Press ReleaseUSAC

Grant Scores USAC Sprint Opener in Ocala

By: Richie Murray – USAC Media

Ocala, Florida (February 9, 2024)………Justin Grant’s winning performance wasn’t exactly how he drew it up, so to speak, during Friday night’s USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship season opener at Florida’s Ocala Speedway.

In fact, once Grant took the lead from Brady Bacon five laps from the finish line, he would rather have just driven away scot-free to victory while not having to dwell on any mixed feelings about a subsequent victory celebration.

Nonetheless, on occasion in the sport of auto racing, the best laid plans can go awry. Soon after taking, losing, then retaking the lead from Bacon on lap 26, Grant’s car kicked sideways in turn four, directly into the path of Bacon. Bacon attempted to avoid the idle Grant but clipped his right front tire into Grant’s left rear. As a result, Grant’s car got reignited, then straightened out and continued on while Bacon took the brunt of the misfortune, spinning to a stop.

Henceforth, Grant (Ione, Calif.) traveled the final five laps on the 3/8-mile dirt track toward victory in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – Bow Foundation – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.

The parallels of this year’s season opener and the 2023 lid lifter at Ocala are uncanny. A year ago, Bacon performed a half-spin in turn four, then carried onto victory where he surpassed Jack Hewitt on the series’ all-time win list. For Bacon, that particular performance moved him into a tie for the all-time lead in career Winter Dirt Games victories with five alongside Damion Gardner. Similarly, this time around, Grant’s victory was his fifth in the yearly annual event, elevating him to the top line with Bacon and Gardner.

Grant’s score was monumental in the USAC record books as well with this being the 46th feature win of his USAC National Sprint Car career, tying himself with Hewitt for a share of fifth place on the all-time list.

“That’s really, really cool,” Grant exclaimed upon learning of the feat. “I got to do a stint in Ohio driving for Mark Hery. I learned a lot and learned a lot of racecraft there, and I was able to develop a lot of what I do now racing around Ohio racetracks with Mark. Jack was always around in those days. It’s cool to tie him and it’s really cool that we have those lists so that we can look back at the heroes and legends of our sport. Being able to climb up the list among these giants is an absolute dream come true. I never thought I’d win a single USAC Sprint Car race, so to be climbing up through there with those guys and to be tied with Jack Hewitt on the all-time wins list, it means a lot and it’s very special to me.”

The win proved to be Grant’s ninth in his last 18 USAC National Sprint Car starts dating back to July of 2023. Furthermore, it was Grant’s first season opening triumph with the series since 2017, also at Ocala.

With Grant starting fourth in the 24-car feature lineup, the initial attempt at a start didn’t fare well for 11th starting Sterling Cling. After contact with Alex Bright (14th) on the opening lap, Cling flipped several times in turn four. Zach Daum was also collected in the melee, sliding to a stop. Cling walked away under his own power, but his night evening was put on the shelf.

At that point, outside front row starter Bacon took command of the field as he stepped out front ahead of pole sitter Jake Swanson. Bacon continued to hold a firm grip on the lead throughout the first 10 laps of the race as Grant slid under Swanson in turn one to assume third on lap 11, but still remained about eight car lengths back of Bacon who soon found himself mired in lapped traffic.

Grant continued to edge closer as Bacon continued to nudge his way into the thick of traffic with Tom Harris and Timmy Buckwalter just ahead of the pair. On lap 25, Grant saw daylight on the bottom of turn one and slid up in front of Bacon and Buckwalter to take over the top spot.  It proved to be short lived, however, as Grant tried to find a route around Harris to no avail. That opened the door for Bacon to skate back under Grant to retake the lead at the stripe by a wheel.

“As we were coming to Brady, I felt like we had a better racecar,” Grant explained. “I could really eat him up in three and four, but it was going to be really tough to get by him. Fortunately, with the way the lapped traffic worked out, I was able to sneak by him. Then I hit the bottom off three and four and he was able to get me back. I was able to make up a bunch of time around the top, then I got back around him, and I hadn’t entered up high since earlier in the race!”

Grant immediately fought back on the outside in turn one, working a path around Bacon and then Harris before, seemingly, setting off to a clear horizon as he entered turns three and four on lap 26. But not so fast, my friend.

“I got down in there and I got to chopping on the right rear tire with it being real low on air,” Grant recalled. “I just chopped my way and kind of half-spun, then came down the track in front of him. We banged wheels and he spun out. That wasn’t how I wanted that to go. I planned on circling the top and driving away and not having to feel bad about anything. I feel bad we ended Brady’s race there. We were having a heck of a battle, and I was looking forward to battling with him to the end. Brady’s a great racecar driver and it’s a lot of fun racing with him.”

From Bacon’s perspective, it was pure misfortune that befell him and cost him a shot an all-time record fourth career USAC National Sprint Car opening night victory.

“We led the whole race,” Bacon lamented. “Lapped traffic’s really tough here when it’s on the bottom like that. it probably backed my pace off a little bit and enabled him to catch me. Right when I was moving around to get by Harris, he got in there with us. We were mixing it up trying to get past that lapped car and I probably had the better position there in three and four. He kind of got caught in the marbles and spun out.  We hit him and he kept going and stalled us.”

It was no contest for Grant after the final restart as he hustled away to a 2.219 second margin of victory over runner-up C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) while Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) rounded out the podium in third. Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) earned Irvin King Hard Charger honors with his 10th to fourth high side run as Briggs Danner (Allentown, Pa.) came home a strong fifth.

Leary turned in his best Ocala run since winning the final night in 2019. On this night, he raced his way to a runner-up result aboard his BGE Dougherty Motorsports/Altoz – Valvoline – Hornbeck Concrete/DRC/1-Way Chevy. Dating back to last year, it’s his third consecutive podium finish after a pair of thirds in 2023.

Likewise for Seavey who recorded his best Ocala outing since a third in 2020. But on this occasion, he achieved it with a team making its first ever USAC Sprint Car appearance. Seavey drove to third once again in his Abacus Racing/CG CPAs – Indy Custom Stone – Forecheck Marketing/DRC/Stanton Chevy.

Brandon Mattox (Terre Haute, Ind.) earned ProSource's Hard Work Award for the night. After qualifying 27th out of 30 drivers in the field, Mattox worked his way into the feature lineup.

In Honest Abe Roofing Qualifying, Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) rose to seventh place all-time on the USAC National Sprint Car Fast Qualifier list. With his 37th career fast time, KTJ moved past Bryan Clauson and into a tie with Larry Dickson on the list.

=====================

USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: February 9, 2024 – Ocala Speedway – Ocala, Florida – Winter Dirt Games XV – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track

HONEST ABE ROOFING QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3R, Rock Steady-13.858; 2. Logan Seavey, 57, Abacus-13.892; 3. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.985; 4. C.J. Leary, 15x, BGE Dougherty-14.055; 5. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-14.107; 6. Jake Swanson, 2B, 2B Racing-14.207; 7. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-14.214; 8. Sterling Cling, 34, SCR-14.223; 9. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-14.263; 10. Briggs Danner, 39, Hogue-14.284; 11. Daison Pursley, 21AZ, Team AZ-14.289; 12. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-14.310; 13. Alex Bright, 27, Heffner-14.395; 14. Kyle Cummins, 3p, Petty-14.418; 15. Zach Daum, 5d, Daum-14.458; 16. Joey Amantea, 88J, JPA-14.469; 17. Timmy Buckwalter, 20, Hummer-14.492; 18. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-14.533; 19. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-14.538; 20. Jadon Rogers, 17GP, Dutcher-14.553; 21. Tom Harris, 84, Harris-14.554; 22. Trey Osborne, 5, Baldwin/Fox-14.683; 23. Mark Smith, 43m, Witherspoon-14.771; 24. Tye Mihocko, 5T, Wilson-14.825; 25. Hunter Maddox, 24m, Maddox-14.937; 26. Shane Butler, 18, Butler-14.975; 27. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-14.990; 28. John Mollick, 4J, Clever-15.184; 29. Chase Howard, 13, Howard-15.359; 30. Will Hull, 7s, Allen-15.905.

SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Chase Stockon, 2. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3. Timmy Buckwalter, 4. Brady Bacon, 5. Tom Harris, 6. Alex Bright, 7. Chase Howard, 8. Hunter Maddox. 1:57.32

ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Briggs Danner, 2. Carson Garrett, 3. Kyle Cummins, 4. Logan Seavey, 5. Jake Swanson, 6. Trey Osborne, 7. Shane Butler, 8. Will Hull. 1:57.81

T.J. FORGED THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Matt Westfall, 3. Daison Pursley, 4. Robert Ballou, 5. Mark Smith, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Zach Daum. 1:57.82

FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Jadon Rogers, 2. Joey Amantea, 3. C.J. Leary, 4. Tye Mihocko, 5. Mitchel Moles, 6. Sterling Cling, 7. John Mollick. 1:58.07

ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Alex Bright, 2. Zach Daum, 3. Brandon Mattox, 4. Sterling Cling, 5. Shane Butler, 6. Chase Howard, 7. Hunter Maddox, 8. John Mollick, 9. Trey Osborne. NT

FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (4), 2. C.J. Leary (3), 3. Logan Seavey (5), 4. Robert Ballou (10), 5. Briggs Danner (8), 6. Jake Swanson (1), 7. Kevin Thomas Jr. (6), 8. Chase Stockon (7), 9. Kyle Cummins (15), 10. Jadon Rogers (9), 11. Daison Pursley (12), 12. Mitchel Moles (13), 13. Joey Amantea (17), 14. Carson Garrett (19), 15. Alex Bright (14), 16. Brady Bacon (2), 17. Tom Harris (21), 18. Matt Westfall (20), 19. Tye Mihocko (23), 20. Zach Daum (16), 21. Brandon Mattox (24), 22. Timmy Buckwalter (18), 23. Mark Smith (22), 24. Sterling Cling (11). NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-25 Brady Bacon, Laps 26-30 Justin Grant.

**Will Hull flipped during the second heat. Sterling Cling flipped on lap one of the feature.

USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-82, 2-C.J. Leary-76, 3-Logan Seavey-74, 4-Robert Ballou-66, 5-Briggs Danner-66, 6-Kevin Thomas Jr.-65, 7-Jake Swanson-60, 8-Chase Stockon-57, 9-Kyle Cummins-52, 10-Jadon Rogers-51.