12 when Aric Gentry slowed to bring out the first caution. That moved the front runners out of traffic and into clean air.
Bacon resumed his prowess at the front through the middle stages of the 30-lapper on this night which honored the memory of longtime car owner Richard Hoffman with whom Bacon drove for in his two USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car championship seasons in 2014 and 2016.
On the 18th lap, a flat right rear on the car of three-time 2019 series winner Kyle Cummins necessitated another yellow flag as he stopped on the high side at the entrance of turn one. Moments later, under caution, the air from leader Bacon’s tire, and his night, had deflated, handing over the lead to Grant as a result. Bacon drove to the work area for fresh rubber after leading a race-high 17 laps, then restarted from the tail and made a valiant effort to race back to a 7th place finish at the checkered.
The race was now in Grant’s hands with 12 laps remaining as he sought to become the first driver ever to win three consecutive USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car features at Lawrenceburg. With that said, restarting from the lead at this joint can be a precarious position to reside in, and second-running Thomas felt he was in the prime spot.
Grant slid himself into turn one on the lap 19 restart and drifted to the top of turn two while Thomas rode the lip, building his momentum as he came off the turn two banking and made his bid for the lead with a turn three slider past Grant. Grant countered Thomas off four and the pair raced side-by-side into down the front straight until Thomas slammed the door on Grant on the bottom of one. Both drifted wheel-to-wheel up to the top of the second turn when Thomas propelled off the lip and shot away to secure the point.
“Whenever you’re at these places and you restart around the top, it opens up a lane for somebody to slide you,” Thomas explained. “I got the luxury of being in second to witness that and seeing the run that you could get. I just never wanted to go back to a restart because I know he’s going to throw it if he got the chance. I just didn’t want to give him that chance.”
That chance came just a lap later after Max Adams stopped on the low side of turns one and two, forcing a restart with just 10 laps remaining where Grant took his shot but came up snake eyes as he tried to slide by Thomas in turn one.
“Our car was really good, but if you get to racing, it doesn’t really matter how good your car is, you might get shuffled back a few positions,” Thomas noted. “I just wanted to make sure I got that jump getting into one, and our car was perfect. I could lean up right there against the cushion, put the pedal to the floor and just go. It was relatively simple to drive, and that says a lot for this place because it can be pretty taxing on you and the racecar and everything else.”
Thomas’ idea of an ideal track surface is slick to a cushion, and that’s exactly what he got on this night which suited himself and his car nicely as he built up a three second lead while Grant and Leary traded slide jobs for four-straight trips around the 3/8-mile dirt oval between laps 21-24. Leary made one final attempt on Grant in three on lap 24, just narrowly missing as Grant drove around the outside to reemerge with the spot. Leary, meanwhile, left the door open for Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier Tyler Courtney to capitalize and slide past in turn one for 3rd on lap 25.
One lap later, the most serious accident of the night occurred when first-time USAC Sprint Car feature starter Justin Owen jumped the cushion in turn four, slid down the track and collected the oncoming car of 2018 Lawrenceburg track champion Garrett Abrams who ramped over and flipped wildly as a result. Abrams walked away uninjured.
Under red and with four laps remaining, Thomas had time to think and ponder his next move and Grant’s possible motives on the ensuing restart. It’s a mental game of sorts to not let overthinking the situation come into play.
“Your mental state whenever you get four laps to go is to not make a mistake,” Thomas said. “But if you think about it too long, you’ll make a mistake. You just got to get going there, get through the first corner and then you get back in your rhythm. That first corner can be hell. If you make a wrong move or slip your tires on the restart, they’re going to be there to pounce.”
However, Thomas nailed it precisely, withstanding Grant’s challenge and him in the distance to battle it out for second with Courtney who pounced for the runner-up position with three laps remaining then held off Grant’s charge to retake 2nd a half-lap later in turn three.
Up front, Thomas had a comfy cushion over Courtney and a front row seat for the checkered flag where he became one of just five drivers to win at least four career USAC Sprint feature at Lawrenceburg, joining Dave Darland (7), Jon Stanbrough (5), Grant (4) and Jack Hewitt (4). Second went to Courtney 1.26 seconds back while Grant, Leary and Chris Windom rounded out the top-five.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Lawrenceburg Speedway were Tyler Courtney (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Kyle Cummins (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner & Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Dustin Clark (AutoMeter Third Heat Winner), Chris Windom (Indy Race Parts Semi Winner), Mario Clouser (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Jarett Andretti (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Steve Thomas (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: October 5, 2019 – Lawrenceburg Speedway – Lawrenceburg, Indiana – Fall Nationals – 3/8-Mile Dirt Oval
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-13.831; 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 19, Hayward/Thomas-14.188; 3. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-14.195; 4. C.J. Leary, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-14.238; 5. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-14.261; 6. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-14.270; 7. Joss Moffatt, 5J, Moffatt/Wright-14.385; 8. Chris Windom, 5G, Parallax/Goacher-14.403; 9. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-14.408; 10. Max Adams, 5m, Adams-14.431; 11. Nick Bilbee, 17, Bilbee-14.475; 12. Dustin Smith, 77, Smith-14.484; 13. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-14.527; 14. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-14.527; 15. Scotty Weir, 39, Goodnight-14.529; 16. Mario Clouser, 6, MCM-14.560; 17. Dave Darland, 43m, Tibbits-14.692; 18. Dustin Clark, 75, Clark-14.764; 19. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-14.773; 20. Justin Owen, 4J, Owen-14.845; 21. J.J. Hughes, 76, Hughes-14.897; 22. Garrett Abrams, 32A, Abrams-15.089; 23. Tyler Kendall, 20K, Kendall-15.200; 24. Aric Gentry, 10, Gentry-15.246; 25. Steve Thomas, 20, Thomas-15.488; 26. Eric Perrott, 45, Perrott-16.494.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Cummins, 2. Tyler Courtney, 3. Mario Clouser, 4. C.J. Leary, 5. Max Adams, 6. Isaac Chapple, 7. Garrett Abrams, 8. Steve Thomas, 9. Joss Moffatt. 1:55.43
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 2. Jarett Andretti, 3. Nick Bilbee, 4. Brady Bacon, 5. Justin Owen, 6. Tyler Kendall, 7. Eric Perrott, 8. Chris Windom, 9. Dave Darland. NT
AUTOMETER THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Dustin Clark, 2. Scotty Weir, 3. Justin Grant, 4. Chase Stockon, 5. J.J. Hughes, 6. Josh Hodges, 7. Aric Gentry, 8. Dustin Smith. NT
INDY RACE PARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-7 transfer to the feature) 1. Chris Windom, 2. Josh Hodges, 3. Garrett Abrams, 4. Dustin Smith, 5. Tyler Kendall, 6. Isaac Chapple, 7. Aric Gentry, 8. Steve Thomas, 9. Eric Perrott. 3:08.89
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (5), 2. Tyler Courtney (6), 3. Justin Grant (1), 4. C.J. Leary (3), 5. Chris Windom (8), 6. Nick Bilbee (10), 7. Brady Bacon (2), 8. Jarett Andretti (13), 9. Scotty Weir (14), 10. Chase Stockon (4), 11. Josh Hodges (7), 12. Dustin Clark (16), 13. Mario Clouser (15), 14. Isaac Chapple (17), 15. Max Adams (9), 16. Dustin Smith (11), 17. J.J. Hughes (19), 18. Tyler Kendall (21), 19. Justin Owen (18), 20. Garrett Abrams (20), 21. Kyle Cummins (12), 22. Aric Gentry (22). NT
**Garrett Abrams flipped on lap 26 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-2 C.J. Leary, Laps 3-18 Brady Bacon, Laps 19-30 Kevin Thomas, Jr.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Jarett Andretti (13th to 8th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Mario Clouser
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Steve Thomas
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Kyle Cummins
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-C.J. Leary-2,003, 2-Tyler Courtney-1,956, 3-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-1,861, 4-Justin Grant-1,850, 5-Chris Windom-1,843, 6-Brady Bacon-1,837, 7-Chase Stockon-1,757, 8-Jason McDougal-1,483, 9-Carson Short-1,361, 10-Isaac Chapple-1,193.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: October 11, 2019 – Terre Haute Action Track – Terre Haute, Indiana – Wabash Clash – 1/2-Mile Dirt Oval