Although it was an abbreviated season of five races due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rain, Nolen Racing’s Kody Swanson finished second in the driver championship and Nolen Racing finished third in the entrant standings in USAC’s premier series, Silver Crown, for 2020.
The 2020 season marks the sixth consecutive year that the Whiteland, Ind.-based team has finished in the top five in the USAC Silver Crown championship.
Nolen Racing’s primary driver, Kody Swanson of Zionsville, Ind., the winningest driver in USAC Silver Crown history and its five-time and defending driver champion, placed tenth in the season finale, the 57th annual Bettenhausen 100 presented by Fatheadz Eyewear at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon.
Swanson ended the season with 220 points to Justin Grant’s 266. Chris Windom was third in the final driver standings with 212.
Nolen Racing went into Sunday’s race second in the team standings, but it ended up third for the year when Brady Bacon finished fourth in the race in the Klatt Enterprises car. Hemelgarn Racing, which fields Grant’s car, won the entrant title with 266 points over Klatt Enterprises with 232 and Nolen Racing with 220.
After earning the pole for Sunday’s season finale with a time of 30.457 seconds, Grant had to finish eighth or better to win his first title, and he placed third in the 100-lap race on the 1-mile dirt oval. Grant finished the season without a victory, while Swanson won the race at Salem, Ind. in August. With that victory Swanson set another USAC Silver Crown record by winning a race for the seventh straight season. That broke a tie he had with Jack Hewitt (1986-1991), Brian Tyler (2004-2009) and Dave Steele (2001-2006), who won in six straight seasons.
This year was one of the closest point battles in the series’ history, with nine drivers mathematically in the running for the championship prior to the start of Sunday’s season finale.
Kyle Larson won Sunday’s race over David Gravel with a 1.354-second margin of victory. Grant, Bacon and Jacob Wilson completed the top five. Casey Shuman, Shane Cockrum, Logan Seavey, Windom and Swanson rounded out the top 10 in the 26-driver field.
Swanson placed 14th in Fatheadz Eyewear qualifying with a time of 31.534 seconds. Throughout the race he fought hard to reach the top 10 in the very competitive field with the bright yellow Nolen Racing Maxim No. 20, which is powered by a Tranter-prepped Chevy engine and is sponsored by KECO Coatings, Goodridge and K & N Filters. He achieved that on the final lap, passing Kevin Thomas Jr. to move from 11th to tenth on a chilly afternoon when conserving fuel and tires and staying out of trouble were vital.
Swanson had an excellent start, vaulting from 14th to 11th on the first lap, but he had dropped to 16th by lap 10 as the drivers diced for position. On lap 11 Larson took the lead from Grant and went on to lead the rest of the race.
Swanson regained 15th on lap 16 when both he and Matt Goodnight passed Kyle Steffens, with Swanson turning his best laps of the race to that point on laps 14, 15, 16 and 18.
He regained 14th when Aaron Pierce pulled into the pits with mechanical difficulties on lap 20 after running in third place. Two laps later Swanson moved back into 13th after passing Gravel, and he battled Windom and Gravel for a good portion of the race. With a quarter of the race run he was 13th, 0.447 of a second behind Windom and 0.560 of a second ahead of Gravel, and he’d just run his fastest race lap to that point with a 33.561 on lap 25, which was eighth fastest at the time.
The pace slowed when Patrick Lawson brought out the first of two yellows with 30 laps down after doing a 360-degree spin in Turn 4.
Swanson was still 13th between Windom and Gravel until lap 36, when Jake Swanson (no relation) passed him to push him back to 14th. Kody Swanson passed Jake Swanson back on lap 38 to regain 13th.
Ten laps later Kody Swanson passed Windom to take 12th and continue running between Gravel and Windom. It was extremely close, however, as at the halfway mark Swanson was 12th, 0.351 of a second behind Gravel and 0.452 ahead of Windom.
Gravel passed Chad Kemenah for tenth on lap 52, so by that point Swanson was 12th between Kemenah and Windom. He passed Kemenah for 11th on lap 54, which was the position he’d hold until lap 76.
On lap 55 he surpassed his best race lap to that point with a 33.152, which was the ninth-fastest race lap of anyone at that point. He was running between Gravel and Kemenah when he did it.
He bettered his fastest race lap on lap 58 with a 33.093, which was seventh fastest of anyone to that point. He was able to keep Gravel within striking distance then and he was more than a second ahead of Kemenah, although he was still 11th.
Swanson had drawn up to just 0.206 behind Gravel when the second and final yellow flew on lap 65 after Kyle Robbins crashed into the inside guardrail in Turn 3. Robbins climbed out of his damaged car on his own.
Gravel was able to advance on the restart which put Swanson behind Logan Seavey first (laps 70 and 71) and then Kevin Thomas Jr. (lap 72). With just 25 laps to go Swanson was engaged in one of his fiercest battles of the race. He was still 11th, but he was just 0.140 behind Thomas and 0.124 ahead of Windom.
Windom passed him on lap 76 to push him back to 12th. He regained 11th on lap 81 when Shane Cottle dropped out. But Windom and Kemenah were both peaking, with Windom setting his fastest lap of the race on lap 89 with a 32.922 and Kemenah doing the same on lap 91 with a 32.851.
Swanson was still in the thick of the battle, however, as he set his fastest race lap around the same time, on lap 89, with a 32.962, which was 13th fastest in the field to that point. But the intervals were now longer as the field had gotten a bit spread out, with Windom 0.863 of a second ahead of him and Kemenah 3.157 seconds behind him.
Up ahead Kevin Thomas Jr. was also peaking, as he ran his fastest race lap on the same lap as Windom and Swanson did when Thomas was timed in 33.031.
Windom passed Thomas for tenth on lap 93, which put Swanson between Thomas and Kemenah again. But on the very last lap Swanson passed Thomas to nail down a top-10 finish and finish second in the championship. He took the checkered 3.468 seconds behind Windom, who was ninth, and 0.418 of a second ahead of Thomas, who was 11th.
"We had a tough day at Springfield to finish off what has been a challenging season in an odd year," Swanson said afterwards. "We definitely had high hopes for the day, and I'm thankful for the effort from everyone on this Nolen Racing team.
"We battled some gremlins through the finish of practice and qualifying, but everyone rallied to give us a chance to race for 100 miles. As for the race itself, we had just missed on the balance of the car enough to make things tough. But days like that are part of racing, and we never gave up on getting the best possible finish that we could for the day.
"I'm thankful for the chance to race with this Nolen Racing team, and congratulations to Justin Grant and the Hemelgarn 91 team on the championship!"
Nolen Racing is run by Greg Nolen of Indianapolis, the son of the team’s founder, Gene Nolen of Greenwood, Ind., who died on April 8. Kevin Noblitt of Columbus, Ind. and Rick Laughlin of Whiteland, Ind. are the team’s crew chiefs.
All of the USAC Silver Crown races are streamed live on Flo Racing.
Fans can learn more about Nolen Racing through its website at NolenRacing.com and by following the team on Facebook and Twitter.
Nolen Racing PR