As has been the case in recent years, the pavement portion of the USAC Silver Crown series has been dominated by Bobby Santos and Kody Swanson, a reality that rang true once again on Saturday at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, Arizona.
Santos held off Swanson in a thrilling battle that resulted in the NASCAR Modified Tour and USAC regular taking the 2018 season opener. It wasn’t easy, with Santos having to overcome an early-race pit stop. He eventually caught Swanson on Lap 80 and raced side-by-side with his rival for nearly two laps, before pulling away to secure his second straight Phoenix Copper Cup victory.
Santos became the first to capture a Phoenix Silver Crown victory in consecutive years since Dave Steele won five in a row between 2002 and 2006, something that doesn’t stray too far from Santos’ mind when he competes here in the Valley of the Sun.
“It’s right up there,” Santos said. “To win back-to-back is really cool. Although, for a minute there, I didn’t expect to be sitting here. We had a good car all day today, but we kind of missed (the setup) at the start of the race. This means a lot. One of my idols is Dave Steele. He owned this place. I feel like he’s pushing me a little bit.”
Santos started to show signs of a problem right from the drop of the green flag, pushing up the race track in Turns 1 and 2, dropping from second to 10th by Lap 10. He was saved by a Lap 17 caution for a Kyle Robbibs spin. Santos hit put road and crew chief/father Rob made the right changes. He restarted 16th on the Lap 22 restart and began methodically working through the field.
Meanwhile, Kyle Hamilton was dominating and leading a race-high 54 laps ahead of Chris Windom, Swanson, David Byrne and Justin Grant. Meanwhile, Santos was lurking just behind in sixth by the halfway point.
On lap 53, Windom got caught behind the lapped car of Toni Breidinger toward the end of the backstretch. Windom dove low, flat lining his momentum while Swanson and Byrne chose the high road to cruise past them all to take second and third, respectively. On lap 66, Hamilton was seemingly in control in his first series start since the 2015 season, yet, exiting turn four, the pack freight-trained him on the inside as Hamilton slowed dramatically, eventually coming to a rest on the back stretch to prompt a yellow flag.
Santos jumped all over the restart, disposing of Windom on Lap 73 and and passing Byrne two laps later. With the fastest car, he immediately caught Swanson and made the winning move on Lap 80. After a two-lap battle, he checked out to take the first checkered flag of the season.
“Racing side-by-side at a place like this is really cool and lot of fun,” Santos said. “You never know what (Kody) has left. Last year, Kody made a late-race charge and, in another couple laps, he could’ve beat us. I had that in the back of my mind that, at that point, I needed to get past him and get away from him. Racing here, I’ve never had to try so hard and be so up-on-the-wheel for 100 laps. Ten years ago, I used to ride for 50 and race for 50. Now we’re racing for 100.”
The complete results can be found below.
- Bobby Santos
- Kody Swanson
- Justin Grant
- Eric Gordon
- Cody Gerhardt
- Travis Welpott
- David Byrne
- Chris Windom
- Matt Goodnight
- Aaron Pierce
- Kyle Hamilton
- Bill Rose
- Jesse Dunham
- Toni Breidinger
- Austin Nemire
- A.J. Russell
- Jerry Coons Jr.
- Kyle Robbins
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