OCALA, Fla. – Kevin Thomas Jr. returned to USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series victory lane for the first time in 16 months Thursday during the opening round of the season at Bubba Raceway Park.
Thomas corralled the lead from Kyle Cummins in traffic on the 14th circuit of the 30-lap feature and led the remaining 17 trips around the three-eighths-mile dirt track to triumph for the 28th time with the USAC National Sprint Cars, tying himself with A.J. Foyt, Chris Windom, Don Branson, J.J. Yeley and Levi Jones for 16th on the all-time series win list.
Thursday’s non-stop, green to checkered feature event clocked in as the fastest 30-lap USAC Sprint Car feature ever run at Bubba Raceway Park, taking seven minutes and 45.762 seconds to complete.
It was an unforeseen winless drought for Thomas, one of the series’ premier drivers, who has endured a tumultuous 16 months.
“It took longer than I expected to battle adversity, but we did it,” Thomas said. “I like to win races, and I like to do it with the people that are behind us. Ever since Dr. Pepper and McDonald’s came on board, I have not given them what they came on board for. I take full responsibility for that. I had to get things turned around because I’ve got a group of people that are behind me who are really good people and really fun to work with. I’ve got to have success for those people.”
Although he had previously won twice with the POWRi Midgets at Ocala in 2018, Thursday marked Thomas’ first in USAC National Sprint Car competition at the track. The win was actually his second during Winter Dirt Games, having won a round with the series when it was held at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., in 2015.
Starting third, Thomas chased leader Kyle Cummins and second-running Justin Grant for the first third of the event before making his move, driving under Grant in turn three while in the throes of traffic, then steadfastly zeroed in on Cummins one lap later off the bottom of the fourth turn to secure the lead on the 14th lap.
Grant clamped down to slip past Cummins with five laps remaining for second, but Thomas had already staked his claim at the front by then, holding a 2.3-second lead, which would ultimately balloon to a 2.769-second advantage at the finish line with Grant, Cummins, hard charger Brady Bacon (from 12th) and Tyler Courtney following him to the checkered.
For Thomas, it was all about patience, and finding the path to victory first before anybody else discovered it.
“You just had to work patiently,” Thomas explained. “You had to wait until they got impatient with traffic, try to move a little bit, then you could pounce on them. That was the biggest key, and there are a few little tracks to getting down the back stretch. If you don’t figure those out early, somebody’s going to snooker you and there’s a couple guys around here that know where it is and we just happened to find it first. We were in a good position to do that. We got to third right off the bat and didn’t have to battle too hard for that. We just got there, rode around, rode around, and I saw a few moves where a people were making mistakes and getting a little impatient trying to get the guy in front of them. You jump on them, and then you do it the next time once you get to lapped traffic. It was just a big patience game out there. The track was fast, but you still had to be patient, just jump on them whenever you can don’t make any mistakes.”
Grant finished second in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy. Cummins was third, followed by Bacon and Tyler Courtney.
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