KTJ Wins Finale, Ballou Eastern Storm Champ
KTJ Wins Finale, Ballou Eastern Storm Champ
Kevin Thomas Jr. topped the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car race Sunday at Bloomsburg, but it was Robert Ballou securing the Eastern Storm.
Just six days following his 30th birthday, Kevin Thomas Jr. celebrated another milestone 30th on Sunday night at Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg Fair Raceway by winning his 30th career USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature event in the series’ debut at the brand-new 3/8-mile dirt oval.
While Thomas took top honors for the night, the week belonged to Robert Ballou, whose 6th place finish at Bloomsburg secured the Eastern Storm championship by one single point over Brady Bacon, which tied for the closest Eastern Storm finish ever alongside Bryan Clauson’s one-point victory over Dave Darland in 2013.
Ballou’s four-race record of 5th, 1st, 2nd and 6th place finishes secured his second career Eastern Storm title, and first since 2015, a season in which the Rocklin, Calif. carried onward to win the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Driving Championship.
With each position a priority on Sunday night, Ballou turned a paltry qualifying time into gold after winning his heat race, which elevated him to a seventh-place starting position for the feature. Ballou spent much of the middle portion of the race 5th while his championship compadre Bacon ran 2nd.
Entering the feature with a 10-point lead, Ballou needed to finish within three positions of Bacon to secure the title and maintained that position throughout much of the middle stages. Both Bacon and Ballou ran 3rd and 6th, respectively, between laps seven and twelve of the 30-lap feature. On lap 13, both simultaneously moved up one position to 2nd and 5th with Ballou maintaining that single point lead.
With seven laps remaining, USAC Rapid Tire East Coast standout, and point leader, Alex Bright slid by Ballou to take the 5th position, relegating Ballou back to 6th. For a five-lap span between laps 23-27, Bacon had the Eastern Storm title within his grasp, holding a two-point advantage over Ballou with just three laps remaining. That’s when the hard-charging Tanner Thorson slid by Bacon for the second position, moving Bacon back to 3rd which handed the point lead back to Ballou by one once again.
And that’s how they’d wind up crossing the line, three positions apart and one point of a separation between the two. Ballou the champion and Bacon the runner-up.
While the drama unfolded for the overall Eastern Storm title, Kevin Thomas Jr. left little doubt and embraced the lack of drama from his point of view from the drop of the green to the checkered.
Thomas bounced out to a three-second, near-straightaway lead by lap five after starting from the pole position. Just two laps later, the Cullman, Ala. driver was already encountering a stifling amount of lapped traffic, which didn’t hinder him much in the grand scheme but proved to be a challenge all the same.
“It was a little tough,” Thomas acknowledged. “There were some good guys back there that just had bad nights, like (Justin) Grant and (Chris) Windom and those guys. Just a rough night for them but they’re really good racecars. They know how to win races and they also know how to not get passed. Just getting through the lapped traffic was difficult, and I was kind of glad to see those cautions.”
After 19 laps of continuous green, that caution arrived when 21st running Justin Grant stopped in turn three to bring out the yellow. An uncharacteristically rotten night for the driver who’d won two of the first three Eastern Storm races this past week, Grant fought a power steering line failure throughout the main event and finished a season worst 21st.
Thomas held a whopping 3.551 sec. lead prior to the yellow. However, the negative of having his substantial lead erased was supplanted by the positivity of a clear track that now lie ahead of him.
“In clean air, I could run one line, but whenever I got to traffic, I had to slow down a lot getting into one and two to try to get underneath those guys,” Thomas explained. “I just felt like I was getting sloppy and killing a lot of speed when I was doing that. I was glad to get some caution and get some clean air.”
The restart was short-lived, however, as first-time USAC National Sprint Car feature starter Michael Markey, running 21st, hit the outside wall in turn one, ending his evening with a 23rd place finish.
Once things did get rolling, Thomas was able to separate himself comfortably from Bacon by a good five to six car lengths and was further compounded when Thorson tussled with Bacon for the runner-up position, ultimately taking it from Bacon with three laps remaining.
By then, Thomas was uncompromised and unaccompanied by any challengers as he raced to his third series win of the year in his KT Motorsports/Dr. Pepper – McDonald’s – KT Construction Services/DRC/Speedway Chevy by a 0.879 second margin over Thorson, Bacon and Jake Swanson with Alex Bright rounding out the top-five.
Thomas’ 30th career USAC National Sprint Car win moved him into a tie for 15th all-time alongside Tyler Courtney, a position he credits to his crew utilizing the last couple of “off days” to get the car back on rails for the team’s first series victory since mid-April.
“We had a good Dr. Pepper 9K,” Thomas stated. “We just finally clicked one off there. It’s been a little bit of a struggle bus since April, but these guys went to work yesterday and the day before and they did some things to the car that made it so much better to drive in the slick. I think we finally figured some things out with our engine program and the car itself to get ourselves up front in these races.”
Ballou drove his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy to a second career Eastern Storm title, joining Bryan Clauson (3), Levi Jones (3), Cole Whitt (2) and Chris Windom (2) as multi-time champions of the annual June series.
“I’ve got a lot of good guys behind me, good sponsors who have a never-give-up attitude. We never backed down.”
Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) bookended an up-and-down first Eastern Storm experience with a 3rd place result Tuesday at Grandview a 2nd on Sunday at Bloomsburg, sandwiched around a pair of 12th place finishes at Bridgeport and Selinsgrove. Thorson takes his hat off to the team that turned the wrenches on the No. 19AZ to get the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – CSI – MVT/Spike/Stanton Chevy back up front while adapting to the changing track conditions throughout the evening.
“We’ve had a really fast car every night I’d say, but the crew has been working really hard to get me better and we’ve been struggling in the slick,” Thorson explained. “But tonight, we got better and better as it got slicker and slicker. I think they found a little something there.”
It was heartbreak for Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla), who narrowly missed out on a second career Eastern Storm title after winning his first back in 2014. However, a consistent Eastern Storm for Bacon had him pegged as the only driver to finish inside the top-five in all four starts. Despite a lack of a win, Bacon more than doubled his overall USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car lead from 35 at the beginning of the week to 71 by the conclusion in his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts – TelStar/Triple X/Rider Chevy.
“I thought we were going to have a chance on that restart but (Kevin Thomas Jr.) was just a little bit better than us and Tanner got really good working up high,” Bacon recalled. “We weren’t quite as good as them at the end. I think, maybe, if we got to traffic, we were pretty maneuverable, but that didn’t happen, so we’ll take it after we dug ourselves a bit of a hole after qualifying. Coming out unscathed in a race like this is good, a place we’ve never been before.”
A hairy Fatheadz Eyewear qualifying session saw three separate incidents in turn one halt the proceedings. Steven Drevicki was the first to get upside down on the second lap of his run. Chris Windom was the next to turn over later in the session. Brandon Mattox, who was the very next car to take time after Windom, biked in the same manner as Drevicki and Windom, but did not get upside down, instead, making hard contact with the rear of his car against the outside concrete wall.
The incidents resulted in an abrupt end to the night for Drevicki and Mattox who endured too much damage to continue. Windom went to a backup car for the evening as did C.J. Leary, who experienced an engine failure his first qualifying lap and never officially recorded a time. Leary recovered nicely and drove from the 21st starting position to a 7th place finish in the feature to earn KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger honors.
Meanwhile, Chase Stockon earned his first Fatheadz Qualifying time of the year, which was the 28th of his USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car career, moving him past Dave Steele for sole possession of 14th on the all-time list.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 20, 2021 – Bloomsburg Fair Raceway – Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track – Eastern Storm
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-15.936 (New Track Record); 2. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-15.994; 3. Alex Bright, 20, Hummer-16.031; 4. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-16.043; 5. Shane Cottle, 39, Hogue-16.068; 6. Briggs Danner, 5G, Gallagher-16.118; 7. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9K, KT-16.158; 8. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, LNB-16.164; 9. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-16.200; 10. Paul Nienhiser, 5N, KO-16.225; 11. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-16.289; 12. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-16.317; 13. Nash Ely, 3BC, Franckowiak-16.504; 14. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-16.692; 15. Charles Davis Jr., 47, Davis-16.719; 16. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-16.746; 17. Steven Drevicki, 19s, DeGre-16.775; 18. Carmen Perigo, 21, Stehman-16.812; 19. Mark Smith, 3R, Rock Steady-16.821; 20. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-17.310; 21. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-17.383; 22. Michael Markey, 3x, Wasitowski-18.108; 23. Richy Carnathan, 64, Werner-18.131; 24. Chris Windom, 19, Hayward-NT; 25. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Jake Swanson, 3. Kevin Thomas Jr., 4. Paul Nienhiser, 5. Nash Ely, 6. Chris Windom, 7. Alex Banales, 8. Chase Stockon. 2:45.324 (New Track Record)
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. C.J. Leary, 4. Tanner Thorson, 5. Timmy Buckwalter, 6. Carmen Perigo, 7. Matt Westfall, 8. Michael Markey. 2:49.546
INDY METAL FINISHING/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Mark Smith, 2. Justin Grant, 3. Alex Bright, 4. Charles Davis Jr., 5. Briggs Danner, 6. Logan Seavey, 7. Richy Carnathan. 2:51.580
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1), 2. Tanner Thorson (5), 3. Brady Bacon (6), 4. Jake Swanson (4), 5. Alex Bright (9), 6. Robert Ballou (7), 7. C.J. Leary (21), 8. Briggs Danner (2), 9. Timmy Buckwalter (11), 10. Shane Cottle (3), 11. Paul Nienhiser (13), 12. Chase Stockon (10), 13. Chris Windom (20), 14. Logan Seavey (12), 15. Matt Westfall (16), 16. Mark Smith (8), 17. Nash Ely (15), 18. Carmen Perigo (18), 19. Charles Davis Jr. (17), 20. Alex Banales (19), 21. Justin Grant (14), 22. Richy Carnathan (23), 23. Michael Markey (22). NT
**Steven Drevicki & Chris Windom flipped during qualifying.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Kevin Thomas Jr.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-1121, 2-Justin Grant-1050, 3-Kevin Thomas Jr.-1032, 4-Robert Ballou-1005, 5-Chris Windom-930, 6-C.J. Leary-917, 7-Tanner Thorson-886, 8-Jake Swanson-859, 9-Chase Stockon-649, 10-Paul Nienhiser-612.
USAC EASTERN STORM POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-287, 2-Brady Bacon-286, 3-Kevin Thomas Jr.-266, 4-Justin Grant-250, 5-Tanner Thorson-238, 6-C.J. Leary-226, 7-Briggs Danner-216, 8-Jake Swanson-214, 9-Chris Windom-213, 10-Alex Bright-211.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Tanner Thorson-86, 2-Thomas Meseraull-81, 3-Robert Ballou-74, 4-Brady Bacon-64, 5-Kevin Thomas Jr.-62, 6-Chris Windom-60, 7-Justin Grant-44, 8-Buddy Kofoid-41, 9-C.J. Leary-41, 10-Logan Seavey-37.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 1, 2021 – Plymouth Speedway – Plymouth, Indiana – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Alex Bright
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Chase Stockon
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Robert Ballou
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Brady Bacon
Indy Metal Finishing / Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner: Mark Smith
KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger: C.J. Leary (21st to 7th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Chris Windom
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