Jerry Coons Jr. has been near the front of the pack all season.

Now, he’s poised to lead the pack.

On July 31, Coons — a USAC race driver for Whiteland-based Nolen Racing, had a season-best second-place finish at the “Hustle on the High Banks” event in Belleville, Kansas.

And with it he ascended two spots in the USAC Silver Crown points standings, moving from fourth to second.

Coincidentally, Coons started the race in fourth position before piloting his yellow No. 20 Eagle Chevy, owned by Greenwood resident Gene Nolen, to the runner-up finish in the 50-lap feature on the half-mile dirt oval of Belleville High Banks. A Plainfield resident, Coons was only 1.297 seconds off the winning pace of polesitter Chris Windom.

But of greater significance than the finish itself is what it meant for the Silver Crown points race.

With four events left in the 11-race series, Nolen Racing is within striking distance of the points championship, courtesy of a series of recent strong performances by Coons.

On July 2, Coons placed third at the Terre Haute Action Track. He placed fourth in the May 1 season-opener in Toledo, Ohio, and was fourth in the May 23 Lucas Oil Raceway event in Brownsburg.

“We’re getting better each race,” said Gene Nolen, who is in his 26th year as a Silver Crown team owner. His driver, Coons, was the 2008 Silver Crown champion.

With more strong finishes down the stretch, another title is in reach. Coons has 310 points, not far behind leader Kody Swanson’s 374.

Swanson is the defending series champion.

The next Silver Crown race is Aug. 22, the Tony Bettenhausen 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois.

Grizzlies earn academic honors

Redshirt junior Matt Niehoff and the Franklin College men’s basketball team have been recognized for academic excellence by the National Association of Basketball Coaches for the 2014-15 school year.

Niehoff earned an NABC Honors Court distinction for maintaining a grade-point average of 3.2 or higher on a 4.0 scale. A mathematics major, he started 16 of 22 games last season for the Grizzlies.

Collectively, the Grizzlies earned the NABC’s Team Academic Excellence Award for maintaining a GPA of 3.0 or higher. They earned the same team honor last season.

Niehoff and his teammates are the latest in a parade of Franklin teams and athletes who have earned national honors for academic achievement for the 2014-15 school year.

Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2715.