OCALA, Fla. – Before the start of Friday night’s 30 lap USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series feature, observers were debating whether polesitter Kevin Thomas Jr. or his front row companion Kyle Cummins would jump out front and lead flag to flag.
Cummins nearly did it, but ninth starting Brady Bacon turned in an amazing drive to hunt down Cummins with four laps to go to claim the season opener at Bubba Raceway Park. Behind the lead duo, defending series champion C.J. Leary rallied late for a strong third-place finish to kick off his title defense.
“I didn’t get my wife anything else for Valentine’s Day, but I think this will do,” Bacon told the chilled crowd from victory lane. “We stuck to our guns and did what we know works. I finally got the line off turn four and made it work to get by Kyle.”
Cummins looked unbeatable early on, driving away from Thomas using the high groove and catching the tail of the field on lap nine. Connor Leoffler got into the turn two wall two laps later, drawing a yellow that got Cummins back out in the open once action resumed.
Bacon, who had already advanced to fifth at that point, chased down Leary on the restart and began working on third running Justin Grant as Cummins again ran out to a substantial lead. Lap 18 found the leaders lapping again, with Cummins struggling with one car long enough on lap 20 that Thomas got to him. On lap 22 Thomas got the lead through turns three and four before Cummins blasted back by off turn two.
Just as quickly as Thomas mounted a challenge he disappeared as he pulled up in turn two with a flat tire, drawing a yellow that again got Cummins out of traffic and putting Bacon second for the restart. Cummins got a good jump on the green, but a lap later Bacon got to his inside off turn four to draw even at the flagstand. He dropped back that time, but two laps later Bacon made the same move stick and once in front drew away from Cummins.
Behind the leaders, Leary crossed third ahead of Grant, fast-timer Chris Windom, Chase Stockon, Logan Seavey, Anton Hernandez, Carson Short and Dave Darland.
“I got back to the bottom when I saw Brady down there but he was way better than we were,” said Cummins. “Then I had to keep running the top after the last yellow because it got really slick down low.”
Leary, on the other hand, felt that he got better in the late going.
“I thought we were a contender until the yellow,” Leary said. “After that, it felt like the track changed and the car went away, so I started adjusting the shocks. After that, I felt like we had a second place car, we just ran out of laps, so I’m happy.”
Short, Cummins and Thomas shared heat wins on the program after the track crew worked all day to prepare the racing surface after overnight rain that followed the evening storm that washed out Thursday’s series opener just before hot laps.
Click below for full results.