From Richie Murray – USAC Media
Haubstadt, Indiana (July 30, 2022)………Robert Ballou and Justin Grant spent the majority of Saturday night’s 35th annual USAC NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week finale at Tri-State Speedway dueling for a feature victory.
In many cases, one driver prevails while the other walks away with empty handed disappointment that is absent the fanfare and glory.
However, in this particular instance, both exited the stage at the conclusion of the night sharing the limelight of a performance well worth the accolades.
Rocklin, California’s Ballou fended off the competition to become the sixth different feature winner of Indiana Sprint Week during its six event run.
After 13 years of trying, Ione, California’s Grant was rewarded as the Indiana Sprint Week champion for the first time in his career, rounding out his efforts with six consecutive top-five results in the series and capping the week with a third at Tri-State.
Ballou led all 30 laps from start to finish after beginning his race from the outside of the front row, then kept Grant at bay for the first 20 laps before successfully withstanding the pressure applied to him from six-time Tri-State USAC National Sprint Car victor Kyle Cummins.
For Ballou, the Indiana Sprint Week triumph was his first since taking the finale at Lincoln Park Speedway five years earlier in 2017. It was also a homecoming of sorts for Ballou who, in 2014, won his initial ISW feature in which he utilized his own No. 12. On this night, he rode the 12 to the pinnacle once again in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru - Dragonfly Aviation - Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.
“Hard work and perseverance pays off,” Ballou noted of the collective effort from the driver, crew and sponsors that makes winning big races like this a possibility for him. “I kind of fine-tuned my racecar and threw an audible yesterday by going back to what we used to do all the time. We just finally got our groove going tonight. I wish I would’ve thrown an audible about six nights ago and things may have been a little better, but hindsight is 20/20.”
On the other hand, Grant ran second just a short distance behind Ballou for the first 21 laps of the main event before Cummins ran past with the baton to become Ballou’s new challenger for the final nine laps.
Making his Indiana Sprint Week debut in 2010, Grant had finished inside the top-five of the ISW standings three consecutive years in 2019-20-21 before finally knocking down the barrier in convincing fashion behind the wheel of his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy with a 61-point cushion over runner-up C.J. Leary, which is the most lopsided title race in the series since Bryan Clauson’s 70-point interval eight years earlier in 2014.
“It feels incredible to finally get it done,” Grant exclaimed. “To add my name to all the huge names on that trophy, it feels like my name is a little out of place on there, but I’m happy to have it. Hats off to the guys. It’s a long week and it’s a lot of work. I can’t say enough good things about (right hand crewman) Dylan Cook. He works his tail off for me and, 99 percent of the time, it’s just him and me on the car. He’s got a big, big workload and he handles it incredibly well.”
TOPP Motorsports car owner Kevin Birchmeier (Rochester, Ind.) has also been on the waiting list for the ultimate Indiana Sprint Week glory as a champion for several years following a bevy of close calls and valiant efforts. He, like his driver Grant, weathered the storm and the forks in the road over the years to prevail with a first ISW title. By virtue of being the car entrant champ for the week, he earned the traditional rocking chair presented and constructed by master craftsman John Youngs.
Entering the feature, Grant was playing with house money, so to speak, after clinching the Indiana Sprint Week title following the heat races. To top it off, Grant started the feature from the pole alongside outside front row starter Ballou who spurted out to the early lead as he and Grant separated themselves by six car lengths from the rest of the field in the early going.
Ballou began to wander into traffic 11 laps into the contest and, in doing so, even gained a couple more lengths on Grant. However, moments later, 17th running Kendall Ruble flipped between turns one and two. He climbed from his car under his own power, but heavy damage to the front end and left rear of his machine signaled an end to the Tri-State regular’s evening.
Grant zipped right to Ballou's rear bumper following the lap 11 restart and pulled even for the lead to the inside of Ballou exiting turn four on lap 14. Meanwhile, third starting Thomas Meseraull, debuting with KO Motorsports on this night after an abrupt split with the Yeley-Petty Racing a few nights earlier, had charged by Logan Seavey for third, then began to rope in the top-two.
Simultaneously, Tri-State favorite Kyle Cummins made his patented elevation toward the front as he navigated his way into the top-five just before halfway, then nipped his way under Seavey for fourth on lap 15 and slipped under Meseraull for third on the 17th lap at the exit of turn four.
Meseraull attempted to slide Cummins back moments later in turn two, but got just a tad sideways, resulting in the trailing Cummins ramping over Meseraull's left front wheel. Meseraull promptly spun and collected sixth-running Kevin Thomas Jr., forcing both to stop. Meseraull exited the competition with a 21st place result while Thomas returned and managed to get back to 12th.
Ballou pulled out to a 1.6 second lead with 10 to go, but the familiar sight of the red number 3R began to emerge at the forefront as he shot by Grant for second place at the exit of turn two with eight laps remaining, but still had quite a bit of ground to chomp up in such a short amount of time.
The timely caution arrived to aid Cummins’ pursuit of Ballou in the form of a turn four slide and stop by first-time USAC National Sprint Car starter Dustin Beck who came to a halt with just two laps remaining. That erased Ballou's 1.2 second lead over Cummins and now placed the pair nose-to-tail coming to the green-white-checkered finish and, by that point in time, Ballou knew full well what he was working with.
“I knew that my racecar was really good,” Ballou noted. “I wanted to go up to the top the whole race, but I moved up to the middle, and then Justin (Grant) showed me a nose. I’m pretty good on the bottom and I’ve seen a lot of races where Kyle (Cummins) got a good run and slingshots past you on the last lap.”
Once the green flag dropped, Ballou pedaled away from Cummins who remained in constant hot pursuit a mere two car lengths in arrears throughout the final two trips around the 1/4-mile dirt oval. Cummins was unable to make substantial headway and Ballou was unrelenting and unwavering at the moment as he became the first five-time series feature winner of the 2022 season.
Ballou’s 0.431 second victory was the 36th of his USAC National Sprint Car career, which surpassed both Jon Stanbrough and Rich Vogler on the all-time list, and moved him into a tie for 11th all-time alongside Kevin Thomas Jr. Cummins took second in the final feature rundown with Grant third, Chase Stockon fourth and Logan Seavey fifth.
After enduring his fair share of ups and downs throughout Indiana Sprint Week, Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) finished the week with a bang. One night after prevailing at Bloomington Speedway, he came home as the runner-up at Tri-State to finish seventh in the final ISW standings in his Rock Steady Racing/Ultimate Predator Boats - Mid-America Safety Solutions/Mach-1/Cummins Chevy.
In Fatheadz Qualifying earlier in the evening, Mitchel Moles’ electric performances continued as the Indiana Sprint Week Rookie turned in his fifth fast qualifying time in seven tries throughout the week. As it turned out, it was the second best qualifying performance in Indiana Sprint Week history, trailing only the six fast times earned by Richard Griffin in 1997.
Meanwhile, Shane Cottle was treated and released after flipping end-over-end high into the turn three billboards on his qualifying attempt.
FEATURE (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses):
1. Robert Ballou (2), 2. Kyle Cummins (5), 3. Justin Grant (1), 4. Chase Stockon (8), 5. Logan Seavey (4), 6. C.J. Leary (10), 7. Brady Bacon (15), 8. Mitchel Moles (6), 9. Jason McDougal (12), 10. Critter Malone (20), 11. Emerson Axsom (11), 12. Kevin Thomas Jr. (7), 13. Jadon Rogers (16), 14. Shane Cockrum (18), 15. Briggs Danner (9), 16. Brody Roa (17), 17. Matt Westfall (22), 18. Xavier Doney (21), 19. Dustin Beck (19), 20. J.J. Hughes (13), 21. Thomas Meseraull (3), 22. Kendall Ruble (14). NT
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK INDIANA SPRINT WEEK POINTS:
1-Justin Grant-464, 2-C.J. Leary-403, 3-Brady Bacon-399, 4-Chase Stockon-393, 5-Mitchel Moles-374, 6-Robert Ballou-367, 7-Kyle Cummins-364, 8-Emerson Axsom-328, 9-Jason McDougal-306, 10-Shane Cottle-305.
See the full story and results:
Photo: usacracing.com / Josh James Artwork
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