LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. — Kevin Thomas Jr. traded the lead with Chris Windom on the last lap and drove to his third Fall Nationals victory at Lawrenceburg Speedway.
The USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship triumph paid Thomas $10,000 for 30 laps of action.
As Windom pressured him through the final laps, Thomas sensed something was about to go down as he sought the best course of action for his defense.
“I knew he was coming,” Thomas admitted. “I could hear him back there and I saw the top cleaning off. Where I‘d been running was a little bit off the top, more through the middle. There was a ridge, but it was starting to go away there in three and four and especially in one and two. I was like, ‘man, do I move? What do I do? I hadn‘t felt any pressure up to that point.”
After blazing a path around turns one and two on the final lap, Windom shadowed Thomas‘ rear bumper for the entire length of the back straightaway before making a break toward the bottom of turn three.
Thomas watched Windom sail past his front bumper up to the cushion as he flicked the wheel to the left and traced the middle portion of the high banks. Windom took one more glance underneath, but Thomas had control in the palms of his hands as he motored off the final corner to defeat Windom by.268 seconds.
Thomas also became the first driver to reach the eight-win mark with the series this season, but for the longest time, it appeared outside front row starter Emerson Axsom had the upper hand as he led the first 12 laps and was already knee deep into traffic when disaster nearly befell, at the time, fourth-running Windom.
As Windom attempted to navigate his way around the tail end of the field, he encountered the car driven by 20th running J.J. Hughes.
Windom ramped over the right-rear tire of Hughes just before the entry to turn one but somehow, someway, did not get upside down and was able to untangle himself from the potential carnage and continue onward while Hughes slowed a stop in turn one with a completely flattened right rear.
Unluckiest in the deal was eighth-running Robert Ballou who encountered the situation at full speed on the high side, at first, successfully avoiding Hughes, but was unable to avoid smacking the outside wall which ended his night prematurely as it also did for Hughes.
Under the yellow, fifth-running C.J. Leary suffered a flat right-rear tire, which sent him to the work area for fresh rubber before returning to blitz his way back up through the pack to a 10th-place result at the checkered.
With 14 to go, Thomas was able to pull himself completely alongside Axsom, but the 17-year-old driver who was making just his seventh career USAC sprint car start displayed the poise of a veteran in fending off his Petry Motorsports teammate on the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget trail.
Axsom, wheeling the same car that was raced to victory lane one week earlier by Tyler Courtney at Ohio‘s Eldora Speedway during the 4-Crown Nationals, kept Thomas at bay lap-after-lap until, exiting the fourth turn on lap 26. That is until Axsom‘s right-rear tire suddenly gave away, forcing him to stop.
“I want to give a shout out to Emerson,” Thomas acknowledged. “I don‘t think we would have won that race. That kid has a heck of a lot of talent and is really impressive in pretty much anything that he‘s gotten into. I love him to death. He‘s my teammate on the midget side of things and I‘ve got a good relationship with him and his family. It was an unfortunate circumstance; they had that one.”
The one and only driver to start all 16 Fall Nationals feature events in his career, Windom, came up just one spot short of his first win in the event.
“I feel like we were a little better than him at the end there,” Windom said. “I couldn‘t quite get him squared up. It was really starting to get hard to throw a slider in one and two because he was running the middle, so I knew I had to time it right to make it work in three and four. I needed just one chance to attempt that and get a second chance at it to know where to stick it a little better because he was able to cross me back over there and get back by us.”
Tanner Thorson finished third, while Brady Bacon, who flipped in his heat race, drove a backup car to a fourth-place finish.
To see full results, turn to the next page.