With four runner-up finishes throughout his first full USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season, Jake Swanson wasn’t about to settle for yet another in his ongoing pursuit of a first career series victory during Thursday night’s opener for the 25th Heimark Anheuser Busch Budweiser Oval Nationals Presented by All Coast Construction at southern California’s Perris Auto Speedway.
In fact, running second entering the final set of turns on the last lap wasn’t sufficient enough to satisfy the Anaheim, Calif. native who was making his first trip back to his home track since becoming a permanent resident of Indiana about a year ago.
Swanson threw a “Hail Mary” through the marbles on the final circuit, removing himself from the bottom to take one last shot at the top of turn four. Swanson ignited the sky with a shower of sparks as his right-side wheels glanced off the outside front straightaway wall, then promptly brushed Thomas’ left side wheels in a drag race to the finish line with Swanson ahead at the stripe by a mere 0.010 of a second for the closest finish of the year, and one of the closest in series history.
Not only was it dramatic, it was downright historic for Swanson who earned his first victory in what was his 84th career USAC National Sprint Car feature start. A long time coming and a long time to wait patiently, but his turn arrived Thursday night. A dream fully realized. A dream come true.
“I’m speechless. I’m absolutely speechless. I could cry I’m so happy,” Swanson exclaimed after bringing his Team AZ Racing/Beaver Stripes – USW Cat Construction – RSS Industries – CSI/DRC/1-Way Chevy to USAC victory lane for the first time ever.
“I cannot say enough about this race team,” Swanson continued. “This racecar was so dynamite. My race team is absolutely incredible, and I know it sounds cliché, but these guys are the best and I’m so glad to finally get this done for them. I can’t thank everybody on the side of this racecar enough who has helped us and helped me get to the level I want to be at, and we finally accomplished that tonight.”
Equipped with a new powerplant under the hood, Swanson started third on the grid, but for the majority of the distance, was resigned to chasing Thomas around the bottom of the 1/2-mile dirt oval all while simultaneously negotiating copious amounts of lapped traffic.
With six laps remaining, the cards fell in Swanson’s favor after spying an opportunity on the back straightaway when Thomas split high to maneuver around the lapped car of Chris Gansen. With a big drive, Swanson cut under Gansen, making it three-wide as the trio hit turn three.
Thomas swung across both Gansen and Swanson, and back to the bottom with his left front tire teetering over the edge of the infield berm, but couldn’t quite stick to the bottom, opening up the low line for Swanson to eke by for the lead exiting the fourth corner.
The moment was fleeting, as it turned out, when he became entrapped behind Logan Williams at the tail end of the lead lap entering low in turn one just a straightaway later. Thomas took to the top in one and two and gleefully reestablished his position at the head of the field on lap 26.
At that precise moment, now back in second and chasing Thomas once again, Swanson readily admitted to nearly feeling resigned to the fact that a first win just might be out of reach.
“I was worried; I didn’t really think I could do it,” Swanson said. “He’s so good on the bottom and it was just a chess match dealing with lapped traffic. I tried to split the lapped car there off turn two and it almost worked, then I tried to do it again, but the next few lappers were running too tight down there.”
Swanson shadowed Thomas for four-straight laps until reaching the white flag, sitting just a single car length back, and even saw Bacon briefly edge ahead of him by a bumper for the second spot off turn two on the last lap. Swanson got back into the groove and carried his momentum back by Bacon and deeper into turn three than he had all evening, at any cost, and the ultimate result wound up as the proudest achievement of his racing career.
“I wasn’t lifting,” Swanson flatly stated. “It didn’t matter if we hit the fence. It didn’t matter if I flipped the length of the front straightaway. I was not going to lift. I was buried in it. I bounced off the fence, I bounced off him, and he gave me just enough room. I really appreciate that, so I didn’t go for a ride. I didn’t think I was going to get it, but all of a sudden, I found some grip either on the wall or right next to the wall and I think I got him by an inch or two. It was unreal.”
Swanson dedicated the victory to his grandfather, who passed away recently while Kevin Thomas Jr. finished second and series point leader Brady Bacon took third, just a single car length behind the front two. Defending Oval Nationals winner C.J. Leary grabbed fourth while Justin Grant rounded out the top-five.
Pole sitter Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) came out on the short end of the photo finish in his KT Motorsports/Dr. Pepper Presents the Ronald McDonald House Charities/DRC/Speedway Chevy, finishing second by the smallest of margins.
“It was wild,” Thomas said. “It was a good race, though, and congrats to Jake. They’ve been working so hard and have been very, very close. We did all that and ran that close and that hard and we never touched each other. I’ve got a lot of respect for Jake and what he’s done. Everybody on our crew did a great job and our car was good. I just got passed. It’s not what we wanted, obviously, but we had a good solid run, and we’ll try to duplicate it tomorrow and try to win a race.”
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) collected yet another top-five – his 32nd in 39 series starts this year – while finishing third, 0.129 sec. behind the winner, aboard his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts – TelStar/Triple X/Rider Chevy. Bacon started on the outside of the front row but lost the spot to Swanson on lap two, yet still had a shot to win despite engine issues hampering the team throughout their night.
Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) became the second driver this season (Logan Seavey) to record Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier awards after previously doing so in early October at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track and Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway.
Three drivers got upside down throughout the night: Dan Taylor and Chris Gansen did so during qualifying, while Chris Muraoka flipped during the fourth heat. All drivers walked away without injury and, in fact, Gansen returned to action with the same car, transferring through his heat race finish 18th in the feature.
1. Jake Swanson (3), 2. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1), 3. Brady Bacon (2), 4. C.J. Leary (5), 5. Justin Grant (7), 6. Tanner Thorson (6), 7. Austin Williams (9), 8. Chris Windom (18), 9. R.J. Johnson (10), 10. Max Adams (4), 11. Carson Short (8), 12. Shane Cottle (12), 13. Brody Roa (14), 14. Damion Gardner (17), 15. Charles Davis Jr. (23), 16. A.J. Bender (21), 17. Logan Williams (11), 18. Chris Gansen (15), 19. Matt Mitchell (16), 20. Logan Seavey (13), 21. Matt McCarthy (20), 22. Eddie Tafoya Jr. (25-P), 23. Verne Sweeney (22), 24. Cody Williams (19), 25. Austin Grabowski (24). NT
- Richie Murray – USAC Media -
Rich Forman Photo
Check out the full recap by Richie Murray at USACRacing.com: