By: USAC Racing
Just a mere month after combining forces, Kevin Thomas, Jr. and the 4J Motorsports team found USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship victory lane Saturday night at Brownstown Speedway, leading wire-to-wire in a caution-free affair at the series’ first visit to the southern Indiana quarter-mile dirt oval since 2011.
Making just their third series start together, including a third at Gas City (Ind.) I-69 Speedway one night prior, Thomas began the 30-lap feature from the pole position in the number 4J alongside Thomas Meseraull.
From the drop of the green flag, Thomas and his 4J Motorsports/Franklin Equipment – CEP Concrete/DRC/Chevy were a rocket ship on the cushion as the Cullman, Ala., driver rode the topside like a rail.
By lap 12, Thomas had already made his way to the backmarkers, surpassing them with ease as he built his advantage over the nearest challenger, Meseraull, to a full straightaway by the midway point.
However, Brady Bacon was the man on the move, swiping the second spot from Meseraull with an inside move in the first turn 10 laps from the finish. Trying to claw his way back into the hunt after starting eighth, Bacon’s only hope down the stretch was for a caution, which helped close the interval between him and leader Thomas, thereby setting up a run for the checkers.
With just a few laps to go, a body panel on the car of leader Thomas became dislodged, hanging loose and flapping in the breeze as the final laps wound down. A potential debris caution loomed if the body panel ripped loose and fell onto the track’s surface, which would negate Thomas’s substantial margin and, in turn, benefit Bacon.
But it was not to be as the body panel held on while Kevin Thomas, Jr. laid the lumber to the 22-car field, leading flag-to-flag to earn his first series victory in 15 months, defeating Bacon, Dave Darland, Meseraull, C.J. Leary, 2010 Brownstown USAC winner Brady Short, KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart “Hard Charger” Robert Ballou, Aaron Farney, Tyler Courtney and Kyle Cummins.
Saturday night marked the first time in five years that two different teams won their first ever series features in consecutive events. Todd Keen (whose car won with Scotty Weir at Gas City on Friday) and 4J Motorsports won back-to-back this weekend. Hank Byram (with driver Hunter Schuerenberg at Gas City) and the Baldwin Brothers (with driver Chris Windom at Bloomington [Ind.] Speedway) accomplished the feat in 2011.
Thomas became the ninth different driver to win a feature through 11 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car events during the 2016 season, collecting his first series victory since February of 2015 at Eastbay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla.
“This is the most exciting win I think I’ve ever had, besides my first one,” Thomas exclaimed. “These guys all have day jobs and they work their butts off and tune on this car three or four hours a night, week in and week out. I’m just pumped for my team. My car owner, Jeremy (Ottinger), told me a few weeks ago that he’s never been part of a USAC win; I told him, ‘that’s going to change.’ I didn’t know it was going to happen this fast, but I’m just so excited I can’t even express the feelings running through my body right now. It’s just a great experience and I’m so glad I could do it with this team. I’ve found my comfort level with this car pretty quickly. I like running the top here (at Brownstown), but I’ve always had trouble being able to hold it and not slip over the edge. Brownstown gave us a great track tonight and gave us a cushion with something to lean on.”
Brady Bacon, of Broken Arrow, Okla., claimed a second-place finish for the second consecutive night in his Dynamics, Inc./Mean Green – Lykins Oil/Triple X/Williams Mopar, which nudged his point lead to 19 over Meseraull in the new standings as the series heads into next Wednesday’s 46th “Tony Hulman Classic” at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track.
“We had the best car the last half of the race, but you can’t afford to start eighth with no cautions, especially with this USAC field being as tough as it is,” Bacon said. “You can’t just charge up through there, especially with KT having as good of a car as he had. We were catching him slowly, but surely, but we ran out of laps and he never made a mistake. Our car was good and has been night-in and night-out and we’re really gaining some momentum. We’ve been able to go pretty good on all different kinds of tracks, so all our hard work is paying off. We’re starting to stretch our legs a little bit and, hopefully, we can keep riding this high now that we’re getting into the bulk of the season.”
Lincoln, Indiana’s Dave Darland came home third in his Jeff Walker-Curb-Agajanian Racing/Jam-It-In Storage – Hoosier Tire/Maxim/Claxton for, by far, his best finish in USAC competition at Brownstown after recording finishes of 18th, a DNQ and a 23rd in his three previous visits.
“I had a lot of fun out there tonight,” Darland said. “Brownstown did a great job with the racetrack tonight.”
Tonight’s contingency award winners included C.J. Leary (ProSource Fast Qualifier & Indy Race Parts Semi Winner), Chad Boespflug (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Chase Stockon (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Benic Enterprises Third Heat Winner), Robert Ballou (KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger) and Jon Stanbrough (Wilwood Brakes 13th place finisher).