By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Kokomo, Indiana (August 28, 2021)………In a sun-splashed matinee performance by the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, a sliver of daylight was all Kevin Thomas Jr. needed.
On a restart with five laps remaining, the Cullman, Ala. native slipped by leader Logan Seavey, who glanced off the wall between turns one and two, cracking open a window of opportunity for Thomas to drive through to victory Saturday afternoon during the final prelim of the weekend for Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Smackdown X at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway.
The afternoon affair couldn’t have come soon enough for Thomas, of Cullman, Ala., admitting his confidence was a little low following Friday night’s 11th place finish, which snapped his streak of 16 consecutive top-10 finishes with the series.
The 2016 Smackdown and Kokomo champ got back on track at just the right time in the heat of the day, scoring his sixth USAC National Sprint Car feature win of the year while piloting his KT Motorsports/Dr. Pepper Presents the Ronald McDonald House Charities/DRC/Speedway Chevy.
Thomas began his race from the third position, but the initial individual on the move off the starting blocks was Friday night winner Justin Grant who launched from his fourth starting spot to split between front row starters Matt Westfall and Jadon Rogers exiting turn four on the opening lap, putting Grant at the top of the pecking order in quick fashion.
Following Chase Johnson’s ramp up the turn four wall 11 laps into the event that necessitated a yellow, on the ensuing restart, it appeared as if Thomas may soon be the one to overtake Grant for the top spot as he checked high, then raked the bottom while Grant occupied the bottom/middle. However, Seavey took both by surprise and burst from third to first around the outside exiting turn four to assume the lead.
Thomas, never shy to express his candor, spoke of the up-and-down nature of this portion of the race, which saw him bounce back-and-forth between challenging for the lead before quickly being relegated back to third in the rundown.
“I felt we were good,” Thomas relayed. “I didn’t know the top was going to come in that early. When I was restarting behind Justin there, I took a peek at it, and I didn’t think it was that good; it looked pretty dirty. The next thing you know, Justin and I are down there stuck in the middle of the racetrack. Seavey goes blowing by us, then I made a few bad decisions and I let Brady get back by me. I just had to do a few little things there in the cockpit, mainly getting my crap together. I knew I had a good racecar; I just had to do what I needed to do.”
Brady Bacon then entered the fray, taking third from Grant on lap 13, then second from Thomas on lap 14 with a dazzling flick of the steering wheel that cut him from the top of four to the bottom of one and into the runner-up spot at the halfway point.
With six to go and running third, Thomas took note of a couple of slight slip-ups that worked to his advantage. Race leader Seavey got a tad tight on the cushion and tapped the wall, forcing second-running Bacon to chock up ever so slightly just behind Seavey. Thomas, meanwhile, had already committed to the bottom and went unfettered past Bacon and into the second position.
When 10th running Emerson Axsom spun a stop in turn two on lap 26, that closed the slight gap that existed between Seavey and Thomas and put them back into a restart scenario. Seavey’s car lifted the left rear on the entry to turn one, sending his car skating across the cushion. With Seavey’s tap of the wall and resulting scrubbed speed, Thomas had gone by and become the new leader.
From that point onward, four trips around the quarter-mile dirt oval were all safe and sound for Thomas who notched his 33rd career USAC National Sprint Car feature win, elevating his total above that of USAC and National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Rollie Beale for sole possession of 13th all-time.
For Seavey, it was oh-so-close after leading a race-high 15 laps in his Baldwin-Fox Racing/Fox Paving – Claxton Engines/DRC/Claxton Chevy. The Sutter, California driver had to settle for second, 1.723 seconds behind Thomas, and readily admitted he could’ve done without the yellows.
“The track got cleaner and cleaner and was gripping up, actually,” Seavey explained. “I think I just got myself a little too tight. I was just trying not to make too big of adjustments, but I knew the track was getting slicker and slower. I just couldn’t get off the corners as good as I needed to and made a little bit of an adjustment, but I just didn’t run hard enough there on those last couple laps. I just really didn’t need the yellows. KTJ just found a little bit better line in one and two. It was so treacherous, and then the top at exit got really slick and it just lost everything that made it good in the beginning of the race and I just didn’t move with the racetrack. To be leading and knowing the track’s changing, you just don’t know where to go. He figured it out and I just need to be a little bit better.”
Brady Bacon became a major player in his bid for victory late in the going in his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts – TelStar/Triple X/Rider Chevy, ultimately finishing third to remain up front with a healthy lead of the standings in pursuit of his fourth career series crown.