TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Justin Grant won the 20th running of the Jim Hurtubise Classic for USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars Friday night at the Terre Haute Action Track.
It was his first victory at the historic half-mile dirt track where he first raced in 2010.
“In my first race here in 2010, I sailed it out of the park in turn one and I smashed a guy’s Buick or Plymouth, or something, whatever it was,” Grant recalled. “I made it a long way out there too. Terre Haute had my number for quite a while and it’s taken me nine years to finally get a win here, but we did it, and it feels really good. At one point, it was probably my worst track on the tour. To come here and win, it means a lot to me personally.”
Grant, a 2018 Sumar Classic Silver Crown winner at Terre Haute, had a topsy-turvy turn of events to begin his night. Shortly after racing from fifth to first to win the first heat race, on his cooldown lap, Grant encountered trouble, without warning, that nearly spelled disaster.
“We had a left front radius rod come apart, and you can’t steer,” Grant explained. “The axle rolls back and falls off the arm. I lifted off of (turn) two, and halfway down the backstretch, it started squirrelling all around and I thought ‘Whoa, we got a problem here.’ I knew the front end was falling out, and when you get on the brakes, it just folds them up.
“I was just trying to coast it to a stop; I got it whoa’d down pretty slow, then it dropped, and the frame rail dug in and it just turned me right into the inside wall. Luckily, it just front-bumpered into it. No harm, no foul. We brought it back, put a bolt in it and we were ready for the feature.”
Grant rolled off for the 30-lap feature from the third position, but it took no time flat for him to race his way into the lead, grooving the bottom past pole sitter Nick Bilbee in the first turn to secure the lead while seventh starting Jason McDougal charged all the way to second by the conclusion of the opening lap, but a full second behind Grant.
Kevin Thomas Jr., Brady Bacon and Tyler Courtney worked their way around McDougal and formed a triumvirate in their pursuit to run down Grant with seven laps complete.
Grant was introduced to lapped traffic by the 10th circuit, allowing Thomas to close the gap to under a second. The lapped cars of Dustin Christie and Aric Gentry battled for position in their own right, but Grant escaped from Thomas for the time being, maneuvering around the outside of Christie off turn four, then dove low, sliding by Gentry at the entrance of turn one.
Thomas kept Grant in check, and as Grant slid into the fluff on the outside of turn two on the 11th lap, Thomas used a massive run to drive by Gentry and charge into turn three side-by-side momentarily to the inside of Grant.
Grant withheld the challenge and remained in control past halfway, until lap 18, when Thomas went on the attack once again, throwing a monster slider on Grant who was able to stand his ground and firm his grip of the lead as he split the lapped cars of Steve Thomas and Dustin Smith to sneak away and increase the interval to 2.5 seconds.
Grant stood up in the seat and regularly entered above the cushion as he began to assert his authority and rebuild his advantage.
With just five laps remaining, however, Grant’s two-plus second lead was deleted when two-time Jim Hurtubise Classic winner Brady Bacon encountered trouble and heavy right-side damage, coming to a rest against the turn-one wall.
“I didn’t want to see that,” Grant said of the yellow flag. “I knew I had gotten through lapped traffic pretty quickly for as thick it was. We were honestly in a pretty good rhythm. Here, you never want to see a yellow when you’re leading. The frontstretch is so long and so slick and if you slide yourself, there’s nothing off of two and you’re a sitting duck. You can’t block the slider; you just hope you get a good enough restart and you can beat the slider to the center.”
Grant was fully prepared for the challenge that was going to be presented to him at the drop of the green flag from Courtney.
Courtney reared back on the start and fired his machine to the bottom in hope to slide up in front of Grant by turn two. Grant never wavered, kept his right foot on the throttle and squeezed through to the miniscule peak of daylight between Courtney to his inside and the concrete wall.
Courtney took his shot and sold out for the lead in the process, as Grant shot back out to a half-second advantage while Thomas took advantage of Courtney’s loss of momentum exiting the second turn to move back to second.
In the final laps, Thomas utilized a line lower than Grant’s top side ride but wasn’t able to get close enough to fire off a slide job for the top spot.
Grant, meanwhile, raced to his third USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car win of the season by .925 seconds over Thomas, Courtney, fast qualifier Chris Windom and point leader C.J. Leary.
To see full results, turn to the next page.