Haubstadt, Indiana………As soon as the yellow light switched on for the final caution period of the evening, Kyle Cummins devised a plan.
It was a plan born out of necessity that Cummins felt served as his best bet to compete for a victory in the closing laps of Saturday night’s penultimate Indiana Sprint Week presented by Camping World round at Tri-State Speedway.
Kevin Thomas, Jr. seemingly had the event stowed away for safe-keeping after leading the first 27 circuits of the 30-lap event, but a double-dose of yellow flags in the final laps would turn the tide for Cummins of nearby Princeton, Indiana.
Following a yellow for a Donny Brackett spin between turns three and four with three to go, Cummins hatched his plan after deciphering that he had no way of passing Thomas had he maintained his line on the bottom. This time around, Cummins had full intentions of executing his plan of attack, but decided at the last instant to abort the mission.
“I knew on that one yellow (on lap 28), I was going to the top,” Cummins remembered. “I looked up there and thought the bottom looked so much better. As soon as we took the green, I went in there on the bottom and I felt like it was already too late.”
Cummins would soon receive a reprieve when tenth-running Dave Darland’s car went up in smoke as Thomas rounded turns three and four and was seemingly headed home to take the checkered. The plan was renewed and Cummins wasn’t going to let this second chance slip away.
“As soon as it went yellow, I knew 100 percent what I was going to do,” Cummins exclaimed. “It was so much better up top. The bottom was good, but once everyone was running it, it started getting slick and you really had to chock it up getting in. We got the car to where, once I loosened it up a little bit to be able to get in a little harder on the top, that thing came around there and man, was it good!”
After serving as Thomas’ shadow throughout the entire duration of the event prior to the final caution, Cummins decided the lower portion of the track was not among the options if a win was in the cards. On the green-white-checkered restart, Cummins went topside while Thomas remained tried-and-true to the bottom.
Cummins’ first shot was fired when he diamonded off of turn two and used a huge run to dive to the bottom of turn three on the white flag lap. Thomas anticipated Cummins’ presence and snubbed him from the lead, diving to the bottom simultaneously with Cummins to protect his spot for the time being.
On the final lap, Cummins came off turn two like a Concorde on takeoff, staying to the outside of Thomas rather than diving to the inside this time around. Thomas slid up the track from the entrance of turn three to the exit of four, allowing Cummins to counterpunch underneath. Lines changed, wheels banged, a smoke signal lifting into the sky off Cummins’ right rear rubber in a drag race off four to the finish line where Cummins swiftly prevailed for a spectacular single car-length victory in his Rock Steady Racing/ProGlide Bearings/Mach-1/Cummins for his third career USAC National Sprint Car victory and his second ISW win in as many seasons.
“As soon as it went yellow, I’m like, ‘okay this is perfect,’” Cummins explained. “I was too tight to run the top, but I decided I was going to run the top and forget about the bottom, so I adjusted my shocks to only run the top. On lap 29, I found out it was way faster to run the top. However, he was up in the way, so I tried to dive him and I had to let off going into three or we would’ve collided. That set me up for the next lap. I went up to the top and he didn’t come out as far, allowing me to get around him on the outside. Going into (turn) three, I had my mind set to run all the way around the top. When I saw him, I figured we were going to run into each other coming out of four, so I tried to diamond her down. He got on her and got a little tight. It let me get down, get the power to the ground and get to the checkered flag first.”
Cullman, Alabama’s Thomas led the first 29 and three-quarters of a lap before surrendering the position to Cummins, but wasn’t able to finish off the one that paid the most in his KT Motorsports/Abreu Vineyards – KT Construction Services/DRC/Speedway Chevy.
“On the last restart, I saw Kyle peek underneath me,” Thomas recalls. “He’s always good here and he’s going to find a way that’s faster. That’s exactly what he did. He waited until the last lap, got a good run off (turns) one and two to pull alongside me going down the backstretch. I probably dove into turn three a little too hard. I didn’t necessarily miss my marks, but I maybe could’ve slowed down a bit more to make my corner a little shorter and not load the right rear so much to where it lifted the front wheels off the ground. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. When you give a driver like Kyle that many opportunities, he’s going to find the sweet spot and he did.”
Although the spectacular highlight-reel, last corner, last lap pass for the win is certainly the moment of the night everyone will remember, the most crucial pass of the night may very well have occurred in the second heat when sixth-quickest qualifier Cummins snagged the fourth and final transfer spot from Critter Malone in the second heat race. Without that pass, Cummins would’ve been relegated to a feature starting spot outside of the fourth row instead of the outside front row position he would begin from due to the inversion of the fastest six qualifiers to transfer through each of the heat races.
“Track position is crucial, especially when it goes green for a long stretch like that,” Cummins said. “We would’ve been starting a few rows back. We might’ve gotten there, but without having a yellow, most likely, we wouldn’t have been able to catch him. There might’ve been lapped cars between us too at some point, so that was really important to get that spot.”
Kyle Cummins (Middle) enjoys his second-career “Indiana Sprint Week” presented by Camping World victory Saturday night at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt along with 2nd place finisher Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Right)
and 3rd place finisher Tyler Courtney (Left).
(Ryan Sellers Photo)
Despite becoming the most synonymous name in sprint car racing at Tri-State Speedway over the past several years due to his mounting success, surprisingly, he and the team found the early-going to be a struggle to even be able to contend for a transfer spot.
“This thing was like driving a modified,” Cummins remembers. “I couldn’t get her turned. It was pushing and I was doing all I could do to get into fourth there. On the white flag, I really didn’t think I was going to get him. I went in there and it looked like he got tight, just like I did. It’s Sprint Week, so I had to drift up. The difference between starting on the front row and starting seventh is a big deal. That was probably the biggest move to put us in position to win.
Following a top-five run at Kokomo on the opening night of Indiana Sprint Week last Saturday, Cummins has had a tumultuous time obtaining the results they expected with finishes of 21st at Lawrenceburg, 18th at Gas City and a DNQ the previous night at Bloomington serving as the lead-in to his epic Haubstadt performance Saturday night, where he feels right at home.
“It seems like even when we’re not all that good, we’ve still got a chance here,” Cummins said. “I’ve raced here enough to where I can manipulate the car or, at least, get it to be competitive. This is my motor. It doesn’t run nearly as hot. I knew I could run the whole race and be on the gas hard and not have to worry about it overheating. At Kokomo, we were good, but we had a little problem right before the feature and made a little mistake. At Lawrenceburg, we just had a rough go of it and got into the wall. We didn’t know at the time that it bent the rear end. At Gas City, we weren’t that good. In Terre haute hot laps, I was terrible. At Bloomington, we were awful. After last night, we all looked at each other and threw everything we had at it. It just wasn’t working. We pulled the rear-end out today and it was bent pretty good. We put a new rear-end on and it brought the car back to life. I wish we would’ve found out about it earlier and it might’ve turned out to have been a lot better week for us overall.”
The sight of Kyle Cummins and Hank Byram’s Rock Steady No. 3R hasn’t been as prevalent this year as much as it had been during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, only making a smattering of series start in 2017 due to mechanical issues. Cummins was set on running his own No. 3c when time allowed, but an 11th hour agreement between Cummins and Byram pit the dynamic duo back together for ISW and their victory at Haubstadt.
“(Car owner) Hank (Byram) only has his one motor,” Cummins explained. “It got hot here in the spring race. The heads were so old, they were giving up. He had to take a break and he actually still hasn’t gotten his motor back. I was jumping back and forth between Rick Pollock’s car and my own car. I knew I was going to get my motor, so I figured if I was going to get my own motor, I was going to run my own car. We ran down here and won the first night. I was going to run Sprint Week, but I didn’t have the equipment, didn’t have the time and didn’t have any spares. I just had the car I had. Hank offered me a deal where I’d put my motor in his car and we’d make it a bit easier on both of us. I felt comfortable in the car and I knew we’d be pretty good, so we decided to get back together.”
“I don’t know how much more we’ll run,” Cummins added. “It depends when he gets his motor back. We haven’t raced much, once a month it seems, which makes it tough coming off a year like we had last year. I felt at the beginning of the year that we were battling issues here and there. Now we’re throwing different motors in and changing stuff around. This car had to be clipped and redone. We finally got this car running pretty good and ready to finish out the season.”
Meanwhile, with his second-place run, Thomas extended his Indiana Sprint Week point lead to 21 heading into the final series event Sunday, July 16 at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana. Though Thomas gained a little bit of breathing room with the uptick in the point differential between he and Robert Ballou, it’s certainly not enough for him to breathe easily and
“You just have to be aggressive,” Thomas mandates. “You can’t points race in this deal because, at the end of the day, you’ll get beat. It’s just like what happened tonight. I raced defensively instead of offensively and I got beat. That’s just something you can’t do in racing. Some people are capable of point racing, but I’m not. Sunday at Putnamville, we’re going to be aggressive and be the fastest in everything we’re in tomorrow. Hopefully it works out. If it does, it does. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Meanwhile, just behind the leaders, a battle for the third-spot was nearly as furious with Indianapolis, Indiana’s Tyler Courtney nabbing the spot from new USAC National Sprint Car point leader Justin Grant on the final lap in his TOPP Motorsports/TOPP Performance Race Parts – Custom Pump & Controls/Maxim/Claxton.
“We were really good at about the halfway point,” Courtney said. “We got to fourth and that put us in position to run down Justin at the end. I just wasn’t able to clear him in traffic. Luckily, we got a yellow toward the end and I was able to run it as hard as I could on the top those last couple of laps, then get him there coming to the checkered. We ran second down here at the end of last year, but we kind of struggled in the spring. To run third at a track we’re notoriously bad at is like a win for us.”
Contingency award winners Saturday at Tri-State Speedway include Justin Grant (ProSource Fast Qualifier & Simpson Race Products 1st Heat Winner), Josh Hodges (Competition Suspension, Inc. 2nd Heat Winner), Jarett Andretti (Chalk Stix 3rd Heat Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Indy Race Parts 4th Heat Winner), Carson Short (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Brady Short (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).