MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — One day after his 26th birthday, the “older” and wiser Kevin Thomas Jr. was rewarded with his biggest and highest-paying present of all in Thursday night’s USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship’s return to the legendary Williams Grove Speedway.
The Cullman, Alabama driver led the entire first-half of the Eastern Storm presented by DMI / “Triple Crown Showdown” 30-lapper, but on lap 16 when all seemed to be slipping away as Chris Windom took the lead, Thomas demonstrated a poise and maturity that he admits wouldn’t have shown in year’s past.
“I’ve been racing for a lot of years now,” Thomas said. “I used to tear up a lot of stuff and make dumb decisions. Now we’re able to put solid cars underneath me, make better decisions and put myself in the right position to win races and finish on the podium. That just comes with experience. I never thought I’d make smart decisions, to be honest.”
The victory was the 13th USAC National Sprint Car win for Thomas, moving him into the top-40 on the all-time series win list alongside Don Branson and Steve Chassey. Though his winning ride is a mixture of resources from his own KT Motorsports, Pace Brothers Racing, Abreu Vineyards and his father, the triumph officially comes under the Pace Brothers Racing banner, which marks their first USAC win since July of 2007 at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway with driver Dave Darland.
“It’s all kind of coming together now,” Thomas said. “I’ve got good people around me who support me. They give me the equipment to be up front and it’s up to me and my guys to put a good racecar together, make it go fast and for me to make good decisions on the racetrack. It’s a combination of a lot of good people. It’s a full team effort. There’s only one guy on the race track, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes.”
Chris Windom made a numerous charges at Thomas, including on lap 18 when the two nearly made contact as Windom was unable to gain clearance on his slider, allowing Thomas to instantly extend his race lead to one-plus second.
“It’s so wide down there in one and two,” Thomas explained. “When you see a slider, you can anticipate where to turn across. There was just enough moisture to cross under Chris and get a good run going down the backstretch. Once I saw him get by me on the bottom. I went down there where there was a little rubber and I had a lot of grip. It was tough running up there in three and four. Once you moved down, you were able to make a lot of straightaway speed.”
Thomas went to school on Windom and took away his perfected line on the bottom of three and four as he discovered the rubber. Thomas’ grip on the position would not falter down the stretch as Windom began to fade and Chase Stockon turned up the wick to run down and overtake Windom for second on the bottom of turn one on the 30th and final lap.
Meanwhile, up front, Thomas crossed the finish line 2.3 seconds ahead of the Stockon/Windom duel to finish off his first USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory of the 2017 season. National Sprint point leader Justin Grant was fourth while Grandview Eastern Storm winner Brady Bacon rounded out the top-five.
With results of fourth, third and first through the three of the five Eastern Storm series wins, Thomas, the driver of the Pace Brothers Racing/Pace Performance Coating – DC Dyno/DRC/J & D finds himself in an enviable position with an eight-point lead heading into the final two races Saturday at Port Royal Speedway and Sunday at Susquehanna Speedway.
“When you come to places like this, you tighten your belts a little more and you focus a little bit more,” Thomas detailed. “Having the track record at Knoxville, then winning here at Williams Grove, it’s two racetracks that are the most historic in the country. It’s really humbling to be fast at these places, much less win. It goes back to what they do in the shop. I haven’t really been that great on the big tracks in the past. We’ve really focused on that and they’ve helped me out a ton. We’ve got good engines, good shocks and good crewmembers. Everybody that works on this thing gives me confidence and helps me make good decisions on the track while they make good decisions in the pits. Hats off to them; they make it easy for me.”