Grant Glides to Victory at Eldora’s #LetsRaceTwo Opener
By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Rossburg, Ohio (May 5, 2023)………Justin Grant knows about the wall.
It can be treacherous. It can bend and break the parts on a racecar. It can ruin a perfectly good evening at the racetrack, and in most cases, it’s a place to stay away from.
But there’s also the flipside of the wall. Jimmy Bryan busted through the wooden fence to win at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in 1957. Jack Hewitt routinely used Eldora’s outside wall to glance off and propel himself down the straightaways to many a victory in his legendary domination of the place. Ross Chastain entertained with a viral video game-like wall ride on the final lap at Martinsville in 2022.
A couple bumps and scrapes here and there for the right rear and the right front against Eldora’s concrete was more or less a no-harm, no-foul situation in deterring Grant’s ultimate goal during Friday night’s #LetsRaceTwo opener for the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship at Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in which he netted a $10,000 sum for his victorious efforts.
After all, even with the wall, there didn’t seem to be anything that was going to deter the Ione, Calif. native from maintaining his run of success of late at Eldora and on the USAC Sprint trail.
Sixth starting Grant took over the lead from pole sitter Kyle Cummins 10 laps into the 30-lap main event, wrestling away the number one spot before putting the rest of the field in a chokehold for the remainder of the race despite a caution halting the proceedings just five laps from the finish line.
In doing so, Grant became the first repeat winner of the USAC Sprint season as he collected his second straight victory on the series tour as well as his second consecutive score at Eldora in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – Bow Foundation – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
Furthermore, his third career #LetsRaceTwo USAC Sprint victory tied him with Robert Ballou and Tyler Courtney for the most in the event’s history after previously notching wins in 2015 and 2017. It’s his fifth career USAC triumph at the famed half-mile dirt oval, and as Grant can attest, the feeling of accomplishment never subsides when one wins at this place. Not now. Not ever. In any circumstance.
“To be able to win at Eldora Speedway is awesome on any occasion,” Grant noted. “I’ve won here when it’s been heavy. I’ve won here when it’s been slick. It’s so fun to win when it’s just absolutely glass slick against the wall.”
Additionally, Grant extended his series point lead to 42 while also moving up one more step on the USAC National Sprint Car career feature win list, scooting himself into sole possession of 13th on the all-time list by surpassing Jon Stanbrough and Rich Vogler. Grant now stands just one victory behind series champions Robert Ballou and Sheldon Kinser for 11th on the list at 37.
Cummins was the first to strike as he shot out to the early lead, but very quickly, felt the presence of Grant who had worked his way from sixth to second by the second go around as he swooped from high to low to gain four positions in quick succession.
By lap nine, Grant was in position to pose the first challenge, sliding past Cummins for the lead in turn four, albeit briefly, as Cummins countered the move and kept Grant in place behind him. But for only a moment. By turn one, Grant fired his next shot and stuck it – not only the position but also the wall. For you see, the concrete wall jumped out and bit him – metaphorically speaking – yet Grant remained with his foot firmly on the throttle and whistled past Cummins on the top side of turns three and four to assume his new position at the head of the field for good.
Halfway through, Grant was methodically slipping his way through lapped traffic with precise ease and ultimately built his lead to more than six seconds running up on the classic Eldora line, so close the wall you could reach out and touch it.
“I love it here on the wall, and we were lapping some really, really good cars,” Grant recalled. “So, I thought, boy, we’re pretty good here. The ol’ 4 car is rolling tonight.”
Meanwhile, Brady Bacon began to enter the chat, charging from fifth to third in one fell swoop on lap 17 by slipstreaming the bottom of turns three and four past C.J. Leary and Kevin Thomas Jr.
Despite that, Grant was seemingly on Easy Street, so to speak, hanging a 6.439 second advantage on the board with the laps winding down and a little bit of damage mounting on the leader’s car.
“I cleaned the right front off it, and I cleaned the right rear corner off it,” Grant explained. “(Crew Chief) Dylan (Cook) said, ‘Hey, you were like a half lap ahead.’ But when I tried to slow down, that’s when I’d hit the fence. I was better off just ringing laps.”
Grant was still ripping with five to go when 23rd running Dalton Stevens came to a stop on the back straightaway, establishing the first caution of the night, thus erasing Grant's sizable lead and bunching up the field for one final tantalizing restart.
Shortly after the green, instead of Grant, it was Cummins snagging the turn two wall this time on the lap 26 restart. Bacon capitalized and quickly went on by to move into the runner-up spot behind a somewhat distant Grant. Nonetheless, Grant banged the wall one more time for good measure in turn four but kept it going with Bacon giving chase and cutting down Grant’s lead to a handful of car lengths.
Undeterred, Grant distanced himself away from the fray on his way to the white flag, then glided through turns one and two with preciseness before broadsiding the outside turn two wall and promptly elevating all four of his wheels off the ground. Once the car landed back on all fours, Grant straightened it out and pointed it on a path that led directly to victory lane.
Grant’s margin of victory was 2.347 seconds at the stripe. Bacon was scored second at the line with Cummins third, Emerson Axsom fourth and Thomas Jr. fifth.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty once explained that one of the reasons he drove right up against the wall was because there was less of a distance to travel to the wall before hitting it. Grant’s pursuit of victory came in a similar vein as he stuck to his guns on a line he never wavered on, a scenario which he learned from a pair of drivers who rank among the winningest Eldora USAC Sprint drivers of all-time.
“I can kind of run the cheater slider line in three and four sometimes, but I’ve never really figured out how to run the bottom here,” Grant explained. “I watched a lot of Tyler Courtney rolling around here and he’s really good here. I just studied the way he runs three and four so well and I slowly started figuring that out, and I feel I’ve got a pretty good handle on it now. A lot of it is what my father-in-law, Ol’ Bub (Bubby Jones), told me about how to run three and four and how to use the pit gate to get down in there.”
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) set the tone early by turning the fastest lap times in both Dirt Draft Hot Laps and in Honest Abe Roofing Qualifying (for the 45th time in his career). After failing to transfer through his heat race, Bacon took care of business to win the semi. The four-time USAC Sprint Car champ rolled off ninth in his Dynamics, Inc./A & B Sports Bar Café – Tel-Star Technologies – DriveWFX.com/Triple X/Rider Chevy, but steadily worked his way forward to second on the final restart with five laps to go to earn his best #LetsRaceTwo finish since winning in 2018.
“The top just wasn’t there all the way around like it normally is here, and our car was a little too tight to bash it like (Justin Grant) could,” Bacon said. “But that’s how we passed all the cars that we did, by just being able to maneuver around. He tested out the integrity of his equipment there and I thought we might be able to sneak by there. But he was able to get ‘er done and we definitely weren’t going to be able to catch him running up there.”
It was a career-best night at Eldora for Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.). Prior to Friday, his previous best USAC National Sprint Car finish at Eldora was a ninth. On this night, he led the first nine laps and scored a third place result to round out the podium in his Rock Steady Racing/Avanti Windows & Doors – Tim Mason ReMax/Mach-1/Stanton Chevy.
“We’ve just been coming here more and getting our car better,” Cummins said of his rapid Eldora improvement. “To be able to put it on the fence like that, and to trust the car, that’s super important. If we hadn’t had that yellow, I think we would’ve finished second. I started to pace once Justin got so far out, but once that yellow came out, I thought, okay, this might be my time to win. Coming off four, I thought I was just going to blow a slider through there, but I smoked the fence, then I got stuck in the fence, then I hit the fence on the back stretch and bent the wheels all up on it. Coming home third after our best finish here had been ninth, it gives us a lot of confidence after being able to run consistent laps up there and also be pretty fast.”
Making his first USAC National Sprint Car feature start since 2019, also at Eldora, Kody Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.) earned Irvin King Hard Charger honors following his advancement from the 17th starting position to an 8th place finish.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: May 5, 2023 – Eldora Speedway – Rossburg, Ohio – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track – #LetsRaceTwo
HONEST ABE ROOFING QUALIFYING: 1. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-16.778; 2. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-16.848; 3. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-16.891; 4. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall-16.928; 5. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-16.930; 6. C.J. Leary, 15x, BGE Dougherty-16.933; 7. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-17.004; 8. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-17.023; 9. Briggs Danner, 39, Hogue-17.122; 10. Kevin Thomas Jr., 17GP, Dutcher-17.278; 11. Scotty Weir, 23K, NIKSTE-17.304; 12. Max Adams, 5x, Adams-17.398; 13. Dallas Hewitt, 21, Hewitt-17.452; 14. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-17.502; 15. Daison Pursley, 5p, KO-17.513; 16. Logan Seavey, 2B, 2B Racing-17.522; 17. Zack Pretorius, 9z, Pretorius-17.658; 18. Kody Swanson, 98, Wedgewood-17.763; 19. Geoff Ensign, 3F, Ensign-17.860; 20. Ryan Barr, 21B, Barr-17.869; 21. Dalton Stevens, 99x, Stevens-17.932; 22. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-18.099; 23. Jadon Rogers, 5, Baldwin/Fox-18.167; 24. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-18.201; 25. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 51T, Tafoya-18.269; 26. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-18.347; 27. Matt Goodnight, 39G, Goodnight-18.459; 28. Brian Hayden, 2H, Hayden-18.620; 29. Evan Mosley, 27, Barkdull-18.695; 30. Jack James, 99, James-18.757; 31. Hunter Maddox, 24m, Maddox-18.793; 32. Tim Creech, 31c, Creech-18.895; 33. Aric Gentry, 10, Gentry-18.966; 34. Ivan Glotzbach, i1, Glotzbach-18.995; 35. Keith Sheffer II, 86, Sheffer-19.336.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Matt Westfall, 2. Dalton Stevens, 3. Dallas Hewitt, 4. Briggs Danner, 5. Brady Bacon, 6. Zack Pretorius, 7. Evan Mosley, 8. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 9. Aric Gentry. 2:14.56
ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Justin Grant, 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 5. Kody Swanson, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Jack James, 8. Ivan Glotzbach. 2:15.95
T.J. FORGED THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Cummins, 2. Mitchel Moles, 3. Daison Pursley, 4. Jadon Rogers, 5. Geoff Ensign, 6. Scotty Weir, 7. Matt Goodnight, 8. Hunter Maddox, 9. Keith Sheffer II. 2:18.48
CAR IQ FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Jake Swanson, 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Emerson Axsom, 4. Max Adams, 5. Chase Stockon, 6. Ryan Barr, 7. Brian Hayden, 8. Tim Creech. 2:18.83
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Kody Swanson, 3. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 4. Chase Stockon, 5. Scotty Weir, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Ryan Barr, 8. Matt Goodnight, 9. Zack Pretorius, 10. Brian Hayden, 11. Aric Gentry, 12. Tim Creech, 13. Keith Sheffer II, 14. Evan Mosley, 15. Hunter Maddox, 16. Ivan Glotzbach, 17. Jack James, 18. Geoff Ensign. 3:43.12
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (6), 2. Brady Bacon (9), 3. Kyle Cummins (1), 4. Emerson Axsom (4), 5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (11), 6. Scotty Weir (12), 7. C.J. Leary (2), 8. Kody Swanson (17), 9. Jake Swanson (7), 10. Mitchel Moles (5), 11. Chase Stockon (20), 12. Dallas Hewitt (14), 13. Robert Ballou (8), 14. Brandon Mattox (22), 15. Briggs Danner (10), 16. Daison Pursley (15), 17. Matt Westfall (3), 18. Logan Seavey (16), 19. Eddie Tafoya Jr. (21), 20. Jadon Rogers (19), 21. Carson Garrett (23-P), 22. Max Adams (13), 23. Dalton Stevens (18). NT