Brownsburg, Indiana - In a championship race that Kody Swanson has led since day one, it seems inconceivable the number of peaks and valleys he and Nolen Racing have endured and overcome throughout the season.
Six days earlier at Du Quoin, the team had not one, but two engines go south on them in practice and qualifying, forcing Swanson into another team's car that he had never set foot in prior to the green flag, riding to a 14th place finish.
Six days later, the story was written in reverse as Swanson and Nolen executed their smoothest night of the year. No backup cars, no engine changes, just back to the basics - racing and winning, which they did again for the fifth time this year in nine races, Saturday night under the lights of Lucas Oil Raceway at the Rich Vogler Classic.
"It's tough, on top of a short week to do it. It would've been a tough week anyway, let alone when you're down and trying to get going," Kody explained. "You can either wait for something good to happen to you or you can put the work in and try to help. I haven't been to my day job since Wednesday morning, gutting it out with the guys in the shop. Everyone who's a part of it has continued to give everything they could."
Swanson's victory, the record-extending 29th of his USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series career, came after circumstances with the engine befell the team at Salem less than a month ago in the most recent pavement race. It was at Salem this week where the team made a decisive choice on the package they were going to bring to Lucas Oil Raceway.
"We had to pull (an engine) out from under the bench and put it in the backup car," Swanson said. "I've been part of a gentleman's agreement this year not to test at the places we're going to. We went to Salem, that's close to the shop and we're already done racing there, just to try to shake it down and make sure this one is still good. Afterward, we felt like our backup car was the better choice of the two. It was really good on starts and that's what we needed to try it."
Kody was knocked off the pole position by the final contestant of the Fatheadz Eyewear qualifying session, his younger brother Tanner Swanson, pitting the Kingsburg, Calif. siblings on the front row at the .686-mile paved oval where the two have had many a battle at the front of the pack for the past decade.
"We grew up together, so he knows all my tricks," Kody said of his younger brother. "He doesn't get rattled and everyone knows, when he comes to town, he's going to be a contender and probably the biggest threat."
Kody didn't allow Tanner to get an advantage in edgewise as he drove around Tanner in turns one and two on the opening lap to secure the lead. Back behind the brothers Swanson, May LOR winner Kyle Hamilton slid up in front of Justin Grant in the first urn to snare the third position.
The first and heaviest incident of the night came on the ninth lap when a rear end issue on the car of Cody Gallogly sent him hard into the turn two wall, resulting in his left rear wheel bouncing down the back straightaway without abandon before coming to a rest more than a half-straightaway in front of his damaged machine.
Through much of the first half of the 100-lapper, Tanner and Hamilton were locked down just a few car lengths behind Kody with the trio breaking away from the fourth-place car of Justin Grant by nearly half a lap as the top-three entered the throes of traffic. Swanson was the first to navigate between, under and around the traffic with precision, but Tanner and Hamilton cut through the chase to remain within a stone's throw of Kody.
On the 43rd lap, Annie Breidinger, making her first series start in over two years, spun exiting turn two. With Breidinger stopped, the trailing car of eighth-running Ryan Newman clipped his left front wheel into the left side of Breidinger's tail tank, heavily damaging Newman's front end and tearing off the rear bumper off Breidinger's machine. Breidinger restarted, but Newman, the 1999 Silver Crown champ, 2008 Daytona 500 winner and 2013 Brickyard 400 victor, was finished for the evening.
The most recent occasion Kody was in this exact position, leading a restart near the halfway point at LOR in May, his engine let go on him, putting him out of the race. This time around, Swanson was like match on a fire, extending his lead lap-after-lap from the lap 48 restart onward. Between laps 58 and 60 alone, Kody upped the interval between he and Tanner a half-second as traffic loomed once again. A Breidinger turn one spin resulted in a lap 69 restart for Kody which bunched up the field and would wind up being the closest the competition would get for the remaining 31 laps of the green flag run to the conclusion.
It seemed as if the longer the race went, the more Kody's car was changing and the more on top of it he became.
"Every stint, I drove the car a little bit different, using the throttle and the brake a little different and using the banking of the racetrack a little different, just trying to help my car be the best it could to try to get and keep the lead," Kody said.
Kody opened up the can to two seconds almost immediately, running away as he extended it to over three seconds by lap 84, then four, then five and, finally, 6.165 seconds when the checkered flag flew to score his second career Rich Vogler Classic victory, and first since 2016, over Tanner Swanson, Kyle Hamilton, Jim Anderson and a career-best fifth-place finish for five-time Indianapolis 500 veteran James Davison in his second career series start.
Kody's fifth career LOR Silver Crown victory moved him into a three-way tie with Mike Bliss and brother Tanner Swanson for the most wins in series history at the track. It also marked Nolen Racing's third career USAC Silver Crown victory at LOR, and first since 1995 with Jim Keeker as the pilot. Nolen also won with Johnny Parsons in 1991.
"What a part of history in the United States Auto Club this track has played, let alone to tie someone like Mike Bliss, who had the ultimate stranglehold on this place for so long and Tanner did too for a number of years," Kody exclaimed. I finally had to get better or (Tanner) was just going to continue to beat me all the time. I'm thankful to pick off a few whenever we could to make it up. To tie them with five is pretty special."
It's the ninth time the Swanson brothers have finished first and second in a USAC Silver Crown event, eight of which have come at LOR. Tanner won the first six of the Swanson one-two sweeps, while Kody has owned the upper hand in the last three.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Lucas Oil Raceway included Tanner Swanson (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Kyle Robbins (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Annie Breidinger (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE RESULTS: September 7, 2019 - Lucas Oil Raceway - Brownsburg, Indiana - Rich Vogler Classic
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Tanner Swanson, 02, Bowman-20.574; 2. Kody Swanson, 20, Nolen-20.633; 3. Bobby Santos, 22, DJ-20.668; 4. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-20.805; 5. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-20.818; 6. Kyle Hamilton, 6, Klatt-20.860; 7. Ryan Newman, 2v, Bowman/Vance-20.876; 8. Eric Gordon, 78, Armstrong/Slinkard-20.908; 9. James Davison, 11, DHR/Byrd-21.059; 10. Jim Anderson, 92, Kazmark-21.218; 11. Chris Windom, 17, Goodnight/Byrd-21.268; 12. Joe Liguori, 32, Williams & Wright-21.323; 13. Brian Gerster, 94, Ram-21.350; 14. Austin Nemire, 16, Nemire/Lesko-21.591; 15. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-21.605; 16. Cody Gallogly, 81, Williams-21.621; 17. Cameron Dodson, 25, Pierce-21.722; 18. Patrick Lawson, 2, Lawson-21.781; 19. Mike Haggenbottom, 24, Haggenbottom-21.852; 20. Kyle Robbins, 7, KR-21.926; 21. John Heydenreich, 43, Felker-22.668; 22. Annie Breidinger, 80, Breidinger-22.720; 23. Kyle O'Gara, 1, SFHR-NT; 24. Dave Berkheimer, 31, Berkheimer-NT; 25. Derek Bischak, 131, Bischak-NT.
FEATURE: (100 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Kody Swanson (2), 2. Tanner Swanson (1), 3. Kyle Hamilton (6), 4. Jim Anderson (10), 5. James Davison (9), 6. David Byrne (5), 7. Bobby Santos (3), 8. Justin Grant (4), 9. Chris Windom (11), 10. Kyle Robbins (20), 11. Joe Liguori (12), 12. Patrick Lawson (18), 13. Annie Breidinger (22), 14. Austin Nemire (14), 15. Matt Goodnight (15), 16. Eric Gordon (8), 17. Mike Haggenbottom (19), 18. John Heydenreich (21), 19. Ryan Newman (7), 20. Cameron Dodson (17), 21. Derek Bischak (23), 22. Cody Gallogly (16), 23. Brian Gerster (13), 24. Dave Berkheimer (24). 50:56.46
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-100 Kody Swanson
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Kyle Robbins (20th to 10th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Annie Breidinger
NEW USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES POINTS: 1-Kody Swanson-577, 2-Justin Grant-514, 3-David Byrne-456, 4-Kyle Hamilton-381, 5-Bobby Santos-378, 6-Eric Gordon-375, 7-Chris Windom-342, 8-Mike Haggenbottom-328, 9-Kyle Robbins-320, 10-Austin Nemire-315.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES RACE: September 22, 2019 - Illinois State Fairgrounds - Springfield, Illinois - Bettenhausen 100