KOKOMO, Ind. – Tyler Courtney has gotten quite used to parking it in victory lane at Kokomo Speedway over the past few years.
His late-race duel with Brady Bacon during Saturday night’s AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car feature was the latest chapter added to his story.
Courtney prevailed with the winning move just three laps from the end, earning his sixth career series victory at the quarter-mile dirt oval, third all-time behind Kokomo greats Dave Darland (nine) and Tony Elliott (eight).
The two-time USAC national champion has seemingly been either snakebitten or victorious in USAC competition at Kokomo this season. He’s encountered trouble three separate times while leading or running second this year alone.
During Indiana Midget Week, Courtney flipped while leading two-thirds of the way through. During Indiana Sprint Week, he clipped a turn two infield tire while leading and spun just three laps from the finish.
In August’s Sprint Car Smackdown IX opener, while running second, contact with a lapped car flattened his tire, putting him out of contention for victory once again.
The tide turned, so to speak, with his Smackdown finale score to close out the month of August and brought him into Saturday night’s Indiana Donor Network Driven2SaveLives Double Double as the most recent series winner at the track.
Starting fifth, Courtney was on the chase early as outside front row starter Brandon Mattox controlled the pace up front for the first six circuits.
Bacon, meanwhile, made a charge from fourth to second on the opening lap and began to contend with Mattox for the race lead.
On lap six, Bacon presented a challenge to the outside, which caught Mattox’s attention. Mattox noticed Bacon’s nose to his outside and moved up a groove at the exit of turn four in response.
Bacon countered back by shooting underneath Mattox on the entry into turn one to take over the point.
Courtney was on the move at that point as well, and on the 11th lap, overtook Mattox for the second position and began to lasso in Bacon as lapped traffic loomed in their path.
The two ringed the top around the tail end of lead lap traffic, with Courtney making up slivers of ground at a time while Bacon expertly navigated through the thick as he searched for his first career USAC National Sprint Car Series feature win at the track.
The highwire show in traffic came to a halt just after the halfway mark of the 30-lapper when 17th-running Chase Johnson looped it between turns one and two to bring out the caution.
At the resumption of activity, Courtney was now right on Bacon’s rear bumper and without traffic as far as the eye could see.
As Courtney pursued Bacon, Courtney stumbled on the turn four cushion on lap 21, but it didn’t seem to deter his motive one iota as he charged back and set himself up for a slider in turn three on the 24th lap that stuck and sent him into the lead.
That set off a classic duel between the two champions that proved unrelenting in the forthcoming laps.
Bacon used the bottom side of the race track while Courtney worked the top. Bacon ably pulled ahead at the exit of turns two and four on laps 25 and 26 each time with Courtney utilizing the high side momentum to beat him to the line each time.
Bacon’s relentlessness brought him back to the lead on the 27th lap as he surged to the front off the low line in turn two to hold a two car length advantage with three to go.
However, with the low line occupied by the two cars at the tail end of the field – last week’s Haubstadt Hustler winner Kendall Ruble and USAC West Coast star Chase Johnson – Bacon was forced to go high in turn three on lap 28.
Courtney went outside-in, following Bacon into turn three, then ducking underneath off turn four to slip by Bacon for the spot.
Bacon continued the chase that now ventured to the top where Courtney had roamed for much of the event, hanging in stride with Courtney just a couple car lengths back on the final lap.
Courtney threaded the needle in turn two to the outside of Johnson and Critter Malone and just inside the outer retaining wall. Malone took evasive action to avoid contact as he was the meat in the middle of the sandwich.
Bacon was just behind Malone at that exact moment and the two made bumper-to-bumper contact, impeding Bacon’s momentum and ending an shot for one last effort for the victory.
Courtney closed it out with a .764 second interval over Bacon at the finish line with Chase Stockon third. Brandon Mattox earned a career-best fourth-place finish, while Shane Cottle rounded out the top five.
For Courtney, it was the 29th victory of his USAC National Sprint Car career, equaling him with Robert Ballou for 14th all-time in his Clauson-Marshall-Newman Racing/NOS Turbo – CSI – ZMax – Schoenfeld/Spike/Rider Chevy.
“The track changed a lot there from the start to the end,” Courtney noted. “Brady started making the bottom work there at the end, but luckily, lapped traffic kind of played in my favor. This car really rolls around this place nice and it just makes my job so easy.”
Bacon extended his USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point lead to 30 over ninth-place Kokomo finisher Chris Windom entering the Oct. 3 season finale at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway.
However, after leading a race-high 18 laps, this was one the two-time series champ felt slipped through his fingers.
“I felt we had a better car,” Bacon admitted. “I got stuck out in the lead as kind of a sitting duck. I contemplated going to the bottom but it’s kind of hard to leave what you’re doing. We actually got the lead back and lapped traffic just kind of clogged the hole and (Courtney) was able to keep the lead.
“I’m disappointed to run second again, but there’s obviously a bright side with us gaining a lot of points for the championship.”
Stockon remained in the title hunt, just 40 points behind Bacon in third.
Dave Darland’s fast qualifying run during Saturday’s Fatheadz Eyewear time trials at Kokomo was the 62nd of his career, putting him just three behind Tom Bigelow for the all-time series lead.
While battling for the second position on the opening lap of the semi-feature, driver Tim Creech ramped over the right rear tire of another car and barrel-rolled into the turn four wall and fence. He was transported for further evaluation.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.