LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. — Kevin Thomas Jr. made all the right moves in Saturday night’s Lawrenceburg Speedway Fall Nationals, becoming $10,000 richer with a flawless drive for his fourth USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory of the season.
It was certainly a reversal of roles and fortunes for Thomas from the night before at Montpelier (Ind.) Motor Speedway when he pulled no punches in his post-race interview lamenting how he cost himself the race on the final lap due to his decision making.
“Tonight, where there’s a fine line, you have to know the racetrack you’re racing on,” Thomas said. “Last night I did a poor job of that. Tonight, we knew we were catching lapped cars and we knew we had to put some distance between us and whoever was back there. I knew it either had to be (Justin) Grant or (C.J.) Leary. They’re always good. It’s not about racing the person behind you. It’s about racing the people in front of you. Last night, I was racing people behind me and I made a mistake on the last lap that cost us the race. I had to be a little smarter tonight, a little bit more aggressive to know what I was dealing with.”
Thomas disposed of fellow second row starter Leary, then front row combatants Robert Ballou and Justin Grant in a rapid-fire succession of precision with an outside move off turn two that propelled him from fourth to first.
“There was quite a bit of moisture coming off four at the start,” Thomas detailed. “I peeked out a little bit and got a good run. I thought they were both going to slide each other, then I was going to try to slide them. Instead, they both went bottom/middle and left the top open for me and I took advantage of it.”
Thomas quickly opened up a six to seven-car-length lead by lap two when the race saw its first caution of the night as Chad Boespflug came to a stop on the front straightaway with the right front corner absent from his ride following contact with another car.
On the restart, previous night’s winner Leary threw himself into contention by elbowing his way into second past Ballou between turns one and two for the third spot, dropping Ballou to sixth. Yet, one lap later, Dave Darland made a daring move into turn one, threading the eye of the needle between both Chris Windom and Leary to move into the top three.
Meanwhile, Thomas had extended his lead to a commanding half-straightaway advantage that he constructed during the first 10 laps as he moved his line from the bottom to the top.
Darland, though, seemed destined to throw a wrench into Thomas’ plans when he secured the second position with a lap nine, turn one slider on Justin Grant.
Up ahead, a logjam of lapped traffic gridlocked all lanes of the highway for Thomas as Darland deleted the space between first and second to close right on the tail of Thomas just before midway. As Darland seemed poised to make his bid for the lead, suddenly, he began to slow to a crawling pace off turn two with a broken U-joint, relegating him to the sidelines.
Thereafter, Leary reentered contention, first sliding across the nose of Grant for second in turn one for the second spot, yet remained a half-straightaway behind Thomas who was as precise as an X-ACTO Knife at the front.
Once again, lapped traffic was on the horizon and Leary managed to whittle Thomas’ lead down to just a two car-length separation entering turn three with a couple laps remaining. Thomas amended his previous night’s foible by going on the attack, diving to the bottom of three by the lapped car of Joss Moffatt to create separation between he and Leary which would not be overcome as Thomas raced to a half-second victory over Leary, Grant, Ballou and Tyler Courtney from 16th.
Thomas took the race into his own hands down the stretch in his KT Motorsports/Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage – Abreu Vineyards/DRC/Speedway Chevy, making the right decisions at the right moments to win for the 16th time in his career to tie Damion Gardner for 31st all-time on USAC’s National Sprint Car win list.
“There’s always a little bit of urgency here,” Thomas noted. “When the track’s fast like that, those guys run the cushion just as good as I do or, like Dave (Darland), he’s the best at it. Whenever you’re running the cushion that hard, you know somebody’s going to be chasing you. Restarts bunch everybody up and put them right back on your tail. Whenever you see lap cars, you try your best to split ’em, slide ’em and do whatever you got to do. We just made the right moves at the right time. That’s the luxury of leading. Some places it’s good to be in the lead, some places it’s not. Tonight, it was good. Tonight, timing was everything.”