Kody Swanson’s domination in the Little 500 continued last night with his third Little 500 win in four years at Anderson Speedway (IN). The Kingsburg, California native started on the pole and led 299 of the 500 laps in the Gene Nolen owned No. 4.
Through the ups and downs of the Little 500, he fell down a lap during the middle stages of the race to make a pit stop under yellow. He would unlap himself under the green flag, then pass teammate Shane Hollingsworth on lap 325 to retake the lead. He would take the lead for the final time on lap 374 and cruise to victory.
“We had to battle a little bit of adversity, had a tough pit stop there and went a lap down,” Swanson told Speed51.com. "Luckily, we had a great handling race car and I kept us in the hunt through the middle stages and ultimately won it for us in the end. I love this race and the traffic and all that we’re doing to keep racing. What a fun race this is and luckily it just worked out for us tonight.”
While Swanson put on a clinic, fellow front row starters Kyle Hamilton and Tyler Roahrig did not have the same luck. Both drivers were involved in separate incidents and were out of the race by halfway. Swanson nearly saw a similar fate with a mechanical problem during a red flag on lap 133.
“It was a wild one. I felt like we were so good early and had a little trouble around that red flag,” Swanson said. “We had an ignition problem and we were trying to figure out if we needed to pit under red and what the penalty was. I didn’t want to risk it and these guys made the right call as to what ignition system to switch to. Lucky for us it kept running.”
For the second year in a row, Swanson won the Little 500 in a V6 motor, compared to the more powerful V8. He was the only driver to complete all 500 laps, the first time only the leader did so since 2012. He placed runner-up Bobby Santos III a lap down when he went to pit road for tires with less than sixty laps to go, and Santos was never able to make up the difference.
“I think we only lapped the field because Bobby (Santos III) went on a last ditch effort to pit for tires on that last yellow and hoped they worked out,” he said. “Luckily for me, we stayed green the rest of the way and he couldn’t make up the difference. That was just kind of the way it played out. Just happy to win it no matter how it plays out.”
Santos, Jacob Wilson, and Shane Hollingsworth followed Swanson across the finish line in second through fourth.
Perhaps the biggest story in short track racing has been the bad luck of two-time Little 500 winner and former USAC Sprint Car and Silver Crown champion Chris Windom. After big wrecks at the Hoosier Hundred, Freedom 100, and Carb Night within 24 hours, he shook the monkey off his back and earned a top five finish on Saturday night.
“It feels a lot better than I did the last 48 hours, but I’m still disappointed,” Windom said. “We lost brakes less than 200 laps in there and we had a really good car after that last pit stop. Pretty damn miserable running this race without brakes. I don’t feel any better than I did the last two days, but I do feel better that I actually finished a full race and to finish in the top five is always solid but we would’ve had a top two car if we didn’t lose brakes there.”
Swanson becomes the first driver to win back-to-back Little 500’s since Jacob Wilson won it in 2013-2014. Swanson won his first Little 500 in 2016 driving for the late Richard Hoffman. In five starts, he has won three times and has completed all but six laps in the race. The four-time USAC Silver Crown champion enjoys the race because it’s similar to Silver Crown racing with the length of the races.
“I love USAC Silver Crown races because they’re so long and this is even longer,” he said. “The reason why I love them because you’re never out of it. You have a bad stop or you have a bad move in traffic, you keep a level head, you keep your car under you, and you keep digging. There’s no telling where you might end. The beauty of this race is at some point everyone’s going to have a little bad luck or stub their toe on something, it’s just how you recover and you never give up. I’ve been so fortunate to have good teams that haven’t given up on me and I’ve never given up on them. It’s been neat to win a couple.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI) - Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo