KOKOMO, Ind. – official release — Gary Gasper photo — The legend of Dave Darland grew even larger on Saturday night at Kokomo Speedway.
The Lincoln, Ind., veteran set a track record at his hometown speedway and he backed it up by holding off Justin Grant in a spectacular finish to the night’s 30-lap feature to record his 51st career AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series win, just one behind all-time leader Tom Bigelow.
Kevin Thomas Jr. got the jump on polesitter Hunter Schuerenberg, but the two raced side-by-side through the opening laps as Darland sliced his way from row three. Grant was coming with him, making his moves from row four on the top side. Darland wasted no time, disposing of Schuerenberg before coming after Thomas for the lead on lap five.
Thomas and Schuerenberg raced for second as Grant tried to circle both of them, eventually getting it done just before the race’s lone caution on lap 10 for a slowing Shane Cottle.
After the restart, Darland set sail while Grant had to deal with an opening corner slider from Thomas. He countered the move and the top two opened up a wide margin on the rest of the field as Thomas, Schuerenberg, Chris Windom, and Bryan Clauson waged their own battle for third on back.
The intensity picked up as the two leaders hit traffic, with Darland having real trouble clearing cars and allowing Grant to slice into the lead and stalk Darland for the top spot. Grant tried to work a diamond in turn-four a couple times and eventually pulled a slide-job on Darland, but the veteran was easily able to counter.
As the laps wound down, both made significant bobbles on an increasingly-difficult cushion. Grant again slid up in front of Darland, but he again crossed over and beat him to the turn-three cushion and the two made slight contact as they approached the white. Grant made one last-ditch effort on Darland, throwing himself into the turn-three cushion to attempt a turn across the track. He nearly spun the car, but Darland bobble on the turn-four cushion at the same time, leaving Grant a window to have a chance, but Darland edged him at the line for the popular win.
Darland won it by .219 of a second in the Phillips Motorsports/Racer’s Advantage Store No. 71P DRC/Foxco. It was his fourth win of the season.
“It’s fun when you win a race like that. It’s fun to race against a guy like Justin, and race that close and that tough. We race hard and clean, and it seems like we’re racing each other every night anymore. He made us work for that one – I was out of breath after that feature. It worked out at the start, with a little bit through the middle, I could turn under guys and go forward. The O’Connors work hard to give us a great race track, especially on a night like this. They nailed it tonight, and I think everybody got a great show out of it,” Darland said.
Grant matched his finish from the night before at Gas City, again the runner-up aboard the Mark Hery/Dick’s Paint & Body No. 40 DRC/Claxton.
“This place is awesome – one of those places where you can just run so hard. I have watched Dave and followed Dave around here so much since I came here in 2009, just trying to learn what he does. It’s amazing to me that I can run a cushion anywhere close to as good as he does, but tonight was really cool because I was attacking him, trying to beat him. I’ve learned a lot from him, and tonight I thought I had what I needed to be able to beat him. It was probably a good thing that race ended when it did, because our sliders and crossovers were getting closer and closer. I knew I still had a shot in the last corner, and I’ve almost beat him with that move before, so maybe he knew it was coming. I almost crashed and nearly turned around trying to do it,” Grant said.
Windom came out of the hive with his second-straight third place finish, which was enough to propel him to the point lead for Indiana Sprintweek in the Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage/Hoosier Tire No. 11 Maxim/Claxton.
“It’s hard to beat those guys when you’re in front of them, let alone when you’re behind them. We gave up some ground at the start and never could get it back, especially without a caution the last half of the race. We were coming at the end, but they don’t mess up very often to give you a chance. I was actually getting a little nervous myself just watching those two at the end, as hard as they were racing. It was a great race, but I wish we were up there to be in the middle of it with them,” Windom said.
Schuerenberg wound up fourth in the CST Truck Conversions/Eddie Gilstrap Motors No. 20N Mach-1/Rider, and Clauson rounded out the top-five in the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing No. 20 Beast/Kistler.
In addition to Darland’s ProSource “Fast Time Award,” other awards on the night went to: Brady Short, who won the B&W Auto Mart “Hard Charger Award” for his run from 22nd to 13th after winning the ProSource “Hard Work Award” earlier in the night, Scotty Weir won the American Racing Ministries “Perseverance Award” as the last transfer from the Semi-Feature.
RESULTS: USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series; July 12, 2014; Kokomo, Indiana; Kokomo Speedway; “Indiana Sprint Week”
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Dave Darland, 2. Justin Grant, 3. Chris Windom, 4. Hunter Schuerenberg, 5. Bryan Clauson, 6. Kevin Thomas Jr., 7. Robert Ballou, 8. Brady Bacon, 9. Thomas Meseraull, 10. C.J. Leary, 11. Jon Stanbrough,12. Jwerry Coons Jr., 13. Brady Short, 14. Chase Stockon,15. Tyler Courtney, 16. Tracy Hines, 17. Richard Vander Weerd, 18. Scotty Weir, 19. Chad Boespflug, 20. Shane Cockrum, 21. Jarett Andretti, 22. Daron Clayton, 23. Brent Beauchamp, 24. Matt Westfall, 25. Shane Cottle. NT
**Moore flipped during the first heat. Gurley flipped during the semi.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-5 Thomas, Laps 6-30 Darland.