Wednesday morning began with a bounty being placed upon Kyle Larson’s head. At the end of the day, he remained elusive to all his challengers vying to catch him.
Larson took over the lead with 13 laps remaining after charging from the 14th starting position to the front in rapid fire succession to win the second round of the 16th annual Indiana Midget Week series Wednesday night at Gas City I-69 Speedway.
The victory was Larson’s second-in-a-row at Indiana Midget Week after winning the series opener on Tuesday at Paragon Speedway. And, going back to last year, it’s the fifth USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget victory he’s earned in his last five series starts.
He entered Gas City seeking his seventh-straight victory between World of Outlaws, All Star and USAC competition, thus earlier in the day, Richard and Jennifer Marshall of Priority Aviation put up a $1,000 bounty on Larson for the remainder of Indiana Midget Week.
The deal is that anybody who can beat Larson and win a feature this week will collect a minimum extra $1,000 bonus. If Larson does win the feature, the money will be donated to the Indiana Donor Network in Larson’s name.
On this night, it appeared at first that the bounty might have a glimmer of hope of being collected by another driver. That came after Larson missed the transfer spot in his heat, then finished third, but still transferred to the feature where he’d have to start on the outside of row seven for the 30-lap feature.
It’s a tall task to ask of any driver to accomplish, to pass that many cars in such a short timeframe against such stout competition.
But, then again, haven’t we learned time-after-time to never doubt what the Elk Grove, Calif. native can do?
Defending USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget champion Tyler Courtney jumped to the lead at the start of the feature and held the top spot convincingly from his pole starting position. However, as you glanced back a few cars into the field, two mid-pack starting cars in particular had made a heady charge to the front: Cannon McIntosh and Larson.
McIntosh sprinted from 12th to 4th by the second lap and was in the top-three by lap four while Larson followed suit into the top-six by the fifth lap and into the top-five by lap eight. Larson was observant in mimicking what McIntosh had found of the track surface, and ultimately helped himself in advancing up through the running order in a hurry.
“Coming from 14th like we did there, that was a lot of fun,” Larson exclaimed. “I saw Cannon (McIntosh) get a really good start at the beginning, and I was like, ‘man, I’ve got to get aggressive here.’ I saw him work the middle that first lap and pass everybody, so I was able to make that work for me the next few laps and really get by a lot of people there.”
On the 11th lap, Larson’s Tucker-Boat teammate, Gio Scelzi, slid wide at the exit of turn four and allowed Larson the crack in the door to capitalize underneath for the fourth position. One lap later, Larson ran down McIntosh in turn two, slipping underneath last year’s Gas City IMW runner-up finisher for third in the running order.
Moments later, however, McIntosh began to slow dramatically, coasting to a stop between turns three and four. Simultaneously, in the same area of the track, Thomas Meseraull flipped wildly while running in the 17th position – a tumultuous night for the defending Gas City Sprint Car track champion who had flipped earlier in qualifying as well.
When racing resumed, Larson went on the attack toward series Rookie Buddy Kofoid for the runner-up spot, but the 18-year-old Kofoid became one of the few to find an answer for Larson. After being slid by Larson, Kofoid slid him back, then successfully defended his position by keeping his foot on the throttle and retaking the second spot at the start/finish line just prior to a lap 16 caution for a turn two tangle involving Brady Bacon and Shane Golobic, thus reverting the order back to the previous complete lap and sending Larson back in front of Kofoid.
On the following restart, Larson sized up Courtney for the first two circuits, then set up for his winning move entering the bottom of turn three on the 18th lap. Larson blew by, slid up to the middle, found the traction, and launched off the exit of turn four to secure the spot as he cut to the bottom to protect himself from a retaliation slider from Courtney in turn one.
Once hitting turn two, Kofoid pounced to take second away from Courtney and inched his way back to Larson in the final third of the race. Kofoid remained within a half second of Larson around the quarter mile, not losing any ground as the laps wound down, but also not gaining much of anything either in the way of closing the interval.
Even when sort of boxed in by Bacon and Robert Dalby on the tail end of the lead lap with just a handful of laps remaining, Larson never turned a wheel wrong and Kofoid was left with peanuts to capitalize on.
Larson’s flawless 30-lap run closed out yet another patented masterful performance as he raced to a 0.263 second victory over Kofoid who, with a 2nd place finish, had his best result with the series. Courtney, Tanner Thorson and Gio Scelzi rounded out the top-five.
The seventh career IMW feature victory for Larson brings him to within two of the series’ all-time winningest driver, Bryan Clauson with nine. Furthermore, Larson’s 21st career USAC National Midget feature triumph elevated him to 28th on the all-time series win list alongside Steve Cannon, Jimmy Caruthers, Rex Easton and Ken Schrader.
In just his second ride in the Tucker-Boat Motorsports/Pristine Auction – K & C Drywall/Spike/Speedway powered No. 86, Larson remains an undefeated two-for-two in IMW with the Gas City win, the second of his career there and first since 2013.
“That car was really, really good,” Larson said. “It surprised me. I knew we’d be good; Chad’s cars are always good. I didn’t know we’d be that good right there in the feature. I got to third by lap 12 and I knew I had a good shot. I got by Buddy and the caution came out, and I got the spot there. I knew I could get runs on people down the backstretch because they weren’t sliding all the way to the edge down the backstretch. I could get a little grip to slide them into three. That was my move that worked for me the second half of the race.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!