OCALA, Fla. — Justin Grant, the hottest AMSOIL USAC Sprint Car Series racer at the end of the season, got back in the groove Friday night at Bubba Raceway Park by babying his tires and making it to the end of the 30-lap feature.
A number of his competitors, including Thursday night winner and leader Chris Windom, fell to soft or exploding tires in the late going. When the dust had settled, early leader C.J. Leary was second with 22nd-starting Tyler Courtney third, ahead of Chad Boespflug and Kevin Thomas Jr.
Grant only led two laps, as he was second when Windom’s deflating right-front tire sent him pitside as the field circled under a yellow precipitated by Brady Bacon and Jason McDougal’s exploded right rears.
“I had nothing for Chris,” admitted Grant. “But when the track rubbered up, he used his tire up and all of ours lasted. That’s how you play the rubber game!”
Polesitter Leary led in the early going, with Grant and Windom, up from fifth on the grid, dueling behind him. The third-starting Thomas was in the mix as well, driving under Windom when he tried to go around Grant while Leary drove away from the trio, building up a full straight lead before he caught the tail enders on lap 14.
By then, the tacky track that had everyone running the cushion 24 hours previously had started taking rubber and the field was hugging the bottom, making lapping difficult. Windom, who had finally put Grant away, took advantage of Leary getting held up by an errant lapped car and shot by for the lead on lap 19.
With 10 laps to go it was Windom, Leary, Thomas and Grant and two laps later they finally broke free from traffic, making it easier for Windom to defend his lead.
But on lap 25 the carnage began as fast-timer Carson Short, who had lowered his track record from the night before by a whisker, exploded a right rear to draw a yellow. A return to green saw Damion Gardner dispose of Matt Westfall to get into the top five but otherwise, the field was in formation around the bottom with the end in sight.
This changed when Bacon and McDougal shredded their right rears and pulled up at the pit entrance, drawing the night’s final caution and precipitating Windom’s downfall. While circling as officials waited for Bacon and McDougal to return, Windom too had tire trouble, bringing a gasp from the crowd as he dove for the pits.
The return to green saw Timmy Buckwalter charge by a couple of cars but otherwise the finish was set.
“Lap cars hurt me more than anything,” offered Leary, who seemed to have the win in hand through much of the race. “They held me up and let Windom get around us, then Grant followed him. At the end, it was just the survival of the fittest.”
Smiling after his drive from the last row, Courtney said, “After the track took rubber, the only thing that mattered was who didn’t wear their right rear out. I kept digging but carefully, and the restarts that got the lapped cars out of the way really helped me save my tire.”
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