Plymouth, Indiana………Early on in Justin Grant’s sprint car racing career, a fellow competitor told him that he wouldn’t last more than eight laps without consciously remembering to breathe while he was racing.
Justin heeded that advice, and a handful of years later, the Ione, California native is finding the greatest success of his driving career. He could breathe easy after all was said and done Friday night after holding off a late-race charge from Chad Boespflug while mired in lapped traffic to collect his second series victory of the season in the first ever visit by the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship to Indiana’s Plymouth Speedway.
The win came as a sigh of relief to Grant after a breathtaking moment in ProSource Qualifying that almost ended his night before it even began.
“I tried to end our night pretty early on during qualifying,” Grant said with a grin. “I was coming to the green (flag) and about spun out. I went ahead, turned around and went back and tried to gain a little composure. I took a breath, came back and restarted my qualifying attempt. I went down into (turn) three on the first lap and all but turned over. Getting into three, my speed and the calculations I was running in my head, I figured I was going to go ahead and make it over the fence. It went ahead and sat down and I was able to salvage a respectable time on the second lap. Fortunately for me, a couple guys missed the transfer through the heat races and that put us on the front row.”
Grant took full advantage of his seat on the outside of the front row, racing to the lead up top as polesitter Thomas Meseraull slid up the track in turn two, allowing Grant to breakaway to a substantial advantage.
By lap three, Grant was ahead by a half-straight. The lead had grown to the length of a straightaway with just five laps down as Meseraull, Chris Windom, Boespflug and Shane Cottle scrambled for positions two through five. Ten laps into the 30-lap event, Grant held a staggering half-lap lead as he began to negotiate lapped traffic.
“I felt like our car was pretty good,” Grant said. “It was launching down the straightaways pretty fast. I was going as fast as I was comfortable going through the holes. I didn’t know we had a straightaway lead or anything like that, but I thought we had a buffer. I couldn’t hear anything. Normally, you can hear a guy behind you, but I couldn’t hear anybody.”
Though he possessed a suffocating stranglehold on all those who followed, Grant’s lead would begin to shrink mightily by the halfway point as the drivers near the tail end of the field were running high, low, top and bottom as they engaged in their own battles for position ahead of Grant’s black and red No. 11.
“Getting into lapped traffic, they were all two-wide for three or four rows in front of me,” Grant recalls. “I was really just trying to keep myself calm, stay patient and wait for holes to open up so I could pick my way around those guys and not get caught up in something I didn’t need to get caught up in.”
Each lap, Boespflug chomped a significant chunk out of the interval between he and race leader Grant. On lap 23, Grant found himself entering turn three as he sought to overtake Aaron Pierce. Boespflug attempted to capitalize on the bottom to no avail as Grant clung to the lead by the cuticles of his fingernails. Grant then found his second wind, disposing of Pierce and Jarett Andretti to set himself free of the mounting pressure from Boespflug.
“I knew we had slowed down a ton in that group of lapped cars. I knew somebody was going to be coming pretty quickly. I was just kind of hoping things would open up. I saw Boespflug poke a nose under me in the middle of (turns) one and two. When I saw him, I decided I had to start taking some chances and be a little more aggressive. I kind of moved our way by a few of those guys and was able to open up a few lanes where I could start sliding guys and move around. As soon as I started clicking a couple lapped cars off, I felt comfortable and confident that we’d be alright.”
Meanwhile, 18th starting Tyler Courtney seemingly came out of nowhere, shooting to the top around Boespflug in turn two with just a pair of laps remaining to grab second. By then, though, Grant was long gone once again where he would pull away for a commanding 3.5 second victory over Courtney, Boespflug, Meseraull and Stevie Sussex.
Grant’s victory in the Sam McGhee Motorsports/Mike McGhee & Associates – Brown & Miller Racing Solutions/Maxim/Foxco was his first since the season-opening “Winter Dirt Games” in Ocala, Florida. His sixth career score ties him with the likes of Jac Haudenschild, Jan Opperman, Tom Sneva, George Snider and Dick Tobias on the all-time USAC National Sprint Car win list.
Additionally, team owner Sam McGhee revisited Plymouth Speedway victory lane for the first time in six seasons, but this time, it was in a different role. The now 17-year-old McGhee drove to victory lane after winning a USAC Ford Focus Young Guns Midget feature at Plymouth in 2011 when the track was pavement.
Back to Grant, though, who established the 30-lap mark at Plymouth Friday night during a caution-free, green-to-checker feature finish in a time of 7:36.34 that saw all 22 starters finish. By Grant’s estimation, 30 laps non-stop in a sprint car doesn’t take long, but it can, without a doubt, be taxing on the mind.
Plymouth winner Justin Grant (middle) in victory lane along with second-place finisher Tyler Courtney (left) and third-place finisher Chad Boespflug (right).
(Gene Crucean Photo)
“A sprint car race is 30 laps, but they’re 30 intense laps,” Grant explains. “Things are happening so fast and everybody’s so quick, if the race gets away from you, you’re not getting it back. It’s mentally challenging and you just really have to try and make sure to breathe and that’s the biggest thing, especially when the track’s rough. You actually have to tell yourself to breathe. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out to just keep some oxygen going and to stay focused.”
After four-straight sub-top-ten performances to begin the season, Indianapolis, Indiana’s Tyler Courtney bounced back in just about the most spectacular way imaginable, driving from the outside of the ninth row to finish second without the aid of a single yellow flag in his TOPP Motorsports/TOPP Performance Race Parts – Custom Pump & Controls/Maxim/Claxton.
“This is what we all needed, not only for me as a driver, but as a team,” a proud Courtney beamed. “We struggled at the beginning of the year. We changed a few things this week and it worked out. Our car was the best it’s been in a while. We screwed up in qualifying on a tough racetrack and that put us deep in the field. It makes it pretty hard to win races from that far back, especially with the caliber of guys we have running in the series. You can’t slouch off at any point in the night. Getting behind the eight-ball is tough, but we rebounded to get a podium here in front of a hometown crowd for my car owner who grew up here in Plymouth.”
“I knew we were good from the start,” Courtney continued. “I was hoping we weren’t too good too early, but I was able to find a different line than everybody out there through (turns) one and two, which is where I passed a bunch of guys. I knew once I started seeing Chad (Boespflug), Thomas (Meseraull), Chris (Windom) and those guys, I had to be getting close to the front, but I still couldn’t see Justin. I knew I hadn’t passed him yet, so I knew it was still a long row to hoe. We needed a yellow, but we didn’t quite get one. To get second, I’ll take it. This is the best second has ever felt!”
Third-place finisher Chad Boespflug briefly clamped down on Grant for the race lead late in the going Friday night at Plymouth, yet he also closed to within one-point of Grant for the series point-lead in his Dynamics, Inc./Mean Green – PAC Springs/Maxim/Claxton heading into Eldora Speedway’s “LetsRaceTwo” on May 12-13.
“I just started to really hone in on my line when I got to Justin (Grant) in lapped traffic there,” Boespflug replays. “I tried to roll the bottom a few times and realized I was a little freer than I had been all night. Come to find out, we had a bleeder stick in the right rear, or actually shut off. We just grew too much pressure in the right rear. We got to Justin’s rear bumper there, kind of, and it was just time to try and make some moves. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out for us tonight. We slipped back to third there at the end, but overall, great night again.
Contingency award winners Friday night at Plymouth Speedway include Chase Stockon (ProSource Fast Qualifier & Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Chad Boespflug (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Stevie Sussex (Indy Race Parts Semi Winner), Tyler Courtney (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Landon Simon (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Feature Finisher).