For their first two days of scheduled action during Indianapolis 500 week in Indiana, the United States Auto Club (USAC) could do little more than watch on as rain washed out any hopes of racing on the dirt and .
In their third attempt – a trip to the paved Lucas Oil Raceway with the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series – the sanctioning body finally managed a complete race, but only just as dark clouds and an equally ominous mood befell the Brownsburg, Indiana speedway.
Series points leader Kody Swanson dominated the day, fending off challenges from brother Tanner Swanson and Bobby Santos III to lead wire-to-wire for his first victory of the 2017 season.
From an outsider’s perspective, the Californian’s day seemed to be near-perfect.
Piloting the No. 63 DePalma Motorsports entry, Swanson laid down a 21.004-second lap around the .686-mile oval to take the pole over his brother in ProSource Qualifying. The Californian easily maneuvered his way into the race lead on the opening lap, and from then on ran with only an occasional challenge from his brother or Santos in lapped traffic and on restarts.
Without a change in conditions, Swanson was easily the top contender on the racing surface throughout Friday’s festivities.
However, late in the going a new element entered the equation – rain.
When the 100-lap feature hit the halfway mark on Lap 50, fans brave enough to look to their left could see dark, ominous clouds approaching the speedway. With 10 laps remaining, it appeared the field would finish the race in time to avoid the rain, but then a Lap 91 shunt for Justin Grant in Turn 3 brought out a lengthy yellow.
Despite being a quiet race with just three cautions, the 100-lap feature suddenly came down to a green-white-checkered finish.
Worse yet, light sprinkles had begun to hit the facility.
With heavy storms approaching, and the race nearly complete, some thought the race might be called before it could return to green.
Instead USAC elected to throw the green and let the field give the fans a finish, a move that didn’t sit well with many in the paddock, including Swanson.
“It’s a tough way to finish,” Swanson told Short Track Scene. “We knew the rain as coming, and it was sprinkling. That can play a lot with your mental state when it’s raining on you at a pavement track. They (USAC) told us we were going to run it anyway, so it’s my job to do the best I can no matter the circumstances.
“That’s what my team does for me, so I gave them the best two laps I could. Luckily we were able to hold on to it.”
Through the drama, Swanson held on to win by .307 seconds. Santos used a late overtake of Tanner Swanson to claim second, with Tanner, Chris Windom and Aaron Pierce rounding out the top five. David Byrne, Kevin Studley, A.J. Russell, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Patrick Lawson completing the top 10.
— Aaron Bearden (@aaronbearden93) May 27, 2017
The moment the field crossed the start-finish line to take the checkered flag, the heavens opened up, flooding the short track with a rain that quickly built into a torrential downpour.
Drivers ran for cover. Crews rushed to pack up their cars and equipment.
Swanson? He was taking photos on the frontstretch and cherishing a victory.
“Not the way I wanted to end it,” Swanson said. “It just makes it tough. I’m thankful I was able to keep the car in one piece and bring it back to the team as a winner.”
Speaking with USAC, Swanson also took a moment to address the recent loss of legend Dave Steel, whom he tied for third on the tour’s all-time wins list with his 16th victory, saying “Dave Steele was incredible, and a huge friend.”
The caution flag flew just three times on the day, each time for single-car incidents including Grant’s late trip into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 91, a single-car spin off of Turn 2 for Troy Thompson on Lap 53 and the stalled Coons on Lap 74.
The Silver Crown tour will return on June 16, making a trip to the tricky Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania.
Results, via USAC
— USAC Racing (@USACNation) May 27, 2017