PUTNAMVILLE, Ind. – It all started with a late-night phone call on Thursday night for Shane Cottle from Hodges Motorsports asking if he had plans for Friday night.
Roughly 24 hours later, Cottle was celebrating in victory lane following Friday’s opening night of the sixth annual Bill Gardner Sprintacular at Lincoln Park Speedway featuring the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series and Midwest Sprint Car Series.
The last-minute deal came together as the team’s original plan was to sit out the weekend and focus on preparations for next week’s Brandt Corn Belt Nationals at Knoxville Raceway. But that one phone call changed the course of the weekend in a hurry.
“He called me last night probably around 10:30 p.m. He asked me if I wanted to go racing. It wasn’t on our schedule; he’s got a schedule that we go by. I said, ‘Well, I have to talk to my wife.’ So, I talked to her. She really wasn’t wanting me to, but I said I’m going anyway. Luckily, it all came together,” Cottle said with a laugh.
Cottle rolled off sixth for the start of the 30-lap feature, and right from the start he felt the bottom of the race track play right into his hands as he got to fourth on the opening lap.
“I knew on the start that it was going to be pretty good,” Cottle remembered. “I just knew I was a little faster than they were and, luckily, they kept slipping up off the bottom and I snuck underneath them. When you go past those guys, it makes it a little fun.”
Those up front included the likes of past USAC champions C.J. Leary and Dave Darland while Cottle zeroed in on perennial Lincoln Park winner A.J. Hopkins for third on lap three, then set forth toward Justin Grant and Carson Short, who had snared the top spot from first lap leader Grant on the second circuit with a turn three maneuver that slid him past for the position.
Following a fifth lap yellow flag for a turn three spin by Brandon Mattox, Grant went back to work on tracking down Short and made his move on the seventh go-around drifting up the turn three banking of the five-sixteenths-mile dirt oval past Short for the spot. Short checked up and got shuffled back to third as Cottle maintained his momentum around the infield tires to race to second behind Grant.
One lap later, Grant endured a slight bobble atop the cushion between turns three and four, opening the chamber for Cottle to throttle past underneath for the race lead on the eighth lap.
Cottle, in his Hodges Motorsports/Hodges Automotive – Mesilla Valley Transportation – Jackson Compaction – Ortega Appliance/DRC/Gibson Chevy, was undeniably hooked up as he steadfastly stretched his lead throughout the midway point to around a one-second interval entering the final 10 lap stanza.
The Kansas, Ill. native was undeniable throughout the entire distance, and was rarely challenged down the stretch while a hotly-contested tussle between Grant and Leary engaged for second, which allowed Windom to slip past Leary and into the third spot on the 21st lap while Grant secured his position in second.
Cottle closed out his fifth USAC National Sprint Car feature win by 1.488 second margin at the checkered, ahead of Grant, Windom, Leary and Chase Stockon, who made his debut in the KO Motorsports No. 5s, with who he recently announced he would compete with for the remainder of the USAC season.
Cottle estimates that he’s driven the Hodges Motorsports No. 74x a total of six occasions this year, and he’s already won twice, the first of which came in a late May POWRI WAR feature at Missouri’s Valley Speedway.
Josh Hodges, the one-time USAC National Sprint car winner at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway in 2016 who had piloted the team’s car for the past several years, stepped out of the driver’s compartment this past season and into a mechanical role for the team. The decision for him was based on a myriad of reasons, namely taking on a new promotion at work, getting married and moving, plus slight dizziness that he attributed to a possible wreck he had in the past.
Into the ride stepped Cottle, who’s found instant success in the car, and admitted that they might’ve found the elusive balance that they had been searching for, something that could lead to quite a bit of continued success, much like the success they enjoyed Friday night at Lincoln Park.
“This is the best race car I’ve ever sat in,” Cottle revealed. “Every nut and bolt is just perfect. They’ve made it a nice car to drive. They won’t do all that work if I don’t go out and do my job. So, we’re pretty happy with it.”
Like a walk-off homer, Cottle isn’t planning on backing up his triumphant performance Saturday for night two of the Bill Gardner Sprintacular at Lincoln Park. While Friday’s quick decision on a whim led to victory, don’t expect any surprise returns to the racetrack on Saturday.
“We’re not (racing). I’ve got a graduation party for my stepson tomorrow, so we’re going to go do that. If I miss that, I would be in trouble with my wife,” Cottle guffawed.
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