By the URSS
WaKEENEY -- Four laps into the race, Luke Cranston watched as his chances to win went by the wayside. Sliding off the track between turns three and four, then coming to a stop outside turn four will do that to a driver.
Gone were his hopes of winning for the first time at WaKeeney Speedway in his career -- or so he thought.
"I didn't think there was a chance at all," Cranston said. "At that time, I was pretty frustrated with myself. I shouldn't have done that. I didn't think there was a chance. I thought maybe we could salvage a top five, maybe. If we caught some yellow flags, I thought we might be able to work back up there. Before we slid off the track, we weren't going anywhere. We were stuck back in seventh, eighth place. We weren't doing anything for those few laps."
Cranston was stuck in eighth, right where the started. But, perhaps miraculously, the sprint car driver in the United Rebel Sprint Series finished in a place he never had at WaKeeney on Friday night -- in victory lane.
In perhaps one of the wildest and most entertaining races in URSS history, Cranston piloted his car from 19th place after the first restart all the way to the front in impressive fashion to win again this season.
"I thought there was more up there, and, 'Dang it,' " Cranston said about what was going through his mind when he slid off the track. "There wasn't. I was really frustrated. I was really wanting to win here because I had never won here before. I knew that wasn't going to happen after doing that."
But it did anyways. Lance Davis, who started on the pole, led the first four laps until Cranston's bobble caused the first caution. He'd led the next lap before Brian Hardman, who started outside the front row, took the top spot before the caution flag flew again.
Hardman paced the field back to green, followed by Davis, Reed Bernbeck and Ty WIlliams, who started seventh.
After the restart, Williams pulled off an amazing slide job entering turn three, sliding between Bernbeck and Davis into the runner-up spot behind Hardman.
"On those restarts, these guys are pretty good around the bottom, and I couldn't go to the bottom at all," Williams said. "I think they saw me go to the bottom and push right through it. I just had to drive it up in there, and I was in it just enough where if I stayed in it just a half a second longer, I was going to make it. Plus, before that, I was setting myself up to feel what the slide was going to feel like before that. I knew it would stick if I could keep it straight enough on entry. You've got to make it exciting. That's sprint car racing."
A lap later, Williams was by Hardman and into the lead. He checked out from the rest of the pack, hitting lap traffic by lap 13.
Meanwhile, Cranston was charging back through the pack and was into third on the same lap, behind Williams and Judd Sheaffer. He worked into second on lap 16 of the 25-lap feature.
"I think the track kind of came to us a little bit," Cranston said. "I think the bottom kind of went away in one and two, and I was running the high line. But that high line stayed in there, and I was really getting those guys off turn two."
Williams had a large lead at that point, but he slid off turn one on lap 19, nearly tagging the guardrail. He was able to collect the car and get back on the track. He still had a big lead, but the slip-up trimmed the advantage.
"For me to be that fast down there, I had to be against the fence to square the corner off to make it straight," Williams said. "That lap car spooked me just enough when it bobbled that I lifted and it unloaded the car and I slid off. I knew I had enough time, had a pretty big lead, so I just gathered it back up and got back on the track and was praying for no cautions. Sure enough, a lap later, the caution comes out. I knew I was done because whoever had the bottom working was going to pass me."
That final caution flew when Keefe Hemel spun in turn two, giving Cranston the opportunity he needed.
"I knew I was getting closer to him a little bit," Cranston said. "I don't know if he was slowing down a little bit in traffic or we were faster or what. I could see him up there, but I had no idea he was leading it because at the time I fell off the track, he was in fifth or so. I thought he was in fourth or fifth, or made up another position. Then the yellow came out, and he was leading the race. Then I thought, 'Where did all those cars go?' It was a pretty awesome experience."
Williams motor stumbled a bit on the restart as he darted to the bottom, and Cranston motored around the high side to take the lead. He'd go on to lead the final six laps, eventually winning by nearly three seconds.
"I knew I had a chance, but Ty's way fast," Cranston said. "I know he runs the top good, and I knew he was running the top. But for some reason, he dove down to the bottom on the restart, and we had the momentum going. We had that momentum coming out of two and kept it on the top and squeaked by him. I knew there was a chance, but still, you're thinking you came from last to second, and surely this isn't going to happen. I don't know, I guess we must be doing something right. I don't know. It was great."
"I knew he was going to come, and he could probably see me from where he was at running the top and making it work," Williams said. "He went up there and showed me a dose of my own medicine, if you know what I mean. It's one of those mistakes that when you're leading the race, do you stick on the bottom or do you go to the top -- especially when I was having motor problems. ... The motor didn't take off, and I made the wrong decision. I should have just taken the top."
Williams finished second, followed by Sheaffer in third and Jake Bubak in fourth.
Heat race winners were Cranston, Hemel and Sheaffer.
The Keizer Aluminum Racing Wheels Hard-Charger Award went to Kaden Taylor, who went from 13th to fifth.
1. Luke Cranston, 2. Ty Williams, 3. Judd Sheaffer, 4. Jake Bubak, 5. Kaden Taylor, 6. Brian Hardman, 7. Tommy Williams, 8. Willie Wynn, 9. Lance Davis, 10. Keefe Hemel, 11. Jared Kern, 12. Reed Bernbeck, 13. Mike Speer, 14. Butch Hardman, 15. Craig Jecha, 16. Greg Reiners, 17. Nate Berry, 18. Shawn Radcliffe, 19. Blake Bogenhagen, 20. Kirby Hagans (DNS).