HAUBSTADT, Ind. — It‘s a rare instance when both the first and second-place finishers of a race can celebrate in unison for their own, separate personal accomplishments.
For Justin Grant and Kevin Thomas Jr., that was the scene on Saturday night following the finale for USAC NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week at Tri-State Speedway.
Grant bookended the beginning and end of the seven-race ISW slate with a feature win at Kokomo to start and a Tri-State feature win to conclude the 34th annual edition of the series while Thomas capped the points race with a crown as the ISW champion for the second time in his career.
“We had some issues through the middle of sprint week,” Grant acknowledged after leading the final 29 laps of the 30-lap race aboard his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink — MPV Express — TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy. “We started it with a win and ended it with a win. It was good, and we won a race at Haubstadt. I can‘t believe it.”
Only five other drivers had won both the first and the last feature race during a single Indiana Sprint Week. Danny Smith was the first to accomplish the feat in 1989, followed by Kelly Kinser in 1994, Dave Darland in 1998, Cory Kruseman in 2002 and J.J. Yeley in 2004.
Grant‘s 26th career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory worth $6,000.
There‘s never a dull moment at the quarter-mile track.
“There were a couple times where I was all squirrelled up,” Grant remembered. “Fortunately, the thing would get digging and drive again. It certainly wasn‘t the prettiest race I‘ve ever won but it was enough to get the job done.”
Both Grant‘s and Thomas‘ paths to victory intersected each other throughout the race with Thomas leading the first lap from his outside front row starting position just before fourth-starting Grant power surged under Thomas in turn four to gain the lead on the very next lap.
Entering the 30-lap feature, Grant found himself on the outside looking in in terms of an Indiana Sprint Week title with five drivers remaining eligible.
Down the stretch, and on multiple restarts, nobody had an answer for Grant, or for Thomas for that matter, who remained between a half second and a full second behind Grant who strummed his way through a bevy of traffic to score his series-leading fifth feature win of the year by a margin of 0.814 over Thomas.
Thomas‘ second-place finish was more than good enough to clinch the title by 17 points over Brady Bacon, with Logan Seavey, Tanner Thorson and Grant rounding out the top five.
Thomas‘ $10,000 prize for winning the Indiana Sprint Week championship was accompanied by the traditional rocker going to the ISW championship team.
Thomas was the lone driver who finished inside the top-five of the final 2021 ISW point standings not to win a race during the series. Once again, for the fourth consecutive year, the Indiana Sprint Week champion driver went winless throughout their run following Chris Windom (2018), C.J. Leary (2019) and Chase Stockon (2020).
“You‘ve just got to be consistent with these guys,” Thomas explained. “They‘re just so balls out every time they get around you. They‘re all wanting to win the race. (My crew) stayed consistent and kept their composure. We all know that I don‘t do that very well, so I‘m glad I have those guys behind my back as well as my wife to talk me back down from certain circumstances on the way home.”
Behind Grant and Thomas at the finish line were Chase Stockon, who finished off a rollercoaster ride of a week by equaling his best finish of the season with a third.