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Courtney holds off Ballou to earn second Action Track triumph in 2018 | Sports

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While the rest of the Dorsett Automotive Don Smith Classic field went low, Tyler Courtney and Robert Ballou went high.

The high line that is. Both USAC sprint car drivers hugged the concrete walls of the Terre Haute Action Track to great effect during Wednesday’s Indiana Sprint Week event. Courtney won the race, leading 28 of the 30 laps on his way to his second Action Track victory of the 2018 USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car season.

Courtney seemed to be rolling to an easy, caution-free victory, but Ballou made Courtney sweat. Using the same high line, Ballou was nearly a second quicker than Courtney in the final third of the race, catching him on the white flag lap. Ballou’s attempt to pass Courtney on the low side of Turn 1 on the final lap didn’t stick, however, and rising star Courtney held on for the win.

“It’s just the way this track gets. It gets kind of slick near the top and it’s all momentum-based. If you can be the first guy up there? It usually works your advantage,” said Courtney, who also took the Indiana Sprint Week points lead with three races remaining.

Courtney started fifth in the 24-car field as Kevin Thomas Jr. jetted to the lead at the start from the second row. Courtney passed three cars on the opening lap, flying across the top of Turns 1 and 2 to get past Tyler Thomas, Brady Bacon and C.J. Leary.

Thomas Jr. led the second lap, but Courtney got him high on the track on Lap 3 to take the lead.

And Courtney stayed there for the rest of the race. Before he had to negotiate lapped traffic, Courtney’s lead stretched to nearly a third of the half-mile circuit.

“[The field] just kind of didn’t go [to the high line] at the start,” Courtney said. “I hung in second for a couple of laps then passed Kevin Thomas and just worried about my own race after that,” Courtney said.

However, Ballou, who started ninth and who won the second heat race over Courtney, was quick on the high side too. Ballou got past Thomas Jr. on Lap 15 to take over second. Still, it seemed Ballou had too much ground to make up.

But as Courtney made his way through the field – only nine cars finished on the lead lap – Ballou was charging. The Rocklin, Calif. native, who broke his neck in a 2016 race in Calistoga, Calif., continued his road to recovery on-track.

“This place has suited my driving style ever since I moved here from California 11 years ago. I like these high speed, keep it straight and fast and I keep it by the wall,” Ballou said. “I haven’t had any race cars that have felt good for me since his accident, but this came close. We’re getting close.

“If I could get a little bit more money so that I didn’t have to work 60 hours a week at my day job I think my racing would be a little bit better. I get distracted too much and tired,” Ballou added.

By the last 10 laps of the race, it was clear Ballou was making up ground.

“I got tentative in lapped traffic and didn’t want to get caught up in anyone’s mess. It was tough to see with the dust and I was being careful, almost too careful,” Courtney said.

Ballou had a run on Courtney on the final lap, but he had to go lower into the turn and couldn’t slide past Courtney, who won by 0.801 seconds. Ballou was frustrated by lapped traffic in his quest as well.

“You get racing with lapped cars and you don’t know where they’re going to go. Then you get behind a guy named ‘The People’s Champ’ – Dave Darland – and you’d think he’d get out of the way. It was just one of those deals. It is what it is,” said Ballou, referring to Darland, who finished 10th and was the last car not on the lead lap.

For Courtney, it was his second Action Track win after he earned the checkered flag in May’s Tony Hulman Classic. The Indianapolis native maintained his lead in the national standings, winning his season-high seventh race of the season.

“I don’t think an Indiana boy has won the Sprint Week title in a while so we have to bring it back. To win the Don Smith Classic? Don Smith was one of my first sponsors so it’s cool to win a race in honor of his name,” Courtney said.

Finishing third was Justin Grant, who charged from the 10th spot on the grid. He made progress low at first, but ultimately gravitated to a high line too.

“It made some ground around the bottom at the beginning of the race, but as that faded, we were pretty good around the top at the end,” Grant said.

In the heats, Chris Windom won the first going away as he took a big lead over Shane Cockrum and won by nearly the length of the straightaway.

There were no incidents in the first heat, but former winner Daron Clayton flipped on Lap 1 of the second heat in the apex of Turn 4. Clayton emerged unhurt and later took part in the semi-feature. Josh Hodges led seven of the eight heat laps, but was overtaken by Ballou on the final lap as Ballou earned the victory.

Matt Westfall made a brave high pass on the opening lap of the third heat and made it stick, going from fourth to first place by the time he got to the backstretch. He held off Grant for the heat victory.

Heat four was stopped on the opening lap as Tyler Klem got too far outside, clipped the wall, and did a slow roll, landing on his left side between Turns 1 and 2. Klem walked to the ambulance and was unhurt. Jerry Coons Jr. led all eight of the heat laps to earn the victory in the final heat.

Jake Swanson won going away in the semi-feature, but the fight behind him was fierce. Jason McDougal rallied to earn one of the top six spots, finishing fourth, to earn a spot in the main event. Spots three to eight were fluid throughout the 12-lap semi. Brody Roa was edged by Timmy Buckwalter to earn the last advancing position.

Stockon was the night’s fast qualifier with a time of 20.569.

Tyler Nicely won the UMP Modified feature from flag to flag. Luke Timmerman spun twice in the race, was black-flagged, but didn’t leave the circuit.

Indiana Sprint Week continues tonight at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville. The remaining two races after that take place at Bloomington and Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt.

Courtney has also won at Lincoln Park this season. His grandparents, Mike and Verla Farrar, owned the Putnam County circuit from 1981-1996 and Courtney is looking forward to paying another visit.

“My grandpa started the Tri-Track Series which has evolved into the Indiana Sprint Week that we have now. It’s got a lot of history behind it and it’s in my heart as well. My grandparents are in my heart, so to get a win at their track was special [in June]. Hopefully, we can get one more [on Thursday],” Courtney said.

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