ANDERSON, Ind., May 27 — The runner-up pitted for new tires late in the race to try to catch him. He had an issue with his sprint car’s ignition during the race. His teammate had slightly faster pit stops. But nothing could stop Nolen Racing’s Kody Swanson from dominating and winning the 71st Pay Less Little 500 presented by UAW Saturday night at Anderson Speedway.
Nolen Racing, which is based in Whiteland, Ind., dominated the event with Swanson and his teammate, Shane Hollingsworth. Although the official record of lap leaders hasn’t been released, unofficially the pair led 499 laps of the 500-lap contest around the quarter-mile asphalt oval, which is an unheard-of achievement.
According to published reports, the only lap a Nolen car wasn’t scored first occurred during one of the two mandatory pit stops. (Each of the 33 cars in the field has to pit at least once before lap 250 and once after lap 250.) Unofficially Swanson dominated with 345 laps led and Hollingsworth led 154.
It was Swanson’s second consecutive victory in the most prestigious asphalt sprint car race in the world for team owner Gene Nolen, and Swanson’s third victory in this race in only five attempts. And in a new award this year, Nolen was the first recipient of the “Larry Contos Cup” as the winning car owner. The Greenwood, Ind. team owner is already a member of the Little 500 Hall of Fame.
Swanson, a native of Kingsburg, Calif. who now lives in Zionsville, Ind., beat runner-up Bobby Santos III of Franklin, Mass. by an entire lap. Jacob Wilson of Crawfordsville, Ind., finished third, two laps down. Swanson’s teammate, Hollingsworth, of Lafayette, Ind., finished fourth, three laps down. Chris Windom of West Lafayette, Ind. rounded out the top five, four laps down.
But the star of the show from start to finish was Swanson and the Nolen Racing No. 4. Swanson threaded his way through lapped traffic masterfully and never stopped pushing, even when he had a big lead.
Both he and Hollingsworth’s cars are powered by Tranter-prepared Chevrolet V6 engines. The team is sponsored in part by KECO Coatings, K&N Filters, Wilwood Brakes and Goodridge.
Swanson, 31, won the pole and he was lapping the back of the field by lap nine. Hollingsworth, 34, had to go to a back-up car for qualifying and he started 18th, so they had different routes to the front.
There were plenty of opportunities to pit under yellow, as there were 12 caution flags and one red. The latter occurred with 133 laps down and was needed to sop up water spilled from barrels rimming Turn 4 after Tyler Roahrig, who started third, crashed into them. Swanson had a 2.327-second lead over Windom at the time.
The Nolen cars were on slightly different pit strategies. Hollingsworth made his first stop around lap 160, and Swanson did his on lap 186. At that point Hollingsworth took the lead from Swanson and the latter dropped to sixth, but he didn’t stay there long. On lap 285 both Santos and Swanson blasted by Wilson to put Santos in second and Swanson in third. Meanwhile, Hollingsworth still had a 4.665-second lead.
Swanson passed Santos for second on lap 297 to put the Nolen teammates in first and second. Hollingsworth had a 2.853-second lead over Swanson on lap 300, but Swanson was cutting that advantage on each ensuing lap. Getting around the lapped car of Travis Welpott took some time, but Swanson did that on lap 310 and two laps later he was only 0.185 of a second behind Hollingsworth. Swanson passed his teammate on lap 325 with a move to the outside to once again top the scoreboard.
Swanson, Hollingsworth and most of their closest rivals made their second pit stop on lap 353 under the 11th yellow after Welpott spun in Turns 3 and 4 on lap 345. Swanson had about a 1.079-second lead over Hollingsworth when that yellow flew.
Hollingsworth’s pit stop was fastest and he beat all the top runners back onto the track. Swanson rejoined the field in second place followed by Santos, Wilson and Windom. Following the restart on lap 359 Santos threw everything he had at Swanson, and the top three remained close for many laps. But Santos couldn’t get by Swanson, and on lap 371 Swanson passed Hollingsworth with a move to the outside on the backstretch for the lead, which he never again relinquished.
Santos passed Hollingsworth for second with a move to the outside on lap 376, but Swanson already had built up a 2.013-second lead over Santos by lap 380 and he continued to increase that margin.
Swanson put Hollingsworth a lap down on lap 403, although Hollingsworth remained in third. By lap 410 Swanson had a 6.303-second lead over Santos.
Hollingsworth almost duplicated his third-place finish of last year, but Wilson passed him for the final podium position on lap 440.
On lap 455 the 12th and final yellow flew after Chris Neuenschwander, who was tenth, slowed and couldn’t make it back to the pits unassisted. That erased Swanson’s 8.901-second lead over Santos at the time.
Having thrown everything at Swanson to no avail, Santos pitted under that yellow on lap 460 for new right-side tires in an effort to gain an advantage.
It didn’t work. Although Santos remained second, he went a lap down due to his stop, and even with the fresher rubber he couldn’t catch, let alone pass, Swanson.
Swanson’s fastest race lap occurred on lap 28 with a time of 11.582 seconds. Windom set the second-fastest race lap on lap six with an 11.605. Hollingsworth’s fastest lap was 18th fastest when he turned an 11.866 on lap 283.
Swanson won the pole earlier in the week with a time of 45.005 for four laps, a best lap of 11.202, and an average of 11.251.
For more information see the team’s website at NolenRacing.com and follow @NolenRacing on Facebook and @NolenRacing20 on Twitter.
Driver post-race quotes:
Kody Swanson: “Thanks for saying I made it look easy, but there are no walks in the park in the Little 500. The Nolen Racing guys changed the steering box and worked on the electrical box and never gave up. I never gave up on them, either.
“We had trouble with one of the nuts on one of the wheels on the first pit stop, which took some time. Then under the red we worked on the ignition. There are two batteries in it, and after the red I had to switch the battery options from the cockpit for the rest of the race. It was a busy night. But everyone goes through some sort of hardship in this race.
“There’s always traffic; you’re always racing somebody. I sure hope everybody had a great time; I know I did. When I passed Shane for the lead the last time I don’t think there was any lapped traffic involved; it was good we got to race for it one on one.
“I know Santos pitted for fresh tires near the end, and I was worried about him coming back through the field. Luckily for us, the rest of the race stayed green and we were really strong on the long runs.
“I want to thank everybody on this team. It’s a special team and we have great partners. There are too many to list; I’m just thankful to be part of this deal.”
Shane Hollingsworth: “I think I had a third-place car and I got fourth, but it’s my fourth top-five finish in 11 or 12 starts, so it’s still OK.
“It was a great night for Nolen Racing again; we led a lot of laps. We were good; just not as good as Kody.
“We made our first pit stop around lap 160 and then the second one with about 20 laps to go. The pit crew was awesome; they nailed both stops. We just had to bide our time and pick and choose our time and places to pass, and try to stay out of trouble. We’ll take it!”