From Richie Murray / USAC Media
Putnamville, Indiana (July 2, 2022)………Justin Grant wasn’t asking for much during Saturday night’s Bill Gardner Sprintacular finale at Putnamville, Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Grant had qualified fantastically, but his feature result of eighth hadn’t come close to fulfilling his wishes, dreams and desires.
After qualifying a personally unsatisfying 16th on Saturday night, all the Ione, Calif. racer sought was a complete reversal of his fortunes from the night before.
What’s old is new. What’s red is blue. And what seemed like a foreshadowing omen turned out to be untrue.
As it turned out, this was going to be Justin Grant’s night and he was just fine with that.
Mired back in eighth for the start of the 40-lap feature co-sanctioned by the Midwest Sprint Car Series at the 5/16-mile dirt oval, Grant marched his way forward to the point on the 17th lap as he whistled past Kyle Cummins on the inside of turn three to assume the lead and carried onward to a $10,000 victory in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
Grant’s third series triumph of the season is his 31st overall in USAC National Sprint Car competition, moving him past Chris Windom and into a tie for 16th all-time alongside Tyler Courtney on the all-time list.
Oh, how things can change from not only night-to-night but from within a span of just a few hours. Grant rebounded to win his heat race following a quote/unquote “temper tantrum” after his qualifying run, then solidified his successful evening by leading the final 24 laps while extending his point lead in the USAC Sprint Car National Championship title race to its biggest margin of the season at 46.
“The racetrack just changes so much here from the beginning of the night to the end of the night, and what it takes to be fast here in qualifying isn’t necessarily what it takes to be good in the feature,” Grant explained. “Last night, I felt like we were really good in qualifying, then we weren’t so good in the feature. Tonight, it was kind of vice versa. Luckily, I was able to pull myself out of my ‘pout’ and got the job done in the heat race.”
Furthermore, the end result marked a homecoming of sorts for Grant and his team, harkening back to where it all began for the duo on this same Sprintacular weekend four years ago.
“I’d never won a USAC race at Putnamville,” Grant revealed. “The only race I’d won here was an MSCS show in 2018. It was my first ever win with TOPP Motorsports and it’s good to win again.”
Previous night’s Lincoln Park winner C.J. Leary bolted to the early lead from his pole starting position to lead by a car length at the line over high-side surging Kyle Cummins who started from the outside of row two. Cummins shot around the outside of Leary at the exit of turn two on lap two to briefly hold the lead until the yellow flag was displayed for 16th starting Jake Scott who spun in turn two.
Reverting to the last completed lap. Leary was positioned back in front of Cummins to lead the whopping 26-car field to the restart, forcing Cummins to show his work once more. This time, Cummins alternated his path on the restart, firing away and blasting under Leary for the lead in turn three just moments into the lap two restart.
Cummins stretched his legs out to a full-straightaway lead by lap 13, to 3.406 seconds, as he started working lapped traffic. Meanwhile, Grant slid past series Rookie Mitchel Moles for the third spot in turns three, slotting right in behind second-running Leary.
A lap later, Austin Graby (24th) and Jake Scott (23rd) knocked bumpers in between turns one and two with Graby getting the worst end of the ordeal, sliding sideways to a stop between turns one and two. The ensuing restart set Grant up to make a big run on Leary for second, digging off the bottom on the back straightaway.
It wasn’t long before Grant took the fight right to Cummins, getting a drive in turns three and four to pull even in a side-by-side drift with Cummins prevailing for the time being on lap 14. Grant reloaded and squeezed the trigger entering turn three on lap 17, sliding by Cummins on the inside in what ultimately proved to be the winning move.
Cummins posed a threat to chase Grant back down but jumped the turn four cushion on the 18th lap, causing him to lose momentum as well as valuable ground, which backed him up to a 1.378 second deficit behind Grant.
A tick later, the yellow flag flew as Kevin Thomas Jr. (11th), Brady Bacon (12th) and Dave Darland (14th) all tangled and stopped between turns one and two. Brandon Mattox (15th) also got caught up in the incident, which knocked out his front end and forced him to the sidelines along with Darland who had won his first USAC heat race in 15 months earlier in the program.
The story nearing the halfway mark of the race was 11th starting Logan Seavey who dipped under Cummins in turn four on the lap 19 restart and grabbed the second spot. Axsom followed suit and rolled the bottom to third on lap 22 past Cummins in turns three and four. Cummins then stumbled on the cushion in turns one and two and got punched in the rear bumper by Moles as a result, slowing both down just enough to allow Jason McDougal to take advantage as he zipped under both for fourth on the 23rd circuit.
Grant remained up a second over Seavey as the leaders entered lapped traffic. Grant, Seavey and Axsom remained loyal to the bottom of the racing surface in one and two while Axsom was the lone adventurer on the bottom in three and four but was unable to make much headway until four laps remaining when an inadvertent yellow was called when 13th running Tye Mihocko shot sideways off course in turn four on lap 37.
A hefty high/low battle took place on the ensuing restart as Grant rode the high line through turns three and four to a car length ahead of the bottom-dwelling Seavey at the line. However, Grant clamped down and locked the bottom up as he shot to the low line in turn one just across the nose of Seavey. Nearby was Axsom who glided past Seavey for the runner-up spot around the infield tire marker while coming to the white flag.
But still out front was Grant who became $10,000 richer as he crossed under flagman Tom Hansing’s twin checkers by a 0.690 second margin over Axsom, Seavey, McDougal and Cummins.
Grant’s path around Lincoln Park down the stretch was unique in nature as he chose its best characteristics, high on one end and low on the flip side of the speedway, providing him the best of both worlds in pursuit of victory.
“There were definitely two different ends there,” Grant reflected. “Toward the end, in three and four, even though it was on the curb, it slowed down so much. I knew, as long as I didn’t bang it off four and get messed up and I didn’t miss it off two, I would probably be all right unless somebody got the top cleaned off. It was so tricky up there I figured I’d at least hear them up there before I saw them. There early, it was all about shutting it down, idling the bottom of one and two and then getting back up on the pipe and smashing the curb in three and four. Toward the end, the whole race slowed down.”
Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.) climbed from his ninth starting position to finish second as he snuck by Seavey coming to the white flag. It's the leading series Rookie’s second podium finish in his last three USAC National Sprint Car feature starts and his best result since winning in February in Ocala, Fla. in his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Products/Spike/Kistler Chevy.
“I kind of committed to the bottom there and I think we were just as good as Logan up top,” Axsom explained. “Grant was kind of in his own zip code up on the cushion, which is pretty typical. I just felt like it was better to go where he wasn’t. if I could try to gain anywhere, it was on the bottom of three and four. I felt like it was definitely on the bottom of one and two. It kind of fanned out in three and four but I committed to the bottom because that’s where no one else was. We all worked really hard last night to figure out what we needed to be better. Obviously, it paid off and I’m glad it did.”
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) raced his way from all the way back in the 11th starting position to finish an impressive third, which earned him hard charger honors for the race. Seavey has performed admirably of late, finishing seven-straight inside the top-ten and five of his last seven inside the top-three aboard the Baldwin-Fox Racing/Fox Paving – AMSOIL/DRC/Claxton Chevy.
“We’re trying to get a little bit better, and we are getting a lot better,” Seavey acknowledged. “After coming from 11th there and driving up to second, I thought I had a chance at the lead at the end. I tried to tighten myself up a lot by committing to the bottom, and as soon as I opened my entry, I saw Emerson and he nudged me off the bottom. Then, I did lose third there for a second to Jason (McDougal) too. But all in all, it was a great night for us.”
Feature Results (40 laps, starting positions in parentheses):
1. Justin Grant (8), 2. Emerson Axsom (9), 3. Logan Seavey (11), 4. Jason McDougal (12), 5. Kyle Cummins (4), 6. Shane Cottle (14), 7. Robert Ballou (5), 8. Mitchel Moles (3), 9. Jake Swanson (7), 10. C.J. Leary (1), 11. Brady Bacon (15), 12. Brian Hayden (2), 13. Tye Mihocko (18), 14. Jadon Rogers (U-23), 15. Cole Bodine (19), 16. Kevin Thomas Jr. (13), 17. Brent Beauchamp (22), 18. Jake Scott (16), 19. Zack Pretorius (17), 20. Austin Graby (U-26), 21. Carson Garrett (M-24), 22. Harley Burns (21), 23. Dave Darland (10), 24. Brandon Mattox (20), 25. Chase Stockon (6), 26. Aric Gentry (M-25). NT
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