Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) celebrates his USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory Friday night at Bubba Raceway Park (DB3, Inc. Photo) (Video Highlights from FloRacing.com)
By: Richie Murray - USAC Media
Ocala, Florida (February 12, 2021).........New engines, new cars, new crew guys and a new shop. That is among the inventory Justin Grant has had to adapt to for the start of the 2021 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season.
But what isn't new for the Ione, Calif. driver is finding victory lane early and often with the series, which he did once again Friday night in the second round for the Sprint Cars during Winter Dirt Games XII at Bubba Raceway Park, chasing down fellow Californian Jake Swanson for the lead just eight laps from the finish.
Like clockwork, Grant has now won each of his three USAC National Sprint Car features at the Ocala, Florida 3/8-mile dirt track on a Friday night in an odd-numbered year, previously doing so in both 2017 and 2019.
The latest triumph gave Grant his 21st career USAC National Sprint Car feature victory, equaling him with 1967 series champion Greg Weld for 31st all-time.
After leading the standings for most of the first half of 2020, Grant hopes that this victory is an omen of sorts, one that will carry on the tradition of successive drivers who've won at Ocala, then parlayed that achievement into a USAC National Sprint Car championship six times overall in the past 11 years, and in each of the last three years with Tyler Courtney (2018), C.J. Leary (2019) and Brady Bacon (2020) all doing the deed.
"Getting through Florida with some confidence is huge," Grant stated. "With a month off, there's almost like another offseason after this weekend, so just being able to go home and feel good is awesome leading into the year. If you run good down here, your car owners are excited, and are wanting to spend money. The crew guys are excited, and they're wanting to go the extra mile. Good success early just really snowballs, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the year."
Grant is grateful for the faith that team owner Kevin Birchmeier has put in him, allowing Grant to take the reins of the team and move it to his own shop on Gasoline Alley in Indianapolis, Ind. Two new Maxims were constructed, and two new Kistler engines were installed. Now a couple chaotic, busy and productive late January/early February days and nights have led to a spectacular start to the new season, which sees Grant and the team in first place in the standings.
With a dedicated crew on his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink - MPV Express - TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy, it's an entire atmosphere, situation and climate that Grant embraces, and he wouldn't have any other way.
"I'm having so much fun," Grant said. "We've been going to the car wash every night afterwards, hanging out, laughing, pressure washing cars, cleaning things up, and then going out for dinner afterwards, then getting up in the morning, doing maintenance; we're sprint car racing and it's just a ton of fun."
Grant started all the way back in the eighth position while, up front, Kyle Cummins controlled the pace on the opening lap from the pole position, same as he did in Thursday night's opener. However, Cummins slid just a tad wide off the moistrous bottom in turn three on the second lap and third-starting Swanson was there to pounce, slipping underneath Cummins off four, and pulling a wheel stand as he crossed the start/finish line with the race lead.
Swanson built up a 1.5 second lead in the ensuing laps, but following a lap 11 caution for debris, the now third-running Grant began to surge, racing under Tanner Thorson for second on the 12th lap, then raced by Swanson for the lead in much the same manner one lap later.
However, over in turn three, 8th running Tyler Courtney banged the outside concrete, flattening his right rear tire and sending him to the work area. Repairs were made and Courtney returned to the field, racing from the tail of the field to a respectable 8th place finish at the checkered.
The stoppage placed Swanson back in front of Grant for the restart, and Swanson proceeded to command the mid-section of the 30-lapper, including another restart after series Rookie Paul Nienhiser's collision with the turn four wall on lap 14.
Like déjà vu, on the 23rd lap, Grant found a lane underneath Swanson for the lead exiting turn four. The two drag raced side-by-side to the bottom of turn one with the pair banging wheels, Grant's right rear and Swanson's left front. In a close quarters race, there's maybe only one chance you get to see for the race lead. Grant saw that opportunity knock and went after it.
"(Swanson) left the door open off of four and he was beat down the front stretch and into one," Grant explained. "He tried to dog me down in there and just wasn't in a position to be able to do it. We made contact, but I was far enough up under him that he knew what was coming; he knows the game. He's a good friend of mine, he's at my house all the time and he's a good dude. We'll be fine but I'm sure he might be mad tonight."
"You hate to do that to a guy leading his first race," Grant continued. "They're all awesome people, but I'm here to do a job. I'm here to put racecars in victory lane for everybody that supports this effort as well as (team owner) Kevin Birchmeier. That's what he hired me to do, and when I show up to the racetrack, that's what I'm here to do. Jake's one of my best friends, but when I signed in at the pit gate, I'm not getting paid to be Jake's friend. You've got to do your job as much as it pains you sometimes to do it."
As Swanson regathered himself to stay in front of Thorson for the runner-up spot, Buddy Kofoid stepped up to the topside to race around both Swanson and Thorson, then immediately began to threaten Grant's supremacy at the head of the pack with six laps remaining.
"Buddy was up there," Grant remembered. "We got to Davey Ray to lap him, and I'm idling the bottom, so the motor's really quiet, but I hear this motor just screaming down the front stretch, pretty close. I'm like 'Ooh, that guy ain't coming off the bottom. He's blazing the top.' I cleared Davey into one, then in the middle of two, I thought to myself, 'Do I bail off the bottom, do I go to the top," and then the yellow lights came on. I remember thinking, 'Whew, thank god. Now I've got a few laps to roll around and think about that decision.'"
"Clinton Boyles, who's down here helping us out this week, leaned out through the pit gates pointing to the top of three and four and I said, 'Got it, got it.' That gave me confidence in that decision and I'm really glad he did that. I don't know if I would've had the nerve to do that after leading everything on the bottom. It's hard to make that move."
On the restart, Grant had no qualms establishing a presence at the topside of turns three and four and began to distance himself from the field while the battle raged for second with Brady Bacon racing around the outside of Kofoid for second just three laps from the finish.
After finishing 2nd the night prior, Grant did one better on Friday, wrapping up the victory by a 1.164 second margin with Bacon, Kofoid, Thorson and C.J. Leary rounding out the top-five.
Brady Bacon's 2nd place result in his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear - Elliott's Custom Trailers & Carts - TelStar/Triple X/Rider Chevy was unique in the manner that it was achieved. It was the three-time series' champion's fourth consecutive Hughes Racing / Indiana Mafia / Flamingo Sandy / KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award at Bubba Raceway Park since 2020, all advancements of exactly eight positions. No more, no less. Last year, the Broken Arrow, Okla. native raced from 9th to 1st twice, and on Thursday of this year, he went 12th to 4th, and on Friday, went 10th to 2nd.
Buddy Kofoid (Penngrove, Calif.) made his fourth career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature start his best thus far, challenging for the race lead late and finishing 3rd in his Chris Dyson Racing/Thetford - Lelands.com - JVI Group - Norcold/Maxim/Ott Chevy. All four of his series starts have resulted in top-ten finishes thus far.
Five drivers are locked into Saturday's $10,000-to-win Winter Dirt Games XII finale, having secured the first five starting births after earning the most combined points throughout Thursday's and Friday's activities: high point man Justin Grant, as well as Thursday's winner Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.), Brady Bacon, Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) and Tyler Courtney (Indianapolis, Ind.).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: February 12, 2021 - Bubba Raceway Park - Ocala, Florida - Winter Dirt Games XII - 3/8-Mile Dirt Track
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING FIRST FLIGHT: 1. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-13.988; 2. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9K, KT-14.127; 3. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-14.225; 4. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-14.277; 5. Paul Nienhiser, 5N, KO-14.393; 6. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-14.449; 7. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-14.507; 8. Chase Johnson, 22, Goodnight-14.517; 9. Dave Darland, 5, Baldwin/Fox/Curb-Agajanian-14.535; 10. Noah Gass, 20G, Gass-14.756; 11. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-14.791; 12. Jadon Rogers, 61m, Edwards-14.809; 13. Chayse Hayhurst, 20, Hayhurst-14.857; 14. Dustin Clark, 75, Clark-14.942; 15. Stevie Sussex, 77, Wingo-14.967; 16. Mario Clouser, 6, EZR-14.998; 17. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-15.130; 18. Drew Rader, 74, Heitmeyer-15.458; 19. Cam Schafer, 97, Roach-15.469; 20. Jesse Vermillion, 5v, Vermillion-15.661; 21. Blake Vermillion, 73, Vermillion-15.696; 22. Craig Pellegrini, 27, Pellegrini-16.143; 23. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-16.649.
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING SECOND FLIGHT: 1. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, Lotier-13.884; 2. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-13.906; 3. Buddy Kofoid, 20K, Dyson-13.968; 4. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-14.026; 5. Chris Windom, 19, Hayward-14.069; 6. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-14.082; 7. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-14.138; 8. Briggs Danner, 5G, Gallagher-14.365; 9. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-14.388; 10. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-14.391; 11. Davey Ray, 14AJ, FattFro/RayPro-14.417; 12. Cole Bodine, 57, DCT-14.463; 13. Carson Garrett, 15, KO-14.587; 14. Kade Morton, 8m, Morton-14.635; 15. Kory Schudy, 28K, Sawyer-14.712; 16. Ryan Thomas, 77FR, Wingo-14.712; 17. Max Adams, 17GP, Dutcher-14.751; 18. Shane Butler, 18, Butler-14.993; 19. Brent Beauchamp, 2E, Epperson-15.059; 20. Dickie Gaines, 44, Soudrette-15.118; 21. Riley Kreisel, 91, DKR-15.134; 22. Scott Evans, 118, Evans-15.426.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Tyler Courtney, 3. Dave Darland, 4. Robert Ballou, 5. Paul Nienhiser, 6. Stevie Sussex, 7. Brandon Mattox, 8. Matt Goodnight, 9. Chayse Hayhurst, 10. Blake Vermillion, 11. Cam Schafer, 12. Robert Bell. 2:01.830
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Tanner Thorson, 2. Brady Bacon, 3. Noah Gass, 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 5. Jadon Rogers, 6. Chase Johnson, 7. Mario Clouser, 8. Dustin Clark, 9. Drew Rader, 10. Jesse Vermillion, 11. Craig Pellegrini. 2:03.013
INDY METAL FINISHING THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Davey Ray, 2. Chris Windom, 3. Buddy Kofoid, 4. Matt Westfall, 5. Timmy Buckwalter, 6. Chase Stockon, 7. Brent Beauchamp, 8. Kory Schudy, 9. Riley Kreisel, 10. Max Adams, 11. Carson Garrett. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Cummins, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Cole Bodine, 4. Jake Swanson, 5. Briggs Danner, 6. Sterling Cling, 7. Dickie Gaines, 8. Ryan Thomas, 9. Kade Morton, 10. Scott Evans, 11. Shane Butler. 2:05.141
C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi) 1. Mario Clouser, 2. Brandon Mattox, 3. Brent Beauchamp, 4. Ryan Thomas, 5. Scott Evans, 6. Riley Kreisel, 7. Blake Vermillion, 8. Cam Schafer, 9. Craig Pellegrini, 10. Dickie Gaines, 11. Shane Butler, 12. Max Adams, 13. Drew Rader, 14. Jesse Vermillion. NT
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Paul Nienhiser, 2. Chase Stockon, 3. Kory Schudy, 4. Chase Johnson, 5. Jadon Rogers, 6. Timmy Buckwalter, 7. Matt Goodnight, 8. Mario Clouser, 9. Carson Garrett, 10. Briggs Danner, 11. Brandon Mattox, 12. Dustin Clark, 13. Sterling Cling, 14. Chayse Hayhurst, 15. Ryan Thomas, 16. Kade Morton, 17. Stevie Sussex, 18. Brent Beauchamp. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (8), 2. Brady Bacon (10), 3. Buddy Kofoid (3), 4. Tanner Thorson (7), 5. C.J. Leary (13), 6. Kevin Thomas Jr. (4), 7. Jake Swanson (5), 8. Tyler Courtney (6), 9. Chris Windom (11), 10. Robert Ballou (2), 11. Chase Stockon (15), 12. Chase Johnson (16), 13. Jadon Rogers (21), 14. Kory Schudy (22), 15. Matt Westfall (17), 16. Noah Gass (19), 17. Timmy Buckwalter (14), 18. Mario Clouser (24), 19. Kyle Cummins (1), 20. Davey Ray (9), 21. Paul Nienhiser (12), 22. Cole Bodine (20), 23. Dave Darland (18), 24. Stevie Sussex (23). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Kyle Cummins, Laps 2-22 Jake Swanson, Laps 23-30 Justin Grant.
**Brent Beauchamp flipped during the semi.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-153, 2-Kevin Thomas Jr.-142, 3-Brady Bacon-142, 4-Tanner Thorson-135, 5-C.J. Leary-122, 6-Kyle Cummins-109, 7-Jake Swanson-108, 8-Chris Windom-107, 9-Timmy Buckwalter-91, 10-Robert Ballou-91.
WINTER DIRT GAMES XII SPRINT POINTS: (Top-5 locked into Saturday's feature) 1-Justin Grant-689, 2-Kevin Thomas Jr.-675, 3-Brady Bacon-675, 4-Tanner Thorson-656, 5-Tyler Courtney-654, 6-C.J. Leary-639, 7-Kyle Cummins-635, 8-Buddy Kofoid-627, 9-Chris Windom-623, 10-Jake Swanson-615.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-16, 2-C.J. Leary-12, 3-Chase Stockon-12, 4-Tanner Carrick-9, 5-Bryant Wiedeman-9, 6-Cannon McIntosh-9, 7-Noah Gass-9, 8-Chris Windom-8, 9-Jadon Rogers-8, 10-Kory Schudy-8.
PROSOURCE WINTER DIRT GAMES XII SPRINT CAR PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-18, 2-Kory Schudy-18, 3-Chase Stockon-17, 4-Justin Grant-14, 5-Jadon Rogers-13, 6-Paul Nienhiser-12, 7-Riley Kreisel-10, 8-Chris Windom-8, 9-C.J. Leary-8, 10-Tyler Courtney-8.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: February 13, 2021 - Bubba Raceway Park - Ocala, Florida - Winter Dirt Games XII - 3/8-Mile Dirt Track
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Timmy Buckwalter
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Justin Grant
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Tanner Thorson
Indy Metal Finishing Third Heat Winner: Davey Ray
Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner: Kyle Cummins
Hughes Racing / Indiana Mafia / Flamingo Sandy / KSE Racing Products Hard Charger:
Brady Bacon (10th to 2nd)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Jadon Rogers
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Matt Goodnight
ProSource Hard Work Award: Kory Schudy