Rossburg, Ohio.........Eldora Speedway has provided the highest of highs and lowest of lows to Justin Grant over the last couple of seasons.
Just a little over four months after his most recent visit to Eldora Speedway, Grant, a 2015 Eldora USAC Sprint Car winner, found himself without a full-time sprint car ride.
Throughout the summer the Ione, California driver bounced around between a handful of different teams searching for consistent success, but since joining forces with the Sam McGhee Motorsports team in mid-August, the pair have jelled to become a force night-in, night-out.
Saturday night at Eldora, it all finally came together for the team and the driver as they both recorded their biggest wins to date in the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car portion of the 35th running of the "4-Crown Nationals."
On the opening lap, outside front row starter Matt Westfall held off a Thomas Meseraull slider in the first turn to secure the lead early on. Instantly, Grant followed Westfall on the outside to fall in line in the second spot.
Westfall, an Eldora USAC Sprint Car winner back in 2006, looked solid in the early going, leading the first third of the feature. But Grant was on a mission that saw him dive to the bottom of turn three on lap 11, sliding up in front of Westfall to claim the lead as Westfall began to fade.
Eighth starting Chris Windom began to ascend by the midway point of the 30-lapper as he reeled in Grant just before a lap 13 caution fell for the stopped car of Scotty Weir, who was caught up in a back straightaway kerfuffle that involved a few cars, with Weir being the unluckiest one of the bunch.
The yellow placed Windom on the tail of Grant for the lap 13 restart, providing a prime opportunity for Windom to challenge Grant.
Windom hurried to the bottom for a slide job on Grant, momentarily nosing ahead between turns one and two, but with little room to spare with Windom underneath him and the concrete wall to his outside, but Grant kept his foot on the gas to escape through the narrow alley left open to reclaim the lead.
Grant would extend his lead to a full second over Windom, and by the time he would reach lapped traffic with ten to go, Grant would gladly accept all the extra breathing room he could get.
The two continued to engage in a high-speed, high-wire act through the back of the field as they came upon the car of Jerry Coons, Jr. with five laps to go. Grant had to briefly step out of the throttle, allowing Windom to pull alongside the inside of Grant momentarily, but was unable to rip the lead away from Grant.
Windom remained within striking distance of Grant in the final circuits as Grant threaded the needle, going for the jugular as he squeezed his way between the lapped cars of Bret Mellenberndt and Jarett Andretti at the entrance of turn one.
Grant manufactured a little bit of space between himself and Windom that might've made all the difference. And Grant certainly knows all too well how quickly things can happen at Eldora for better or worse, having stolen a victory from C.J. Leary's grasp at Eldora during the 2015 "Mother of All Sprint Car Weekends."
On the final corner of the final lap, Windom was close, but not close enough for any last lap heroics on this night, as Grant hung on to win his fourth career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature and the first ever for the Sam McGhee Motorsports Team over Windom, Brady Bacon, Dave Darland and Tyler Courtney.
"I don't know what it was like behind me, but it was exciting looking out of the front of the 17 car," the exuberant Grant said in victory lane after taking the Sam McGhee Motorsports/Brown & Miller Racing Solutions - Mike McGhee & Associates/Maxim/Foxco to the victory. "The holes in one and two were a handful. It seemed like it was fastest just to run right through them. (Turns) three and four were real tricky. I had to be careful not to get into the fence down there. When you get in lapped traffic, you're just kind of on a hope and a prayer."
"I can't thank the McGhee family enough," Grant continued. "Sam McGhee does an amazing job with this racecar. He's 16 years old. He does all the work on this thing, sets it up and calls all the shots; he's incredible! This race has always been one of the big ones to me, if not the biggest one. I've won at Eldora before, but the "4-Crown" is a whole other level of special."
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Tri-State Speedway included Chase Stockon (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Kody Swanson (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Aaron Farney (Competition Suspension, Inc. (CSI) Second Heat Winner), Matt Goodnight (Benic Enterprises Third Heat Winner), C.J. Leary (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat), Josh Hodges (KSE Racing Products/Larry Rice High Performance Hard Charger) and Bret Mellenberndt (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Feature Finisher).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 24, 2016 - Rossburg, Ohio - Eldora Speedway - 35th "4-Crown Nationals"
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-16.514; 2. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-16.612; 3. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-16.612; 4. Tyler Courtney, 23c, TOPP-16.705; 5. Chad Boespflug, 98E, NineEight/EZR-16.901; 6. Dave Darland, 11, Walker/Curb-Agajanian-16.918; 7. Justin Grant, 17, McGhee-17.048; 8. Dallas Hewitt, 18x, Keen-17.105; 9. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-17.113; 10. Nick Bilbee, 17N, Bilbee-17.172; 11. Thomas Meseraull, 9x, SC-17.190; 12. Bret Mellenberndt, 97, Mellenberndt-17.193; 13. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 1, Ballou-17.248; 14. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-17.249; 15. Shane Cottle, 57, Hazen-17.283; 16. Scotty Weir, 22s, Simon-17.301; 17. Landon Simon, 24, LSR-17.314; 18. Aaron Farney, 17GP, Dutcher-17.320; 19. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-17.354; 20. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-17.355; 21. Kody Swanson, 63, DePalma-17.398; 22. Brandon Whited, 15, Whited-17.433; 23. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-17.440; 24. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR-17.451; 25. Tony DiMattia, 50, DiMattia-17.459; 26. Jerry Coons Jr., 20N, Nolen-17.542; 27. Corey Smith, 66s, Smith-17.552; 28. Mitch Wissmiller, 1w, Wissmiller-17.557; 29. Carson Short, 66, Amati-17.609; 30. Bill Rose, 320, Kissel-17.719; 31. Logan Hupp, 7x, Gindling-17.730; 32. Luke Hall, 9N, Nelson-17.741; 33. Jake Blackhurst, 37, Felker-17.836; 34. Drew Rader, 74, Seven-Four-17.847; 35. Travis Hery, 21, Hery-17.852; 36. Tim Creech, 2c, Creech-17.856; 37. Lee Underwood, 24L, Underwood-17.883; 38. Kyle Wissmiller, 3, Simmons-18.036; 39. Dustin Ingle, 2DI, DPI-18.203; 40. Joe Bares, 19, TEST-18.259.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Swanson, 2. Simon, 3. K.Thomas, 4. Westfall, 5. Boespflug, 6. Stockon, 7. C.Short, 8. DiMattia, 9. Blackhurst, 10. Underwood. 2:14.65
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Farney, 2. Bacon, 3. Darland, 4. Whited, 5. Bilbee, 6. Coons, 7. Andretti, 8. Rose, 9. K.Wissmiller, 10. Rader. 2:12.50
BENIC ENTERPRISES THIRD HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Goodnight, 2. Hodges, 3. Grant, 4. Meseraull, 5. Cottle, 6. Hery, 7. Hupp, 8. Smith, 9. Ingle, 10. Windom. 2:13.81
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Leary, 2. Chapple, 3. Weir, 4. Hewitt, 5. Mellenberndt, 6. Hall, 7. Bares, 8. Creech, 9. Courtney. NT
SEMI: (12 laps) 1. Stockon, 2. Courtney, 3. Windom, 4. Boespflug, 5. Mellenberndt, 6. Andretti, 7. Coons, 8. Bilbee, 9. Cottle, 10. C.Short, 11. Rose, 12. Hall, 13. Hupp, 14. Rader, 15. Bares, 16. Blackhurst, 16. Hery, 18. Creech, 19. K.Wissmiller, 20. Underwood, 21. Ingle, 22. DiMattia. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Chris Windom, 3. Brady Bacon, 4. Dave Darland, 5. Tyler Courtney, 6. Dallas Hewitt, 7. Chase Stockon, 8. Matt Westfall, 9. Josh Hodges, 10. Nick Bilbee, 11. Brandon Whited, 12. Kevin Thomas Jr., 13. Bret Mellenberndt, 14. Jarett Andretti, 15. Isaac Chapple, 16. Thomas Meseraull, 17. Jerry Coons Jr., 18. Matt Goodnight, 19. Carson Short, 20. Aaron Farney, 21. Chad Boespflug, 22. Kody Swanson, 23. Scotty Weir, 24. Landon Simon, 25. C.J. Leary. NT
**Courtney flipped during the fourth heat. DiMattia flipped during the semi.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-10 Westfall, Laps 11-30 Grant.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/LARRY RICE HIGH PERFORMANCE HARD CHARGER AWARD: Josh Hodges (22nd to 9th)
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Bacon-2,214, 2-Stockon-1,979, 3-Robert Ballou-1,919, 4-Meseraull-1,910, 5-Darland-1,855, 6-Boespflug & Leary-1,774, 8-Windom-1,708, 9-Max McGhee-1,264, 10-Farney-1,209.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: October 1 - Lawrenceburg (IN) Speedway -"Fall Nationals"
-USAC Press Release. Photo Credit: Paul Arch Photo