BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Kevin Thomas Jr. won Friday night’s 29th annual Sheldon Kinser Memorial as part of the 30th annual Indiana Sprint Week series at Bloomington Speedway.
Thomas would begin the 30-lap event from outside of the second row, and took quick action to get to the front. Coming off the second turn on the opening lap, polesitter Chad Boespflug spurted away to the lead while Robert Ballou (bottom), Thomas (middle) and Thomas Meseraull (top) battled three-wide for second. Bloomington’s tight confines made it a tough proposition for all three to successfully make it to turn three unscathed, and that would prove to be the case.
Midway down the back straight, Thomas and Meseraull made contact. Meseraull’s left front wheel served as a launching pad for Thomas who hopped his right rear tire over Meseraull’s wheel, collapsing Meseraull’s front end and concluding a night that proved crushing to the San Jose, California’s Indiana Sprint Week title hopes, dropping him from second in the standings (13 back) to fifth and 28 out of the lead with just two events remaining.
It was an incident in which Thomas put the full blame squarely on his own shoulders.
“I got a decent start,” Thomas recalled. “I rolled the middle and got up beside Thomas. Honestly, it’s just a lack of concentration on my part. I caught myself looking at the bottom at Boespflug and I let my right rear slide out a little bit too far and I ran Thomas out of room. That was 100% my fault. He didn’t do anything wrong and it’s just unfortunate what happened to him. They’ve been good all week. It’s not the way we want to race because he doesn’t race like that and I try not to race like that. It’s just an unfortunate circumstance for him. He’s been good all week and he was good tonight. I just lost concentration on my end.”
With the incident occurring on the opening lap, there were still 30 laps to try to retain that focus that is so sorely needed to compete at a winning level. With that situation weighing on his mind, Thomas had to regain his composure and get back to the task at hand.
“When you make contact, then yellow comes out immediately and you see his front end knocked out like that, it’s a disheartening because he and I have raced for a long, long time. We don’t usually make contact. He’s got a wife and kids. He’s here to make a living too. To take his night away from him like that is not cool on my part.”
When action resumed, many believed the race would be won on the bottom including leader Boespflug, but Thomas had his car set up to run the top and he didn’t intend to stray from that notion. Thomas was able to inch a bit closer on the first three circuits as the two ran side-by-side, Boespflug around the infield tires and Thomas riding the ledge.
Boespflug clung to the lead by a car length at the line at the conclusion of lap three, but Thomas made some headway on the following lap and, coming off four, surged ahead of Boespflug as he hung his right-side tires off the front straightaway curb at the start/finish line to secure the point. Boespflug took one more run at Thomas on lap four, attempting a half-slider in turn three to no avail, allowing Thomas to step through the door and slam it shut as he left the rest of the field behind.
By the tenth lap, Thomas had built up a full-straightaway lead with Troy, Ohio’s Lee Underwood holding down the second spot in one of the most remarkable drives all week, one lap after he blew by Boespflug on the bottom for the runner-up position. By halfway, lappers were everywhere, suffocating the high and low-lines on each end of the quarter-mile, but Thomas had no intentions of leaving his comfort zone up top.
“I just don’t run the bottom,” Thomas said. “It’s just one of those things. If I could run in the top-five on the top and not have to run the bottom, it’s probably what I’m going to try to do. I just don’t have enough patience to run the bottom. I’m not very good at it. We set up to run the top as much as we can. It’s just a comfort level up there for me. I thought about going to the bottom a few times in lapped traffic. I think I tried it one time and I completely missed the bottom. I knew I couldn’t do this any longer, so I just stuck it out, tried to get a little bit closer to the lappers, then I just slid them.”
Just after halfway, Boespflug found his second wind, discovering his groove on the high-side to sweep past Underwood for second on lap 18 with eyes affixed on catching Thomas in the gridlock of lapped traffic that lie ahead. Still trailing by nearly three seconds, Boespflug would need a caution or something drastic to occur in front of Thomas in the closing laps, and it nearly did.
With six to go, the cars of Max McGhee and C.J. Leary became hooked together rear bumper to front bumper, respectively, right in front of Thomas, which briefly caused a bit of consternation for the race leader. The two eventually were able untangle at the exit of turn four before continuing, but luckily for Thomas, he was able to take evasive action to avoid catastrophe.
“I did see that,” Thomas recalls. “It’s just one of those deals. You have to look far enough ahead, but you still have to concentrate as much as you can on the cushion you’re running. It can bite you just as much as those two beating and banging on each other. Something can happen and you might get into them. It’s a little bit of both. You have to concentrate really hard on what the cars are doing in front of you. You have to get your momentum up before you get there, then whenever they make a mistake, just squirt by and get yourself out of the problem. That’s really all you can do in that situation.”
With no caution coming out for the incident, it became a split-second decision that could’ve ultimately decided the race. As Boespflug charged at Thomas with a full-head of steam, it was the line Thomas had already established that he believes helped him navigate through the potential hazards as they occurred.
“If you try to wait and go to the bottom, say somebody knocks their front end out, then turns down the track and you get taken out of the lead, that’s just one thing you don’t want to happen. I feel like the top is the easiest way out of trouble. There’s normally so much banking on these tracks that when something happens, it usually ends up going to the bottom. I think you have a little bit more space if something does happen, so I just stick to the top. If something happens, you can drive off the top of the track, especially here since there’s no walls. If you can get slowed down and turn underneath it, you’ve got to stick to the top. You can’t open yourself up too much for the guy behind you. It’s just a fine line right there, but it’s a gamble you have to take.”
No such trouble stood in Thomas’ path on the final five revolutions around the oval, though he did have to contend with a three-way battle for 16th between Justin Grant, Carson Short and Shane Cottle that formed a Red Rover Wall of sorts with two to go that prevented him from breaking free. The pack would thin out and Thomas would win out, finishing off a dominating performance in his KT Motorsports/Abreu Vineyards – KT Construction Services/DRC/Speedway Chevy over Boespflug, a series-best performance for the unrelated Tyler Thomas, followed by Lee Underwood and Robert Ballou.
With the victory, Thomas now holds down a five-point advantage in the Indiana Sprint Week standings.
A.J. Hopkins flipped through the fence outside turn two during the semi. He was transported to a local hospital for observation.
For complete results, check the next page.