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Birthday Bash! KTJ Blows Out the Candles with Last Lap Win at The Grove

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By: Richie Murray – USAC Media

Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (June 14, 2024)………Birthdays are a time for celebration, a time for reflection, and if we’re being honest, a time for presents too.

Kevin Thomas Jr. celebrated his special day by achieving the rare feat of not only winning a USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature but also doing so in the spectacular manner in which he did during Friday night’s USAC Eastern Storm event at Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway.

Thomas (Cullman, Ala.) ran third for the first 23 circuits of the 30-lap distance around the 1/2-mile dirt oval before sprinting past Mitchel Moles for second with seven to go. While running second on the final lap, Thomas was in position to pounce when racelong leader Briggs Danner ran out of fuel exiting the final turn on the final lap.

Thomas made the decisive move, banging wheels with the suddenly slowing Danner in turn four before escaping with the victory, the 42nd of his USAC National Sprint Car career, which surpassed Bryan Clauson and moved him up a spot on the series’ career win list alongside 1974 and 1976 champ Pancho Carter for eighth most all-time.

“I don’t even know how I just won that to be honest,” Thomas said, not privy to the details at the time that Danner’s fuel tank had run dry. “Briggs was so good that entire race. He got away from me those last two laps and I think he just hung a little bit off two there. I got close but he was so good through three and four that I didn’t figure that line was going to work. I’d been down there a little bit. He came across my nose just a little, trying to find speed, not that he was racing me a certain way, just that he was trying to find a good line down the front stretch here. I don’t want to make contact like that. I’m getting old and I can’t see as good as I used to.”

Aside from the quip of being “old” at the age of 33, Thomas has been oh-so-close quite often during past birthday race days with the USAC National Sprint Car division. On June 14, 2017, he finished third at Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Speedway on his 26th trip around the sun. Back in 2018, at Pennsylvania’s Grandview Speedway, he was second. Most recently, at Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway in 2020, he took third. Furthermore, in 2017, he won at Williams Grove

The victory couldn’t have come at a better time for Thomas and his Rock Steady Racing/Inferno Armor – Eddie Gilstrap Motors – Creative Finishing/Mach-1/Stanton Chevy. On Tuesday at Grandview, a good feature run ended when he got caught up in a wreck which started in front of him. The night before, on Thursday at Big Diamond, another quality run was stifled by a flat right rear tire suffered during the final laps. But ultimately, Thomas was on the end of the good fortune stick at Williams Grove just in time to collect his third USAC National Sprint Car feature win of the year.

“These guys have had a hell of a week whether it’s come to bad luck or stupid things happening,” Thomas explained. “We had a flat tire last night and we crashed on night one. We haven’t gotten to show how fast our car is yet. They’ve made a lot of changes since Knoxville to here and I can really feel it. We’re finally getting to show what this thing’s capable of.”

Starting third, Thomas remained slotted into the “show” position for the much of the going behind fellow front row starters Danner and Mitchel Moles. Danner, a first time USAC National Sprint Car winner on Tuesday at Grandview, looked every bit the part of an unfazed veteran as he raced out to a comfortable one second lead and pretty much maintained that interval throughout, even through the lapped traffic he encountered starting at the halfway point.

USAC National Sprint Car point leader and ninth running Logan Seavey slowed between turns one and two on lap 15. He pulled off to the Indy Metal Finishing Work Area under caution before returning to the track at the tail. From there, he managed just an 18th place result, which shrunk his season championship point lead from 60 to 34.

Without traffic as a hindrance, Danner pushed his lead to 1.5 seconds by lap 20 but endured multiple yellow flags during the waning laps involving a spin by 16th running Joey Amantea in turn 2 on lap 21 and a slowing Ricky Lewis on lap 24.

On the lap 24 resumption, Thomas used the bottom to drive past Moles for the second spot between turns three and four, then set off trying to reel in Danner. Running a lower line, Thomas altered his modus operandi just beforehand to provide himself with a bit more leverage to make a crucial move that put him in a winning position late.

“I think I stopped being a sissy and started running the top in one and two,” Thomas stated. “Once we did that, we had more speed down the back stretch and our entry into three was better. We just made a little adjustment on the shocks, but our car was good the entire feature. The track was heavy, and if your car was good, it was going to be good for a long time. I searched around a little bit down there in one and two but I kind of stuck to what I was doing in three and four and it paid off there.”

With the white flag in the air, to the eye of all onlookers, everything appeared hunky-dory for Danner who enjoyed a six car length lead at the stripe. However, at the exit of turn four, it became quite apparent that something wasn’t quite right for Danner. His car began to chalk up off exit, allowing Thomas to close in on him in a hurry. Danner’s black No. 39 did the same in turn two on the last go-around.

By the time he reached turn three for the final time, Thomas was a mere two car lengths back. Once more in turn four, Danner’s car bogged down as Thomas made a run to his inside. The two cars tapped sidewalls as Thomas raced by and onward to victory. Danner subsequently slowed dramatically and pulled to the inside while Moles raced by Danner on the outside, narrowly beating Danner to the line by inches, .037 seconds to be exact.

Thomas’ final margin of victory was .702 seconds over Moles as Danner fell to third in the final rundown. Brady Bacon recovered from an uncharacteristic spin the night before at Big Diamond to record a fourth-place result. Justin Grant rounded out the top-five after starting 12th, earning Irvin King Hard Charger honors for his effort.

Furthermore, Thomas also extended his point lead with the victory in round five of 10 of the Bubby Jones Master of Going Faster series presented by Spire Sports + Entertainment. Jones served as Thomas’ crew chief early in his career and was pivotal in his rise to becoming one of the winningest drivers of all-time.

“He taught me a lot about racing and how to drive racecars, so this one is special to me,” Thomas said of Jones. “Now I’m probably going to go get a Dr. Pepper and eat some cheese curds or something from the Sheetz right down the road. Nothing super special (for my birthday) but when we get home, we’ll drink a couple beers.”

While Thomas was busy becoming the first driver to win a USAC National Sprint Car race on his birthday since Justin Grant at Arizona Speedway on November 12, 2021, Mitchel Moles (Raisin City, Calif.) was working on increasing his lead of the USAC Eastern Storm point standings, which rose to six by virtue of his second runner-up result in as many nights aboard his Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – Mesilla Valley Transportation/Spike/Stanton Chevy.

“You only give a guy like KTJ so many shots,” Moles remarked. “He was a lot better around the bottom over there. I tried to take his line away and it wasn’t working for me. So, I figured I could power through it. I felt like his line was coming in there, and at the end, he got it really cleaned off.  I think I made a few mistakes there, but all in all, I’ll take it. You’ve just got to keep clicking away. We’ve had a rough start to the year, but we seem to be rolling right now. I honestly just go night-by-night. You just race as hard as you can, and things will start falling your way here and there.”

What appeared to be a firm beatdown of the field turned into heartbreak for Briggs Danner who nearly backed up his first career USAC National Sprint Car win on Tuesday at Grandview with his second triumph on Friday at Williams Grove. Leading all but the final strip from turn four to the checkered flag, Danner had to settle for third and an empty fuel tank on his Hogue Racing Enterprises/E. Schneider & Sons – Boulevard Truck Repair/DRC/Rider Chevy.

“Coming to two to go, it started spitting and sputtering,” Danner revealed. “On a heavy track, you’re going to use a lot, so it is what it is. Sometimes being out front doesn’t help you out. I knew they were really good, and I kept seeing somebody’s nose down there. Wished we could’ve picked that one off, but sometimes, that’s the way it goes.”

Charles Davis Jr. (Buckeye, Ariz.) has racked up a couple heat race wins throughout USAC Eastern Storm. At Williams Grove, the longtime sprint car veteran got the job done once again, scoring a decisive heat race victory in convincing fashion. That performance earned him the evening’s Inferno Armor Fire Move of the Night.

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

USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 14, 2024 – Williams Grove Speedway – Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania – 17th USAC Eastern Storm – 1/2-Mile Dirt Oval

HONEST ABE ROOFING QUALIFYING: 1. Logan Seavey, 57, Abacus-19.659; 2. Daison Pursley, 21AZ, Team AZ-19.696; 3. C.J. Leary, 15x, BGE Dougherty-19.707; 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3R, Rock Steady-19.757; 5. Briggs Danner, 39, Hogue-19.870; 6. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-19.887; 7. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-19.920; 8. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-19.957; 9. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-19.992; 10. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-20.004; 11. Alex Bright, 27, Heffner-20.037; 12. Kyle Cummins, 3p, Petty-20.056; 13. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-20.080; 14. Joey Amantea, 88J, JPA-20.171; 15. Jake Swanson, 2B, 2B Racing-20.182; 16. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-20.226; 17. Charles Davis Jr., 47, Davis-20.334; 18. Tom Harris, 84, Harris-20.457; 19. Steven Drevicki, 19, Drevicki-20.512; 20. Hunter Maddox, 24m, Maddox-20.526; 21. Ricky Lewis, 41, Stensland-20.562; 22. Carmen Perigo, 21, Stehman-20.689; 23. Korbyn Hayslett, 1H, Hayslett-20.857.

SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Robert Ballou, 3. Matt Westfall, 4. Logan Seavey, 5. Carson Garrett, 6. Kevin Thomas Jr., 7. Carmen Perigo, 8. Steven Drevicki. 2:40.621

ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Charles Davis Jr., 2. Joey Amantea, 3. Chase Stockon, 4. Alex Bright, 5. Daison Pursley, 6. Briggs Danner, 7. Korbyn Hayslett, 8. Hunter Maddox. 2:43.879

T.J. FORGED / CAR IQ THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Jake Swanson, 2. Justin Grant, 3. Kyle Cummins, 4. C.J. Leary, 5. Mitchel Moles, 6. Tom Harris, 7. Ricky Lewis. NT

FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr. (3), 2. Mitchel Moles (1), 3. Briggs Danner (2), 4. Brady Bacon (7), 5. Justin Grant (12), 6. C.J. Leary (4), 7. Robert Ballou (10), 8. Daison Pursley (5), 9. Chase Stockon (11), 10. Kyle Cummins (15), 11. Alex Bright (14), 12. Jake Swanson (8), 13. Charles Davis Jr. (9), 14. Matt Westfall (17), 15. Steven Drevicki (19), 16. Carson Garrett (13), 17. Tom Harris (18), 18. Logan Seavey (6), 19. Hunter Maddox (20), 20. Korbyn Hayslett (23), 21. Joey Amantea (16), 22. Ricky Lewis (21), 23. Carmen Perigo (22). NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-29 Briggs Danner, Lap 30 Kevin Thomas Jr.

USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Logan Seavey-1291, 2-C.J. Leary-1257, 3-Kevin Thomas Jr.-1244, 4-Brady Bacon-1231, 5-Daison Pursley-1211, 6-Justin Grant-1118, 7-Mitchel Moles-1110, 8-Robert Ballou-1105, 9-Kyle Cummins-1082, 10-Jake Swanson-974.

USAC EASTERN STORM POINTS: 1-Mitchel Moles-265, 2-Brady Bacon-259, 3-Briggs Danner-243, 4-Robert Ballou-243, 5-C.J. Leary-240, 6-Justin Grant-238, 7-Kevin Thomas Jr.-226, 8-Daison Pursley-222, 9-Kyle Cummins-213, 10-Logan Seavey-211.

BUBBY JONES MASTER OF GOIN’ FASTER PRESENTED BY SPIRE SPORTS + ENTERTAINMENT POINTS: 1-Kevin Thomas Jr.-351, 2-C.J. Leary-339, 3-Brady Bacon-327, 4-Daison Pursley-314, 5-Justin Grant-301, 6-Logan Seavey-298, 7-Mitchel Moles-298, 8-Kyle Cummins-279, 9-Robert Ballou-263, 10-Jake Swanson-252.

USAC NATIONAL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Daison Pursley-99, 2-Logan Seavey-94, 3-Robert Ballou-94, 4-C.J. Leary-81, 5-Joey Amantea-76, 6-Kyle Cummins-68, 7-Justin Grant-67, 8-Brady Bacon-57, 9-Matt Westfall-52, 10-Carson Garrett-50.

NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: June 15, 2024 – Port Royal Speedway – Port Royal, Pennsylvania – 17th USAC Eastern Storm – 1/2-Mile Dirt Oval – USAC Eastern Blast

CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:

Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: C.J. Leary (20.667)

Honest Abe Roofing Fast Qualifier: Logan Seavey (19.659)

Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Brady Bacon

Rod End Supply Second Heat Winner: Charles Davis Jr.

T.J. Forged / Car IQ Third Heat Winner: Jake Swanson

Irvin King Hard Charger: Justin Grant (12th to 5th)

Inferno Armor Fire Move of the Night: Charles Davis Jr.

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