LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Anthony Nicholson pulled off what ranks among the biggest surprise wins in STN history by topping Friday night’s 25-lap preliminary feature at I-30 Speedway’s 26th annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires.
Nicholson outdueled Johnny Herrera in the early rounds and then denied Kevin Swindell’s last lap bid to post the victory in his No. 16 entry, securing a spot among the front three rows of Saturday night’s $15,000-to-win, $2,500-to-start STN championship feature.
“If you would have told me a couple days ago that I would even make the show, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Nicholson commented after topping Friday’s 56 car field that brought this year’s STN total to 106 competitors. “I’m just beside myself right now.”
While Nicholson locked into his first career STN finale with the triumph, Kevin Swindell landed a spot in his fourth STN championship feature by snaring runner-up honors while Herrera raced into his just his second STN finale and first since 1990 by claiming third.
While Nicholson’s third overall win of the year to go along with a pair of USCS scores may have come as a surprise, the Millington, Tenn., shoe was clearly among the fastest cars all night. Nicholson raced from sixth to win his heat race then held on to the high point total by advancing from sixth to fourth in his qualifier to earn the pole position for the feature.
With Herrera starting to Nicholson’s outside, the duo battled in side-by-side fashion for the opening pair of circuits before Herrera took command to complete lap three. But Nicholson took quick advantage of a turn two bobble to reclaim the lead on lap four before the red flag flew for Greg Wilson’s flip in turn two after being unable to avoid a sideways Brandon Hahn.
After Hahn’s front axle broke and he spun a lap later collecting Paul Nienhiser in the process, the balance of the race ran off in non-stop fashion.
With Nicholson holding Herrera and Chad Kemenah at bay, 10th-starter Kevin Swindell was sixth by the lap four red-flag stoppage before disposing of David Gravel and Shane Stewart for fourth by the eighth circuit.
Reaching the tail of the field on the 18th lap, Nicholson’s pursuers closed in on his tailtank. As the leaders bunched up in the final handful of laps, Swindell took to the high side to rally around Kemenah for third on the 23rd lap and then past Herrera for second on the white-flag circuit.
As Nicholson stuck to the low line, Swindell made a valiant effort in the final pair of corners to make it a Swindell sweep of preliminary action after Sammy won Thursday night’s feature. But, when he missed the cushion coming off of turn four, Nicholson secured the landmark victory.
“We were good on the bottom and I knew there were some guys there, I was gonna make ’em go by on the high side though,” Nicholson explained.
Swindell settled for a close second in Bernie Stuebgen’s Indy Race Parts No. 71x with Herrera third in the Print Place No. 45x.
After running third from the outset, Kemenah fell one spot shy of a lock-in position in Ron Hammon’s No. 6s machine in fourth with Shane Stewart rounding out the top five in the Gaerte No. 3g.
Anthony Nicholson, Kevin Swindell, Johnny Herrera, Chad Kemenah, Shane Stewart, David Gravel, Sam Hafertepe Jr., Dustin Morgan, Danny Lasoski, Kraig Kinser, Jason Barney, Joe Wood Jr., Ryan Bickett, Tony Bruce Jr., Gary Taylor, Jack Dover, Paul Nienhiser, Terry Gray, Brandon Hahn, Greg Wilson.