TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Justin Grant capitalized on a pair of late-race restarts and a last-lap pass to win Wednesday’s USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series Dorsett Automotive Don Smith Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track during NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week.
“I just ran every lap harder than the last one,” Grant said. “I figured if I didn’t get it done on the last one, I must need to run this thing harder. Finally, I worked my courage up to run it hard enough to finally get by him.”
A succession of unfortunate timing led to race leader Chase Stockon’s ultimate misfortune in the final two green-white-checkered restarts. The last of which, Grant drove around Stockon in the second turn and raced to victory for the fourth time with the series this season, taking over the Indiana Sprint Week point lead by a six points over Stockon and 10 points over Brady Bacon with three races remaining.
“We want to win this championship badly,” Grant exclaimed. “I want to win races, I like trophies, I like wheelies, bicycles, running above the cushion and I’m here to make money. This is how I feed my kids. This is how I pay my bills. This is my life. Fortunately, points and dollars earned correlate pretty closely. Tonight, the safe move would’ve been to run second. But, god, I love winning races. So, we said, ‘screw it,’ let’s win this race. We were wide open above the curb getting in, wheelieing, bicycling, and getting trophies.”
Taking a line a car width or two above Stockon just before the first and second yellow near the end of the main event, Grant wasn’t able to get the drive off turn two to make the move stick. The third time proved to be a charm, however.
Stockon, the 2016 Don Smith Classic winner, led the opening lap of the 30-lap event before Bacon charged to the point on the bottom of turn four on the second lap. Grant, who started fourth, put his bid in for second, riding the bottom rail between turns three and four to the runner-up spot on the seventh lap.
Bacon had upped his lead to 2.5 seconds when Max Adams suffered a flat right rear tire to bring out the yellow with 12 laps remaining. With the field bunched up for the restart, Bacon’s lead wasn’t long for the world as he slid through the middle of turn one, henceforth opening the door on the bottom for Grant to drive by while Stockon followed suit on the bottom at the exit of turn two to glide into second.
Grant’s run up front was short lived as, just one lap later, Stockon stuck the bottom of turns one and two to snag the lead from Grant. Stockon extended his lead to three-quarters of a second, but that lead tediously dwindled when Grant closed to within a car length trying to make an outside pass in turn two, to no avail. At that point, victory was seemingly in the bag for Stockon as he rounded turn three only to find a yellow flag and the 20th place car of Nate McMillin spun backwards, facing his direction and in motion at the exit of turn four.
By rule, caution periods that occur on the white flag lap will result in a two-lap, green-white-checkered finish. Subsequently, second running Grant and now third-place Windom had an additional opportunity, much to the chagrin of Stockon. The restart was nearly identical to the final lap before the McMillin caution with Grant trying with all his might to get around Stockon who was perfect on the bottom line.
Just as Stockon began to exhale and a feature win seemed imminent, lightning struck again for the Fort Branch, Ind. native as he swept through turn three only to see the yellow once again for the spun car of Dennis Gile in turn two, running 15th at the time.
As the leader, Stockon had to be perfect, especially with the sense of not being able to see the angles of attack with which his closest competitors were utilizing behind him. In essence, Grant, in second, only had to be perfect just this once. After one lap of trailing Stockon around the half-mile on what wound up as being lap 31, Grant got a big run off turn four headed to the white flag.
Being stuck high in the crumbs on the exit of two during his last attempts there, Grant had an alternate plan.
“I entered below the lip and didn’t want to turn over on the lip getting in,” Grant recalled. “The only way this thing’s going to work is if I run right over that lip wide open, get enough bite on entry and drive across the slick and get back to the good stuff off two. And, by God, it worked.”
With Grant tucked right behind Stockon at the start/finish line, the two tagged bumpers. Stockon, now possibly carrying too much speed into turn one, slid straight up to the middle, losing momentum and opening up the expressway at the top for Grant and the bottom for Windom who both raced on by for first and second, respectively.
Grant executed the last half-lap of the distance as the frontrunner, going on to win his second career series race at Terre Haute by a margin of two car lengths, or .257 of a second, over Windom, Stockon, C.J. Leary and Shane Cottle.
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