SELINSGROVE, Pa. – A stumbling engine in qualifying, a last row starting spot and an accident with 43 laps remaining that resulted with him backwards against the guardrail with a flat tire.
Those were the things that Shane Cottle had to overcome before he reached victory lane in Sunday’s USAC Silver Crown Series Bill Holland Classic at Selinsgrove Speedway.
It took Cottle every bit of the 74-lap distance to reach the pinnacle of the night as he worked his way around race-long leader C.J. Leary on the white flag lap to claim his second USAC Silver Crown victory, and his first in nearly 13 years, aboard the Curtis Williams/Jack’s Auto Body – Duncan Oil – Kercher Engines/Maxim/Kercher Chevy.
By doing so, Cottle became the newest record holder of the longest duration between USAC Silver Crown victories. It had been 12 years, 11 months and 8 days since the Kansas, Ill., driver raced to victory at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds in 2007. The record prior to Sunday night was the nearly 10-year span between Ron Shuman’s wins in 1982 and 1992.
Marking the first time the USAC Silver Crown season opener was held in the month of August since 1979, the majority of the first 30 circuits saw pole sitter Leary leading the way with outside front row starter Justin Grant giving chase to Leary, who had earlier set fast time during qualifying for the first time in four years.
On the 31st lap, major trouble ensued for 11th running Cottle who had a left rear tire go down on the front straightaway. In the ensuing melee, Cottle spun backwards into the inside front straightaway guardrail while the lapped car of Dave Berkheimer flipped upside down before a small fire erupted from the car. The fire was extinguished, and Berkheimer escaped without injury.
At the same time, Cottle exited the car, standing on the front straightaway mulling over the situation.
“I was really upset,” Cottle recalled. “I actually wasn’t even going to change the tire. I told the crew, ‘you know what, heck with it. We’re going to the back and it’s kind of hard to pass.’ They said ‘nope, we’re changing it, get back in there.’
Forced to restart from the tail after working halfway up through the field, with the new left rear affixed to his ride, Cottle went back to work on his mission.
“Luckily, we barely got back in there,” Cottle said. “It took me a little while to not get so mad and to where I was driving a little smoother. Once I did that, I started picking them off.”
While Leary and Grant had controlled the pace throughout, by the 52nd lap, Chris Windom, Brady Bacon and Kevin Thomas Jr. had reeled in the top-two to make it a five-man breakaway. Fourth-running Bacon, who had earlier won the night’s preceding USAC Rapid Tire East Coast Sprint Car feature, slipped under Windom for the third spot in turn three.
As Windom slipped up off the bottom, Thomas got his right front wheel beneath Windom’s left rear and the two made contact, knocking out the front end on Thomas’ car and sending to him a stop in turn four, thus concluding his evening.
Grant took a major run at Leary for the lead with an attempted slider on the lap 52 restart, which didn’t quite stick, as the pair continued their dominance at the front of the pack. Leary was able to distance himself to great comfort to a nearly two second lead as the laps wound down.
With seven laps remaining, a succession of yellows involving flat right rear tires wreaked havoc on several top-10 contenders, including Kyle Robbins, Windom, Jake Swanson, Kody Swanson and, ultimately, second running Justin Grant who fell by the wayside on a restart with four laps remaining. However, Cottle was reassured by his eye in the sky that he was good to go.
“I kept asking the crew, are there any cords showing yet,” Cottle revealed. “I could see all the guys in front of me and their cords were showing. They said, ‘nope, no cords yet. Just keep her going and just try to maintain the tire underneath you.'”
With four to go on a restart, the running order was Leary, Bacon and suddenly Cottle, who didn’t remain in third for long as he blitzed under Bacon for second on the bottom of turn four with three laps remaining, then rapidly advanced on Leary.
Coming to the white flag, Cottle used a substantial run off the second turn to race around the outside of Leary entering turn three for the lead. Simultaneously, the returning car of Grant stopped on the front straightaway to bring out the yellow, sending Leary back to the front with Cottle second for a green-white-checkered finish. At that point, Cottle had an inkling that, while he was going to give everything he had to get past Leary, he was going to receive the same treatment from Leary to keep him behind.
Cottle, with a right rear tire with which he estimated as maybe having ‘just a couple more laps left,’ took the show into his own hands, squaring up Leary through turns three and four coming to the white flag, then swinging to the outside to rip around him to lead at the stripe by a car length before making a beeline to the bottom of turn one to take away the bottom from Leary.
“When he got out of the rubber and got in the slick, I just stayed in the rubber and rolled around him,” Cottle remembered. “His tire didn’t have much left in it. Luckily, we had just enough to carry us on around him.”
From there, it was smooth sailing for Cottle, who raced to a .774-second victory over Leary while career-best series finishes were earned by Kyle Robbins (third), and first-time Silver Crown entrants Bryan Gossel (fourth), Carmen Perigo (fifth) and Kyle Cummins (sixth).
Cottle’s victory from the 23rd spot ranks as the 8th furthest back any driver has started to win a Silver Crown race, the most positions overcome to win since Rich Tobias Jr.’s Du Quoin triumph from 25th in 2003.
Kenny Irwin Jr. owns the top-two ultimate hard-charging performances in Silver Crown history, coming from the 28th position to win at both the Illinois State Fairgrounds in 1995 and Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1997.
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