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Cummins Cracks Win Column; Captures First USAC Sprint Victory By a Foot Over Ballou at Kokomo

Cummins Cracks Win Column; Captures First USAC Sprint Victory By a Foot Over Ballou at Kokomo

Bridesmaid. Perennial runner-up. Call him what you will, but Kyle Cummins certainly cannot be labeled as such any longer. For, on Saturday night at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway, the long wait came to an end for the Princeton, Indiana driver.

After passing Chris Windom for the lead with just nine laps to go, Cummins emerged from late-race turmoil and a massive charge by Robert Ballou on the final corner of the last lap to take the win by a foot in his Rock Steady Racing/ProGlide Bearings – Tim Mason ReMax/Mach-1/Cummins-powered machine, and thereby penning his name into the record books as a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car winner Saturday on night two of the 29th annual Indiana Sprint Week.

Twenty-four hours after Tyler Courtney pulled a stunner with his victory on Friday night at Gas City, Cummins became the second consecutive new face to emerge in Indiana Sprint Week victory lane, marking the first time since September of 2008 there have been first-time winners in back-to-back USAC National Sprint Car races. Kasey Kahne Racing teammates Brad Sweet and Brady Bacon accomplished the feat in two straight races at Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and Winchester (Ind.) Speedway, respectively.

Cummins victory following Courtney’s on Friday also was only the second time Indiana Sprint Week has produced two straight first-time USAC National Sprint Car winners. In 1997, Brad Fox (Bloomington) and Bill Rose (Paragon) notched their initial series wins one after the other.

After many close calls and near triumphs throughout the years, Cummins’ breakthrough performance came 13 years after his USAC debut at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track in late 2003.

“Finally,” Cummins exhaled. “I about teared up when I got out. I’m so tired of second and third; I started sixth and looked at those guys ahead of me and thought, ‘man, this is going to be a tough race to win.’ I got better and better as the race went on. Once I got around Windom, the infield tire got moved down and I hit the slime and got into him. I hate that it happened because I want to beat them all. That yellow with one to go had me all sorts of nervous. I knew if I slipped up even a little bit, Robert would pounce. Our car would get super tight if I got into the corner straight, so I opened up my entry a little bit. I was too tight to run there at the beginning, so I started making a bigger arc as the race went on. I knew as long as I could keep the arc up, I could catch the moisture on the bottom and I’d be okay.”

Chris Windom shot to the lead on the opening lap from his outside front row starting position with pole sitter Kevin Thomas, Jr. running three to four car lengths back throughout much of the first half of the race.

A lap 14 incident involving Tyler Thomas, Max McGhee Thomas Meseraull and Jon Stanbrough in turn two slowed the pace just before the halfway point, setting up a restart with Windom at the point and K. Thomas right on his tail tank.

K. Thomas shadowed Windom through turns one and two on the restart. As the pair headed into turn three, K. Thomas threw a massive slider on Windom for the lead, briefly taking the top spot before Windom clawed back to the lead at the line by a fingernail’s length. However, a yellow due to the stopped car of Meseraull in turn three reset the order once again.

On the following lap 14 restart attempt, Windom pulled the front wheels off the ground twice after standing on the throttle leading the pack to the green flag. Windom finally got the power to the ground just past the flag stand, but K. Thomas was ready to pounce, pulling within striking distance of Windom as he drove down the hill off the high side of turn two, splitting between leader Windom and Chase Stockon to take the race lead heading into turn three.

However, Thomas’ timing was ill-fated once again as fifth-running Brady Bacon found himself sitting backwards in turn three just after the restart. As the field scattered to miss Bacon, C.J. Leary, Logan Jarrett, Tyler Thomas and Hunter Schuerenberg couldn’t avoid the trouble. Schuerenberg received the worst end of the deal, getting upside down after climbing the wall with the right side tires. He was uninjured.

Since the lap wasn’t fully completed, K.Thomas lined up behind Windom once again for the ensuing restart.

Once action resumed, second-fastest qualifier and sixth-starting Cummins began his methodical dissection of the front runners. Using the bottom side of the racetrack, Cummins drove by Stockon off the inside of turn two for the third spot on lap 19 and, one lap later, slipped past K. Thomas on the bottom of turn three to steal second.

With eight laps to go, Cummins caught Windom and got the pull off the moisture on the bottom of turn two to propel him by Windom for the lead heading into turn three.

Windom countered midway between turns three and four, crossing over to get underneath Cummins at the exit of turn four. But Cummins got a tad bit sideways at the exit, initiating contact with his left rear tire and Windom’s right front, sending Windom sideways and, in turn, setting off a chain-reaction incident that also collected frontrunners Chase Stockon and Bryan Clauson.

In the blink of an eye, the entire complexion of the race had changed with the second, third and fifth-place cars now out of the picture. Yet, Cummins ride wouldn’t be free and easy as he now had to fend off 2013 Kokomo “Indiana Sprint Week” winner Kevin Thomas, Jr. and defending “Sprint Week” champ Robert Ballou for the final eight circuits.

Cummins remained dedicated to the low line as did Ballou while K. Thomas stayed true to the top side in the final laps. K. Thomas was able to hang close with Cummins for the lead, engaging in a battle that saw him just one car length behind at the stripe a lap after the restart.

K.Thomas (outside) and Ballou (inside) swarmed Cummins from both sides. The rapidly closing Ballou inched closer and closer on the bottom, peeking his nose inside Cummins for the lead off of turn four at the conclusion of lap 26 and in turn one on the 27th lap, but just wasn’t close enough yet to attempt the knockout punch.

A four-car tangle involving Aaron Farney, Leary, Dave Darland and McGhee brought out the night’s final yellow, setting up a two-lap shootout to the finish line.

Cummins worked the low-line throughout the 30-lap feature, but Ballou sunk his teeth firmly into the moisture a car length lower than Cummins while K. Thomas put his right rear Hoosier up against the outside wall for the last two laps.

On the final lap, Ballou gave it one last shot, skimming the infield tires with his front wheels as he pitched his machine sideways through the final two corners a car-width underneath leader Cummins.

Ballou got a big bite coming off the last corner in a side-by-side drag race to the checkered flag with Cummins, but Cummins had just enough to eke out the victory by a foot over Ballou while Thomas, Coons (from 22nd) and Bacon rounded out the top-five.

It was yet another solid second place run for Rocklin, California native Ballou, who nearly ripped away the win from Cummins at the end in his Ballou Motorsports/MPHG Promotions – Blakesley Auto/Maxim/Ott.

“I got hit in the helmet with a rock and it shattered my helmet. It felt like it broke my jaw,” Ballou explained. “But we salvaged a good run. I had the best car I’ve ever driven here. We made some last minute changes once we were on the track before the feature and everything we changed was the right decision.”

Kevin Thomas, Jr. has been a rocket during his six visits to Kokomo Speedway during the 2016 season in his 4J Motorsports/Franklin Equipment - CEP Concrete/DRC/Chevy, finishing third Saturday night after results of 1st, 1st, 3rd, 2nd and 5th in his five previous visits in non-USAC, weekly competition shows at the ¼-mile oval this year.

“There was a hole in (turns) three and four and, if you hit it wrong on the restarts, it would get the car upset, Thomas said. “Windom did that a few times and protected the bottom, and then I could get some momentum built up and slide him the next time around. I thought that was going to work for a while, but then I went to the bottom and got swarmed. Unfortunately, those guys got collected in that wreck, so we couldn’t race it out. But I lived and died by the top and, tonight, it just didn’t work out for us.”

Contingency award winners at Kokomo Speedway included Tyler Courtney (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Chase Stockon (Simpson Race Products First Heat Race Winner), Brady Bacon (Competition Suspension, Inc. (CSI) Second Heat Race Winner), Tyler Thomas (Benic Enterprises Third Heat Race Winner), Chad Boespflug (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Race Winner), Jerry Coons, Jr. (KSE Racing Products/B&W Auto Mart Hard Charger) and Logan Jarrett (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Feature Finisher).

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