KOKOMO, Ind. – Tyler Courtney rediscovered the fountain of success at Kokomo Speedway on Saturday night, winning the Sprint Car Smackdown IX finale.
At a track where he had won six times before between sprint cars and midgets, and an event where he’d hoisted the coveted champion’s belt in 2017 and 2019, Courtney left no doubt at the end on this night.
He tracked down Brady Bacon 13 laps from the conclusion to score his 28th career AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car feature victory, equaling the total of fellow series champions Levi Jones and J.J. Yeley for 15th all-time.
Courtney’s efforts were worth $11,000 aboard the No. 7bc Clauson-Marshall-Newman Racing/NOS Turbo – CSI – ZMax – Schoenfeld/Spike/Rider Chevy.
In the process, he became the second driver ever to win Smackdown three times in his career, joining the series’ winningest driver Dave Darland, who won the event from 2013-15.
“Dave’s a guy I grew up watching and I watched him win all three of his Smackdowns,” Courtney recalled. “To tie a guy like that here at his home track, it’s just unreal. I never would’ve thought that, when I started racing sprint cars, or started racing Smackdown nine years ago, that I’d even win one of these things, let alone three.
“To tie a guy like Dave Darland is something that will probably take a while to sink in.”
Courtney had encountered trouble three separate times while leading or running second at Kokomo in USAC competition this year.
During Indiana Midget Week, he flipped while leading two-thirds of the way through. During Indiana Sprint Week, he clipped a turn two infield tire while leading, sending him spinning and stopping just three laps from the finish.
And in Thursday’s Smackdown opener, while running second, contact with a lapped car flattened Courtney’s tire and put him out of contention for victory once again.
“I told my guys I’ll take a little bit of bad luck from the last three races if it meant I could win this one,” Courtney said. “This is one you put on the calendar, especially when we were putting our schedule together this year with us not running full-time. We had a gameplan coming into tonight and stuck to it and it worked out.
“We got a technical racetrack and it almost bit me a little bit, but somehow, I made it through a couple of those situations, and it worked out.”
Courtney started sixth on the grid for the 40-lap feature, and for much of the first half of the race, remained relatively stagnant, holding the fifth position nearing the midway point.
Up front, however, the night’s B&W Auto Mart King of the Hill winner and polesitter Bacon was in control of the 23-car field as C.J. Leary and Kyle Cummins gave chase.
The first of two reds during the feature was displayed on the ninth lap when 19th-running Carson Short rode out a flip down the front straightaway.
Under the ensuing stoppage, 12th-running Justin Grant’s misfortune continued when his car didn’t re-fire following the red, ending his night prematurely with a 21st-place finish.
When racing resumed, Cummins – who was aiming to become the first driver to win four USAC sprint races in a row since Rick Hood in 1985 – made his way to second past Leary.
Meanwhile race rookie Buddy Kofoid, in just his third career series start, flexed his muscle to take third as Leary got shuffled back to fourth.
The second and final red flag period of the feature arrived on lap 15 when 14th-running Clinton Boyles barrel rolled near the outside wall in turn four. The incident also collected the 15th-place car of Jake Swanson, who spun and stopped in the melee.
Both were uninjured, but both were finished for the remainder of the evening.
On the race’s resumption on the 15th lap, Cummins showed Bacon a nose below in turn two, then did so again on the 16th lap. However, quickly shooting into the frame was Courtney, who had exploded from fifth to third on the restart.
By lap 17, the top three were nose to tail.
Courtney’s next move came on the 21st lap, when he slid past Cummins for second in turn four, gliding from the bottom of turn three all the way up to the outside concrete at the exit of turn four to complete the pass.
In no time, he was challenging Bacon for the race lead.
Courtney hounded Bacon, the two-time USAC National Sprint Car champion, for the next several circuits, seemingly stalking his prey as he readied himself to pounce on any inkling of a misstep.
That came on the 28th circuit when Bacon snagged his right rear tire on the lip exiting turn two, knocking him slightly askew as Courtney shot under to snag the lead going away.
“Brady messed up a little bit off two, and I got by him closely, but we got by clean,” Courtney remembered. “I just put the hammer down and tried to put a gap between us because I knew my car was better.”
Courtney quickly gapped his challengers with a 3.6-second advantage as he worked traffic around the quarter mile with the race dwindling down to the final four laps.
With the race, and victory, seemingly in hand, Courtney had a couple “moments” down the stretch while possessing a fairly substantial gap between he and Cummins.
None were bigger than the one he experienced in turn one coming to the white flag, as he got some airtime after hitting the cushion, and nearly knocked down the wall before gathering it up and motoring on.
“That was wild,” Courtney exclaimed. “I got in, biked and got tight up on the wall and thought, ‘Oh my god, you’re really going to throw it away with three laps to go. Come on.’ Luckily, I got down off that and made a couple clean laps at the end.
“I love Kokomo. I love Smackdown. It was a really, really cool night.”
That “really, really cool night” concluded with Courtney taking a 3.699-second victory in the end over Cummins, Leary, Bacon and Kofoid.
Meanwhile, a big shuffle in the points saw Grant fall from first to third while Bacon shot from third to first.
The top-four in the standings are only separated by 18 points, with Bacon leading Chris Windom (-4), Grant (-7) and Chase Stockon (-18).
To view complete results, advance to the next page.