When Dorsett Automotive Don Smith Classic winner Justin Grant and his crew members posed in front of his mostly blue NOS Energy Drink No. 4 sprint car for the traditional post-race photographs Wednesday night at the Terre Haute Action Track, one of the picture takers told them to “smile.”
Only the least observant of 2020 U.S. citizens would not have understood the subtle joke there.
During this COVID-19 Era, Grant and all of his faithful helpers were wearing face masks that covered their mouths and teeth.
Gov. Eric Holcomb would have been proud.
Still, there’s no doubt that Grant had a huge grin — even if spectators couldn’t see it — after he passed Sullivan County native Chase Stockon from the outside of Turn 2 on the final, final, really final lap and held on to win the AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship race, which was part of the U.S. Auto Club’s annual Indiana Sprint Week.
Stockon led the most laps — 13 — as Grant tried several times to pass him earlier in the race. Most were unsuccessful.
Grant was successful after a restart for the 19th lap, but Stockon returned the favor one lap later. Stockon maintained the advantage until two yellow cautions lights allowed Grant — a resident of Ione, Calif. — to close the gap both times. Each minor mishap occurred during an attempt to complete the 30th (and 31st) lap, which cannot be counted as final under yellow per USAC rules.
Stockon held Grant off after the first restart, but not after the second.
"When I could start making ground on him, I could start running the top [of the Action Track’s half-mile dirt oval]," Grant told the Tribune-Star afterward. "But the top of Turn 2 was so dirty, I’d get caught in it.
"I could beat him to the center of [turns] 1 and 2, but he was in the moisture at the bottom of 2 and got back away from me."
Until Lap 32 of what was supposed to be a 30-lap race.
"It came down to the end and I thought, 'All right, I’m gonna win this thing,'" a still-excited Grant explained.
"So I was freakin' blazing that thing wide open above the cushion, you know? Just lettin' her hang. And I finally got enough of a run on him — hard enough and high enough — that I could turn the thing across and get back to the moisture off of 2.
"And that’s where we ended up having him beat."
At one point during the rapid-fire shuffling of subjects for post-race photographs in Victory Lane, Grant said during an informal conversation that "I almost feel sorry for him," referring to Stockon.
But not so sorry that he planned to hand over his symbolic, extra-large $5,000 check to Stockon.
"Without all those late yellows, he had this thing won," said Grant, who notched his second Action Track sprint-car victory ever and his third Action Track feature triumph after starting from the fourth position Wednesday. "If it's a regulation race, if it goes 30 laps instead of 32, Chase Stockon is your winner. He had us beat...
"We got a lot of opportunities to beat Chase Stockon tonight and Chase had to be perfect a lot of times. He just wasn’t [perfect] one time."
Stockon also fell behind eventual second-place finisher Chris Windom on the 32nd lap. C.J. Leary, who had won the previous two ISW races at Kokomo and Lawrenceburg this week, and Shane Cottle rounded out the top five Wednesday.
Action Track promoter Bob Sargent estimated Wednesday’s attendance to be about 2,500.
The next Action Track event will be "Mountain Dew Family Fun Day" involving the Midwest Sprint Car Series, Scott’s Custom Colors DIRTcar Modifieds and Indiana Late Model Series on Aug. 16.
Next up for the ISW racers was supposed to be Thursday night at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, but that card got rained out. The final 2020 ISW events will be Friday at Bloomington Speedway and Saturday at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt.
"I’ve felt like we’ve had [ISW] momentum all week," insisted Grant, who now leads the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship and Indiana Sprint Week standings in points.
"Our race car is fast and our team is good. ... It's an honor to drive this car."