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Justin Grant survives for Sumar Silver Crown win

Photo: Dallas Breeze

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Two years ago a late mishap robbed Justin Grant of a victory at the Terre Haute Action Track after a dominant effort.

On Sunday the misfortune of others landed Grant in victory lane at the same track.

Grant led through the middle stages and benefitted from a crash involving his closest challengers late to claim the Sumar Classic 100. The result was the Californian’s second USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series win, and his first triumph of the early 2018 season.

Victory aside, Grant wasn’t thrilled with his performance. He’d bounced off cars, struggled with tire management in the late stages of the race and surrendered the lead with less than 30 laps remaining.

“Some guys got into us, we got into some guys,” Grant told Short Track Scene. “Stuff definitely went the way that you don’t want it to go. I clobbered the (No.) 97 car (C.J. Leary) there, and didn’t want that to happen. That kind of eats you up, and doesn’t let you feel as good as you want to feel.”

Tyler Courtney led the field to green for the 100-lap event, but it was Jerry Coons Jr. that paced the opening lap. The veteran surged to the top spot and held the lead through a couple early cautions in the opening 10 laps while Courtney and others were set back by early crashes.

Leary overtook Coons for the lead on Lap 11 and held it through Lap 35, but it was Grant that proved the dominant driver through the race’s middle stages. He overtook Leary for the lead on Lap 36 and held it for 40 of the 41 ensuing laps, losing the top spot only for a lone circuit on Lap 70 as Shane Cottle briefly overtook him.

Cottle would prove to be Grant’s most consistent challenger during the event. The veteran Hoosier shadowed Grant’s machine throughout the evening, making multiple attempts to overtake him for the race lead that included a double-crossover and multiple deep dives into the turns.

But Cottle didn’t offer the fiercest challenge. That came from Kody Swanson.

An engine issue early in the day kept Swanson from qualifying his No. 63 DePalma Motorsports entry, forcing the defending Silver Crown champion to come from the B-Main and race his way into the feature. Swanson managed just that to roll off for the 100-lapper in 18th, and from the start of the event he maneuvered his way through the field.

The grind to move forward was a challenge, but Swanson steadily marched on. By the time the race entered the final 30 laps he found himself within sight of the leaders.

When opportunity Lap 77, Swanson struck. The veteran overtook both Cottle and Grant to grab the lead for the first time.

But he wouldn’t hold it for long.

Frustrated after several failed attempts at an overtake, Cottle sailed his No. 81 machine deep under Grant in Turn 3 on Lap 84. The move briefly gave Cottle second place, but he carried too much momentum into the turn, sliding up the track.

Cottle’s machine bounced off of Swanson’s as a result, sending both drivers spinning around and bringing out a caution with 17 to go.

Grant pissed me off and kept chopping me,” Cottle said. “I just lost my head, drove it into the corner too far trying to pass him and took the leader out, which I hate.”

Swanson attempted to continue on, but a flat left-rear tire forced him to pit road. He fell to the back of the field for a second time.

“Talking to (Cottle’s) spotter, it sounded like they were racing hard for position and he put a big slide on Justin – a slide for life – and apparently misjudged it and got into me really hard,” Swanson said.

“I’d been running the same line, and lifting in the same spot for the 10 laps I was leading in front of them. It was very unfortunate.”

With his two closest competitors gone, Grant shot out to a sizable lead on the ensuing restart. He drove challenge-free for the final 17 circuits, dealing only with lapped traffic as he held on for a victory that seemed unlikely just 20 laps earlier.

It wasn’t the sort of win Grant had hoped for entering the day, but a triumph he felt his team deserved.

“The guys gave me a good car,” Grant said. “They deserved a win, because this thing was fast.

“We were on the softer of the two (tire) compounds, so I was really having to conserve and try to make it to the end. So some of the hard racing that was going on, I had to try to keep myself out of and shy away from to try to make it to (Lap) 100.

“I caught a break with Cottle getting into Swanson, and we were able to win.”

Undeterred by what seemed like an innumerable number of setbacks, Swanson drove back through the field to claim second, finishing just 1.33 seconds behind Grant and earning the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award.

“I think if we would have had one more (caution)… Without (Grant) having such a huge lead, we might have had a chance,” Swanson said. “We got pretty close there at the end.”

Rounding out the top three was the polesitter – Courtney – who battled back from the tail once himself after an early crash. The Hoosier was disappointed by the result, but proud of the car his team brought for the event.

“We didn’t get the result that we deserved,” Courtney said. “We were fast all night – I think we were first and second in both hot lap sessions. We qualified on pole. Just had an impatient driver there in the first or second lap of the race that got us turned around. 

“In a 100-lap race, having to use your stuff up coming through the field isn’t ideal. But there guys put one hell of a car underneath me, and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity to get to run some of these beautiful race cars. Hopefully we’ll go to the Indy mile here in a few weeks and finish a couple spots better.”

Chris Windom and Leary rounded out the top five, with Shane Cockrum, Coons, Joe Liguori, Johnny Petrozelle and Neil Shepherd completing the top 10.

Grant and Swanson left Terre Haute in a tie for the Silver Crown championship lead, with each driver scoring 137 points in the opening two races. Chris Windom follows in a distant third with 110 points.

The USAC Silver Crown field will return to action on May 4, when the field heads to Toledo Speedway for the Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness Rollie Beale Classic.

Feature Results

  1. Justin Grant
  2. Kody Swanson
  3. Tyler Courtney
  4. Chris Windom
  5. C.J. Leary
  6. Shane Cockrum
  7. Jerry Coons Jr.
  8. Joe Liguori
  9. Johnny Petrozelle
  10. Neil Shepherd
  11. Mike Haggenbottom
  12. Austin Nemire
  13. Kyle Robbins
  14. Shane Cottle
  15. Jacob Wilson
  16. Casey Shuman
  17. Steve Buckwalter
  18. Aaron Pierce
  19. Travis Welpott
  20. David Byrne
  21. Joss Moffatt
  22. Matt Goodnight
  23. Coleman Gulick
  24. Austin Mundie
  25. Brady Bacon

Qualifying Race Results

  1. David Byrne
  2. Kody Swanson
  3. Kyle Robbins
  4. Steve Buckwalter
  5. Joe Liguori
  6. Matt Goodnight
  7. Neil Shepherd
  8. Mike Haggenbottom
  9. Austin Nemire
  10. Chris Dyson
  11. Korey Weyant
  12. Chris Fetter

Aaron Bearden is a contributing writer for Short Track Scene. Having grown up watching NASCAR and IndyCar, Bearden began following short track racing during his high school years before starting a blog about racing in college. A writer for Frontstretch and Motorsports Tribune, Bearden also covers NASCAR, IndyCar and other forms of open wheel racing.

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