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Justin Grant (Jim DenHamer photo)

Grant Does It Again At Lawrenceburg

LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. — With five laps remaining, hopes of winning were fleeting for Justin Grant during Sunday night’s third round of USAC NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week at Lawrenceburg Speedway.

Yet that’s precisely when the Ione, Calif. native was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – Bow Foundation – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.

After leading for the first 23 laps of the 30-lap feature, Grant could only watch as C.J. Leary passed and pulled away from him with just a handful of laps remaining.

But then, a crazy thing little thing happened, which actually kind of went along with the theme of the night.  Whatever you think you might’ve known, you really don’t know.  The only thing to expect is the unexpected.

As Leary began to distance himself from Grant on lap 26, Leary got bitten by the third turn, which chewed him and spit him out, sending Leary flipping several times over and denying him the glory on this evening.

Re-enter Grant as the leader, and this time, he was unshaken, unstirred and untouchable as he closed out The Burg with his second Indiana Sprint Week victory during the first three nights of the event, scoring dubs at both Gas City I-69 Speedway and at Lawrenceburg.

Grant’s fifth win of the USAC National Sprint Car season equals him with Brady Bacon as the winningest series drivers in 2023. Furthermore, Grant’s 39th career series victory moved him inside the top-10 all-time in that regard, equaling him with Kevin Thomas Jr. for the 10th most wins in series history.

And this one came at the place where it all started.  Where Grant earned his very first career USAC National Sprint Car feature triumph during Indiana Sprint Week at Lawrenceburg in 2012.  Grant’s Saturday win was his fifth overall series win at the track and his third during ISW at The Burg after previous winning moments in 2012 and 2019.

Grant now stands fifth overall in career Indiana Sprint Week wins with eight, moving past Bryan Clauson and Leary, ironically, for sole possession of the position in the all-time rankings.  Grant extended his lead as the winningest sprint car driver ever at Lawrenceburg’s three-eighths-mile dirt oval.

It was inarguably an inauspicious beginning to the night’s main event with an hour-long rain delay hitting the speedway just as the cars were pushed off initially for the start of the feature.  When Mother Nature cleaned up her act, the event proceeded but not for long.

On the initial attempt at the green, wheel-to-wheel contact between second row starters Jake Swanson and Alex Bright sent Bright launching into a combination of eight flips and somersaults down the front straightaway.  After taking careful precautions during the extrication, Bright was placed on a stretcher where he waved to the crowd while being loaded into an ambulance.  Bright received lung contusions and a broken wrist in the incident and vowed to return once he’s healed up.

On the complete restart, Grant shot out to the lead from his outside front row starting position, and remained at the front for the majority of the contest. By lap 10, Grant had caught lapped traffic, allowing second-running Carson Garrett to close in and cut Grant’s advantage in half to just a few car lengths.

At the halfway mark, Garrett showed his nose for the first time to Grant as the pair dueled for the lead in turn one on lap 16.  Garrett ricochets off the back straightaway wall in his pursuit of Grant for the lead on lap 20, but Grant escaped the clutches and extended his lead to a half-straight.

That kickstarted an unfathomable flurry of misfortune for several contenders at the front of the field, starting with Garrett on lap 23, who slammed the outside wall in turns three and four and grinded to a halt, the victim of a flat right rear tire that went down at the entry to turn three.  The incident ended Garrett’s night with a 21st place result.

On the ensuing lap 25 restart, third-running Leary made a most spectacular move as he committed himself to the top shelf and charged around the outside of Swanson for second in turn two, then split down to the bottom of turns three and four to rip the lead away from Grant in an incredible third to first surge.

“I was kind of sliding myself and I felt like I was making pretty good speed there, sliding myself and then C.J. slid me,” Grant recalled.  “I felt like I really messed up because I felt we were the better car there and I was coming back to him.  Fortunately for us and unfortunately for him, he got into that hole.  I was so stuck below the thick stuff down there that I could run below that chop, and I was really stable at the other end.”

Just moments later, however, it went from being the best of times for Leary to the worst of times, as he dug in with the right rear in turn three and flipped over.

Under the red flag, Grant’s wife, Ashley, signaled from the front row of the grandstands to the new race leader how Leary was able to get that run on him and to be on the lookout for a similar maneuver on the upcoming restart of which there were aplenty on this night.

“Lawrenceburg, with its long, slick front straightaway, it’s hard not to get slid into one,” Grant explained.  “You want to slide yourself, but then it gets to a place where you almost have to decide which end do I want to get slid on?   I know I can get slid in one and two and get back to him in three and four.  I messed it up once, but we got a break.”

However, the roller coaster of emotions and the carousel of calamity continued with fourth running Robert Ballou moment later with three laps remaining as his left side wheels biked up on the bottom of turn three, resulting in him barrel-rolling four times up to the outside wall before landing on all four wheels with a crashed race car. 

On the final restart, Grant decided to end this one once and for all, withstanding and dispelling the pressure from Swanson during the final stretch to win 0.486 second margin over Swanson.

Brady Bacon charged from his 22nd starting spot to take third, inserting himself on the podium with a last lap pass of Kevin Thomas Jr. on the back straight. Thomas took fourth while Daison Pursley scurried up a couple more spots on the final restart to finish fifth.

Grant, who won Friday’s opener at Gas City I-69 Speedway, led the first 23 laps from outside the front row, but gave way to Saturday winner C.J. Leary on lap 24.

Leary led two laps of the three-eighths-mile track before Grant returned to the point and paced the final five circuits for the victory.

It was Grant’s fifth victory of the season.

Jake Swanson came on strong at the end to finish second, while Brady Bacon romped from 22nd to finish third. Kevin Thomas Jr. and Mitchel Moles rounded out the top five. 

Justin Grant (Neil Cavanah photo)

The Boxscore

USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, Lawrenceburg Speedway, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, July 23, 2023

HONEST ABE ROOFING QUALIFYING: 1. C.J. Leary, 15x, BGE Dougherty-13.312; 2. Kevin Thomas Jr., 42, Cheney-13.477; 3. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-13.531; 4. Alex Bright, 27, Heffner-13.592; 5. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.600; 6. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-13.626; 7. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-13.702; 8. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-13.720; 9. Daison Pursley, 5p, KO-13.732; 10. Max Adams, 17GP, Dutcher-13.743; 11. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-13.765; 12. Xavier Doney, 74, Doney/Lawson-13.765; 13. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-13.825; 14. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-13.829; 15. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-13.846; 16. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-13.849; 17. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-13.982; 18. Saban Bibent, 98, Wedgewood-14.010; 19. Dalton Stevens, 99x, Stevens-14.044; 20. Stevie Sussex, 77s, Sturgeon-14.139; 21. Joey Amantea, 88J, Amantea-14.153; 22. Nathan Carle, 14c, Carle-14.170; 23. Shane Cottle, 2E, Epperson-14.193; 24. Travis Millar, 93AU, Millar-14.222; 25. Justin Zimmerman, 1, D-Up-14.246; 26. Braxton Cummings, 71B, Cummings-14.404; 27. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 51T, Tafoya-14.439; 28. Tyler Hewitt, 118, Evans-14.505; 29. Kobe Simpson, 21K, Simpson-14.526; 30. Tayte Williamson, 20, Williamson-15.038; 31. Troy Carey, 45N, Carey-15.151; 32. Ryan Barr, 21B, Barr-NT; 33. Logan Seavey, 2B, 2B Racing-NT; 34. Logan Calderwood, 6, Calderwood-NT; 35. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-NT (Time of 13.507 disallowed after being underweight at the scales).

SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. C.J. Leary, 2. Joey Amantea, 3. Justin Grant, 4. Daison Pursley, 5. Emerson Axsom, 6. Logan Seavey, 7. Justin Zimmerman, 8. Brandon Mattox, 9. Kobe Simpson. 1:56.09

ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Carson Garrett, 3. Kevin Thomas Jr., 4. Brady Bacon, 5. Saban Bibent, 6. Max Adams, 7. Tayte Williamson, 8. Braxton Cummings, 9. Nathan Carle. NT

T.J. FORGED THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Chase Stockon, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Kyle Cummins, 4. Jake Swanson, 5. Matt Westfall, 6. Dalton Stevens, 7. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 8. Troy Carey. 2:01.08

CAR IQ FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Mitchel Moles, 2. Alex Bright, 3. Travis Millar, 4. Xavier Doney, 5. Stevie Sussex, 6. Tyler Hewitt, 7. Sterling Cling, 8. Ryan Barr. NT

ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Matt Westfall, 2. Emerson Axsom, 3. Max Adams, 4. Sterling Cling, 5. Brandon Mattox, 6. Braxton Cummings, 7. Stevie Sussex, 8. Logan Seavey, 9. Justin Zimmerman, 10. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 11. Tayte Williamson, 12. Tyler Hewitt, 13. Nathan Carle, 14. Kobe Simpson, 15. Troy Carey, 16. Dalton Stevens. 3:10.49

FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (2), 2. Jake Swanson (4), 3. Brady Bacon (22), 4. Kevin Thomas Jr. (5), 5. Daison Pursley (11), 6. Mitchel Moles (7), 7. Joey Amantea (18), 8. Xavier Doney (14), 9. Emerson Axsom (15), 10. Chase Stockon (9), 11. Max Adams (12), 12. Matt Westfall (10), 13. Logan Seavey (23-P), 14. Brandon Mattox (17), 15. Sterling Cling (16), 16. Shane Cottle (19), 17. Travis Millar (20), 18. Kyle Cummins (13), 19. Robert Ballou (8), 20. C.J. Leary (6), 21. Carson Garrett (1), 22. Braxton Cummings (21), 23. Alex Bright (3).