By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Haubstadt, Indiana………Recently, it seems when the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars come to Tri-State Speedway, Kevin Thomas, Jr. finds himself in the mix at the front.
On two occasions last year, he was involved in last lap battles on the quarter-mile paperclip – one of which went his way and one that did not.
On Saturday night, the wave went KTJ’s way once again as he surged to the lead through the tight crevice between the outside wall and C.J. Leary’s right-side wheels exiting turn four with four laps remaining to win the “Spring Showdown,” co-sanctioned by the Midwest Sprint Car Series.
The Cullman, Alabama driver has found his groove in Haubstadt in recent times, winning his second consecutive USAC race there and fourth overall dating back to 2013.  But it’s more than just simply being fast at this tricky joint.  So many things can occur in the snap of a finger.  You have to be on your toes, yet you have to keep your cool to put yourself in a position to win, which Thomas has been a natural at when it comes to Tri-State Speedway.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to do, but you have to be as patient as possible here,” Thomas admitted.  “Even right there at the beginning, I fell back a little bit.  You get to racing with others, you fall back and you’re not on the aggressive side.  I just started picking them off; (Justin) Grant and I had a good race midway through the feature.  We’re sliding each other back and forth and that’s fun, but whenever you’re doing that, people are steadily driving away.  Once we got cleared, we kind of had the seas part for us.”
From the start, though, it was Kody Swanson who controlled much of the first half of the event, leading the opening 12 laps as Leary frisked the three-time USAC Silver Crown champ repeatedly.  Leary had the middle line working, poking ahead of Swanson momentarily on each end of the track, but not enough to complete the pass on Swanson who carried the high-side momentum downhill off turns two and four to maintain the advantage.
On the 13th lap, as the leaders were mired in heavy lapped traffic, Leary’s tireless work paid off handsomely as he slid up across the nose of Swanson’s ride off turn four to complete the pass and possess the lead.
Two laps later, Swanson and Friday night Bloomington winner Dave Darland were engaged in a grapple for second.  The two banged wheels, allowing Thomas and Logan Seavey to be the beneficiaries as they capitalized and moved past both to rotate into the second and third positions, respectively.
“I think it’s beneficial as many times we’ve run here throughout the year because this track does different things,” Thomas said.  “Last year, we had a track similar to this and got really, really tight.  We looked at our notebook, went back on that and freed our car up a little bit.  Even though we were still tight, we were way freer than what we were. (Ryan Sellers Photo)
“When Dave and Kody got together, they split wide open and we went through both of them and got to second,” Thomas recalled.  “Lapped traffic is a key here too.  You can’t miss a step.  As soon as the leader gets clear, he’s going to pick up the pace quite a bit.  If you’re stuck three or four cars back, you can end up about a straightaway behind.  You have to watch yourself really closely there and you have to make stuff happen.  Once we got to second, I had to be the aggressor.  Running second for a while tonight allowed me to move around a little bit.  Tonight was one of those nights when running second was better.”
Leary was indeed clear on the restart with 12 laps remaining.  With a clear track ahead and lapped cars separating he and second-running Thomas, the advantage was all his.  Yet, Thomas made quick work, clearing the traffic, but still remained a second-and-a-half back from Leary.
Following a Donny Brackett back straightway spin with six laps remaining, Thomas threw a series of curveballs, sliders and spitballs at Leary to no avail as Leary clung to the spot by the quick of his nails until Aric Gentry’s car went up in a ball of flame and smoke to bring out the final yellow with four laps to go, forcing one final restart.  Thomas acted a student on the previous restart, taking notes for the final exam he would have one more opportunity to ace on the lap 27 restart.
“I was watching C.J. in front of me, seeing where I could gain ground and where I couldn’t,” Thomas said.  “I could gain ground in (turns) one and two and I’d lose it all in (turns) three and four.  We were pretty tight, so I just couldn’t figure out how to get through three and four without the nose pushing a little bit.  I just spent a few laps working on my line in that corner, and then once I figured it out, luckily, we had a caution.”
With Leary maintaining his midline route, Thomas stuck his Dynamics, Inc./Mean Green – Jonathan Byrd/DRC/Speedway Chevy on the high-line and, at the exit of turn four, emerged with the lead, squeaking by Leary without much room to spare on either side.  Thomas would pull away in the final laps to win his first race for the famed Hoffman team by just a tick under a full second over Leary, Seavey, Darland and Grant.
“We were able to put it up top there,” Thomas explained.  “There wasn’t as much grip up there, but it was better for me because we were really tight.  I got up there in the crumbs a little bit and freed the car up, but I was still able to keep my momentum going.  I think that move is all it took right there because he was every bit as fast as us.  I was talking to him right after the feature he said that one of the spokes on his steering wheel ended up breaking after contact with another driver.  That’s crazy to be able to do as good as he did with the equipment breaking like that.”
One night following a disastrous slip from 6th to 19th place in just two corners after jumping the turn three curb during the feature at Bloomington, Thomas found his mojo once again, but this time he did it by doing things a bit differently, equaling the same result as his most recent Tri-State trip.
“I think it’s beneficial as many times we’ve run here throughout the year because this track does different things,” Thomas said.  “Last year, we had a track similar to this and got really, really tight.  We looked at our notebook, went back on that and freed our car up a little bit.  Even though we were still tight, we were way freer than what we were.  This place is small and tight, but if you can’t keep your momentum up and can’t keep the front wheels on the ground, it’s a tough place to get around.  Honestly, I still struggle with that until probably the last five laps of the feature.  It was just a few little notes that helped us out tonight and a few little adjustments here and there.  I’m just glad to bounce back after running off the track last night!”
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Tri-State Speedway included C.J. Leary (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Chase Stockon (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Dave Darland (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Robert Ballou (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Kellen Conover (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer), Brandon Mattox (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Chris Windom (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: April 28, 2018 – Haubstadt, Indiana – Tri-State Speedway (Co-Sanctioned by MSCS)
QUALIFICATIONS: 1. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-13.252; 2. Logan Seavey, 5B, Briscoe-13.333; 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-13.385; 4. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-13.552; 5. Kyle Cummins, 3c, EZR/Cummins-13.778; 6. Carson Short, 21, RCM-13.570; 7. Chad Boespflug, 98, NineEight-13.879; 8. Tyler Thomas, 17GP, Dutcher-14.068; 9. Donny Brackett, 4B, Brackett-14.077; 10. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-14.086; 11. Kody Swanson, 3R, Rock Steady-14.131; 12. Chet Williams, 38, Fortune-14.143; 13. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-14.145; 14. Brian Wallace, 27, Wallace-14.253; 15. Brian Karraker, 23, Karraker-14.258; 16. Stephen Schnapf, 61m, Edwards-14.266; 17. Aric Gentry, 10, Gentry-14.267; 18. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-14.286; 19. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-14.292; 20. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-14.355; 21. Stevie Sussex, 04, Burton-14.368; 22. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-14.423; 23. Joe Stornetta, 44, Pace-14.466; 24. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-14.474; 25. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox/Nigg-14.548; 26. James Lyerla, 11, JL-14.553; 27. Johnny Petrozelle, 59, Petrozelle-14.743; 28. Kellen Conover, 5K, Schmidt-14.796; 29. Collin Ambrose, 36, Ambrose-14.983; 30. Eric Perrott, 45, Perrott-20.727; 31. Jim Shelton, 41, Shelton-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Leary, 2. Windom, 3. Gentry, 4. Sussex, 5. Cummins, 6. Mattox, 7. Ambrose, 8. Brackett. 2:20.97
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Stockon, 2. Short, 3. Bacon, 4. Grant, 5. Seavey, 6. Lyerla, 7. Wallace, 8. Perrott. NT
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. K. Thomas, 2. Courtney, 3. Swanson, 4. Stornetta, 5. Boespflug, 6. Karraker, 7. Petrozelle, 8. Shelton. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Darland, 2. Ballou, 3. Schnapf, 4. Chapple, 5. Conover, 6. T. Thomas, 7. Williams. NT
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer) 1. Seavey, 2. Mattox, 3. Brackett, 4. Cummins, 5. Ambrose, 6. Karraker, 7. Conover, 8. Wallace, 9. Petrozelle, 10. T. Thomas, 11. Shelton, 12. Boespflug, 13. Perrott, 14. Lyerla. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (5), 2. C.J. Leary (6), 3. Logan Seavey (7), 4. Dave Darland (4), 5. Justin Grant (2), 6. Chris Windom (10), 7. Robert Ballou (20), 8. Kody Swanson (1), 9. Carson Short (3), 10. Chase Stockon (14), 11. Joe Stornetta (19), 12. Tyler Courtney (15), 13. Brandon Mattox (21), 14. Brady Bacon (18), 15. Donny Brackett (9), 16. Stephen Schnapf (12), 17. Isaac Chapple (16), 18. Kyle Cummins (8), 19. Collin Ambrose (22), 20. Aric Gentry (13), 21. Brian Karraker (11), 22. Tyler Thomas (23), 23. Stevie Sussex (17). NT
**Williams flipped during the fourth heat. Cummins flipped on lap 7 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-12 Swanson, Laps 13-26 Leary, Laps 27-30 K. Thomas.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Robert Ballou (20th to 7th)
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Windom-356, 2-K. Thomas-351, 3-Leary-328, 4-Courtney-306, 5-Darland-305, 6-Stockon-278, 7-Grant-273, 8-Seavey-271, 9-Ballou-266, 10-Boespflug-261.